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'Barroco Barner' Gaffe - Another Disguised Excuse to Laugh at Women?

14/03/2014 11:30 GMT | Updated 13/05/2014 10:59 BST

You may not have heard about Gemma Worrall, which itself would make you rather unusual. She is the Blackpool beauty salon receptionist who tweeted: "If barraco barner is our president why is he getting involved with Russia, scary."

Her jaw-dropping comment last week in response to the upheavals in Ukraine unleashed a storm of media derision, one which is still rumbling, not least because she apparently has 17 GCSEs. Funny, yes. But why was it and is it still news? Everyone surely knows that schooling is not the same as an education.

The answer might be that this particularly incident - more than 90 pieces of national newspaper coverage in the UK alone - reaches deep into a particular chauvinism about women.

For many of us it has been dispiriting to read the reports and analysis, weighty and otherwise, let alone to have the meanderings of a 20-year-old receptionist making no claims to intellectual weight held as somehow totemic of education or, implicitly, women.

What most unsettles about the Gemma Worrall saga is trying to imagine whether the same comments made by a middle-aged male labourer would have attracted such attention, tweeted or otherwise. I suspect not.

The Gemma Worrall twitter storm is at the least significant end of a long chain that I believe connects with fewer girls studying maths and sciences at school, less bank support for women entrepreneurs and fewer professional women achieving corporate power.

Displays of profound ignorance are always mildly disturbing and sometimes comic, of course. But news? The ill-informed of both genders are always with us.

That is perhaps why the media generally does not hang around bus stops, bars, or beauty salons for that matter, to pick up similar examples of just how little people know (about what matters to the media, naturally) as they surely could.

Yet they seem quite happy to hang about social media to report the ramblings that appear there, or those of them that meet the needs of agendas that, for example, encourage a view that a woman's place is either very pedestrian or on a pedestal.

I doubt there has been a single article about City financier Nicola Horlick that has not mentioned immediately her being a mother. She is invariably described as "superwoman", too, in an effort to explain how she can be both a mother and successful businesswoman. But the title also, slyly, sets her up to fall, giving a confected significance to even the smallest failure or setback.

Sir Richard Branson, by contrast, is never described as "father Richard Branson". His achievements are allowed to stand for themselves.

The UK does not have the US tradition of smart female comics, unfortunately, to help put the Gemma Worrall incident into some sort of limiting context. Women are too often laughed at, rather than with here. A strong woman in the workplace is 'bossy' where a man is 'forceful'; or she is identified as 'unmarried', or a 'mother of one/two/three'.

In other words, a woman achieving success outside the home often has to be explained by something in it.

Soon the media will stop finding angles to the Gemma Worrall story. But will it be forgotten? Not by many men.