Taylor Swift, 2014’s “secret lesbian” of choice. Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images
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Let this be the year that we say goodbye to the secret lesbian

It’s 2015. Let’s just let women do stuff.

Have you ever noticed that no one’s ever rumoured to be nice? Or rumoured to be an accomplished Scrabble player, or rumoured to smell like tulips and pie? People are rumoured to be fart fetishists, UKIP supporters and, as of last year in particular: lesbians.

In 2014, everyone who was anyone was a secret lesbian. But just the right amount of secret. I.e. not too secret to stop the rumours from seeping into public consciousness. While the most noteworthy secret lesbian couple of last year was undoubtedly Taylor Swift and someone I’m supposed to have heard of called Karlie Kloss, I was told by at least seven stoked lesbians that the likes of Cheryl Cole and Mel B are “one of us, one of us”.

But I find it hard to believe that this secret lesbianism isn’t at least a little bit contrived. Let me explain. A lesbian is a woman who is only sexually attracted to other women. A secret lesbian is a (famous) woman who has been papped in some moderately adult situations with another woman, while vehemently denying that she’s into anything other than dicks. Many, many dicks.

For this reason, I’m hoping that 2015 will be the year that we say goodbye to the secret lesbian. This wouldn’t have to mean an end to adult situations between experimental/bi-curious/sexually fluid women. Those things are all lovely. What I’d like to see banished to the realm of UGG boots and burgers served on pieces of wood is all the speculation.

Admittedly, this will involve some effort on my part. There are two rather different groups of people interested in lesbian rumours: lesbians and homophobes. While former are cheering, “One of us”, the latter are sneering, “One of them”. In the middle is a sizeable chunk of the population who could not give less of a shit, and I think they have the right idea.

There’s a Hebrew phrase, loshon hora, which basically means nasty gossip. It’s the exact loshon hora-ness of lesbian rumours that I think we badly need to ditch. If there are rumours about a thing, that thing is most likely sordid or at least a tiny bit gross. If you think lesbianism is either of those things, I’m not sure why you’re reading this.

There’s a huge difference between lesbian visibility (something we could do with some more of) and smirk-forming headlines about clandestine boob-fondles between women who “seem” straight. When anyone is outed by the media, the overriding message should be, “I’m L, G, B or T and that’s great”, rather than, “Those pictures of me touching my friend’s butt mean nothing… or maybe they don’t.... what are you trying to say? Hm? Hmmm?”

So, if I believed in new year’s resolutions, maybe mine would be to stop feeding into loshon hora about supposed girl-on-girl action. I don’t think I’ll ever stop having a residual interest in who is and isn’t a lesbian. But it’s 2015, guys, let’s just let women do stuff.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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Labour is a pioneer in fighting sexism. That doesn't mean there's no sexism in Labour

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

I’m in the Labour party to fight for equality. I cheered when Labour announced that one of its three Budget tests was ensuring the burden of cuts didn’t fall on women. I celebrated the party’s record of winning rights for women on International Women’s Day. And I marched with Labour women to end male violence against women and girls.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing for women across the country. But, as the Labour party fights for me to feel safer in society, I still feel unsafe in the Labour party.

These problems are not unique to the Labour party; misogyny is everywhere in politics. You just have to look on Twitter to see women MPs – and any woman who speaks out – receiving rape and death threats. Women at political events are subject to threatening behaviour and sexual harassment. Sexism and violence against women at its heart is about power and control. And, as we all know, nowhere is power more highly-prized and sought-after than in politics.

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

The House of Commons’ women and equalities committee recently stated that political parties should have robust procedures in place to prevent intimidation, bullying or sexual harassment. The committee looked at this thanks to the work of Gavin Shuker, who has helped in taking up this issue since we first started highlighting it. Labour should follow this advice, put its values into action and change its structures and culture if we are to make our party safe for women.

We need thorough and enforced codes of conduct: online, offline and at all levels of the party, from branches to the parliamentary Labour party. These should be made clear to everyone upon joining, include reminders at the start of meetings and be up in every campaign office in the country.

Too many members – particularly new and young members – say they don’t know how to report incidents or what will happen if they do. This information should be given to all members, made easily available on the website and circulated to all local parties.

Too many people – including MPs and local party leaders – still say they wouldn’t know what to do if a local member told them they had been sexually harassed. All staff members and people in positions of responsibility should be given training, so they can support members and feel comfortable responding to issues.

Having a third party organisation or individual to deal with complaints of this nature would be a huge help too. Their contact details should be easy to find on the website. This organisation should, crucially, be independent of influence from elsewhere in the party. This would allow them to perform their role without political pressures or bias. We need a system that gives members confidence that they will be treated fairly, not one where members are worried about reporting incidents because the man in question holds power, has certain political allies or is a friend or colleague of the person you are supposed to complain to.

Giving this third party the resources and access they need to identify issues within our party and recommend further changes to the NEC would help to begin a continuous process of improving both our structures and culture.

Labour should champion a more open culture, where people feel able to report incidents and don't have to worry about ruining their career or facing political repercussions if they do so. Problems should not be brushed under the carpet. It takes bravery to admit your faults. But, until these problems are faced head-on, they will not go away.

Being the party of equality does not mean Labour is immune to misogyny and sexual harassment, but it does mean it should lead the way on tackling it.

Now is the time for Labour to practice what it preaches and prove it is serious about women’s equality.

Bex Bailey was on Labour’s national executive committee from 2014 to 2016.