Conservative chairman Oliver Dowden has been challenged by a senior Tory MP over his claim that “male privilege” is “a bit of a crass term”.
Caroline Nokes, the Conservative chair of the House of Commons’ women and equalities committee, hit back at Mr Dowden’s comments as a row broke out on the first day of the Tory conference in Manchester.
Speaking to Times Radio on Sunday morning, Mr Dowden said the phrase “male privilege” was “too simplistic”.
“I think it’s a bit too simplistic to simply talk in terms of male privilege,” he told presenter Tom Newton Dunn.
“I don’t think, for example, if you’re an unemployed man on a council estate outside Newcastle you’re going to feel particularly privileged.
“So I think that’s a bit of a crass term.
“However, historically, it has been the case that men have had more opportunities than women and society has rightly addressed that.”
But, speaking later to the same radio station, Ms Nokes said she disagreed with Mr Dowden.
“I don’t think it’s a crass term to use, I think it’s a fact,” she said.
“I think it’s a fact we also need to start addressing. There remains male privilege in the same way that we know that particularly middle class white men will have the most enormous privilege.
“So I think it’s absolutely important that we address it honestly, that we don’t try and do that via some sort of ridiculous culture war, that actually we do it through open conversation, co-operation and just making things better for everyone.”
Ms Nokes later followed up her comments on Twitter, adding: “Any woman who has worked a single day in House of Commons, in ANY role, knows male privilege exists, ask the women in the press gallery.”
Mr Dowden – who was moved from culture secretary to Tory chairman as part of Boris Johnson’s recent cabinet reshuffle – used his speech to the Conservative conference on Sunday afternoon to launch an attack on the “woke aggression” and “cancel culture” of a “small but very vocal group”.
He said he was “so saddened” by those who see a Britain “dominated by privilege and oppression, that should view its values and history with shame”.
“A mantra that results in bullying and haranguing of individuals, elected representatives, and public institutions,” he added.
“So-called cancel culture. And we’ve all seen this simplistic narrative in action. Divisions are heightened, statues torn down, and history rewritten.
“But conference I’m afraid it’s even worse than that. Anyone who dares resist this argument – anyone who objects to this woke aggression -is branded as instigating culture wars!”