Does Boris Johnson have a problem with women? The Conservative campaign has certainly been very male: Matt Hancock and Michael Gove the most prominent voices besides the prime minister. Liz Truss ranking 65th among media presence of cabinet and shadow cabinet ministers, with a mere 0.2% of appearances.
In the interests of fair-mindedness, it should be pointed out that all female Conservatives who are halfway decent – in the sense of stringing effective sentences together that aren’t composed mainly of lies – have left the party. Amber Rudd, Anna Soubry, Nicky Morgan, Justine Greening, all supposedly the faces of the new, caring Cameroonianism, all gone. You could say that to lose a couple was natural wastage, but to lose them all signals that the party had taken a masculinist turn that its female futures couldn’t support. You could say that if the prime minister had any serious commitment to gender diversity, he would have worked harder to keep them, maybe even to the point of brooking some ideological compromises. What you can’t say is that he has a rich pool of female talent in his cabinet to draw from that he’s ignoring. I cannot call it misogyny to keep Priti “52 extra murders a year under Jeremy Corbyn” Patel out of the dead centre of the limelight. The longer she speaks, the greater the risk of her doing a Jacob Rees-Mogg.
However, you can at least say this is an extremely masculine campaign. All its analogies are extremely macho – get out of neutral; no more gridlock; JCBs ploughing through walls. Mostly related to driving, they are actually a subset of the world of men, though even “oven-ready Brexit” is very “single man eating flabby lasagne in his pants”. I’m loth to generalise about gender and lifestyle, but it’s not, to my knowledge, a female aspiration to eat crap food out of a box.
Johnson’s politics are those of the strongman – the public is sick of parliament, it’s sick of judges, it’s sick of journalists, it’s sick of difficult questions, it’s sick of paying its BBC licence fee. These are the classic postures of the authoritarian, that there is a hotline to truth that only the leader can divine, and all pluralistic institutions of scrutiny and censure are therefore rendered obsolete. One astonishingly sharp moment in an otherwise vague Johnson manifesto was an attack on the travelling community – it mapped on to no hot button issue of British politics, but directly to those of the Hungarian prime minister Victor Orbán. Does this count as a “woman problem”? Not in the narrow sense, but certainly, strongman ideas hold very little interest for politicians with a serious commitment to (or even awareness of) equality between the sexes.
The prime minister’s personal life – in which he might yell loud enough to wake a woman’s neighbours, cast a woman aside like a “gremlin”, leave a woman with a child who he won’t acknowledge – is so tawdry that it feels slightly sullying to bring into a broader argument. But if Milan Kundera is right – that men who pursue a multitude of women fall into two camps: either idealising them or simply desiring to possess them in an endless variety – it’s probably safe to say Johnson’s the second kind; the Trump kind.
The problem with that trace of misogyny is that it’s such a well-worn bigotry, it takes a lot to get a person to reveal themselves. Even a politician who is comfortable saying EU citizens should feel less at home in the UK – this must surely number some of his own friends – will probably not be tripped into the revelation that he sees women as in any way lesser. But none of the augurs are good.
• Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist