New British equalities commissioner has a chilling history of attacking fundamental human rights movements

Jessica Butcher, freshly appointed EHRC commissioner. (Screen capture via YouTube)

The British government appointed last week an official with a troubling track record of attacking fundamental human rights to its independent official watchdog group that monitors and seeks to “protect” LGBT+ rights, among others.

According to The Observer, Jessica Butcher, a digital investor, was installed to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) by the minister for women and equalities Liz Truss.

In her role, Butcher will aid in setting out the body’s strategic direction, such as ensuring that the bedrock of equality legislation in Britain, the 2010 Equality Act, is enforced by government.

Yet, across a patchwork of speeches, interviews and articles, Butcher has taken aim and sought to discredit various planks of modern feminism, chiefly the #MeToo movement.

She said that #MeToo has peddled a “victimhood narrative” that has “disempowered” women as well as disputing the existence of the gender pay gap in her CityAM column – the pay gap is a central concern of the EHRC.

As many of her comments resurfaced, they have rankled many LGBT+ rights campaigners and feminists, with some accusing her of being “anti-feminist” and “lacking in empathy”.

The backlash has hardened the already strained divisions between various equality groups and Truss, as concern spikes over those the minister is cobbling into the EHRC.

It comes after journalist David Goodhart was appointed into a top EHRC role earlier this month – Goodhart has defended “white self-interest”, called the existence of systemic racism as “naive” and is the head of a right-wing thinktank.

Jessica Butcher: Equalities official tore into #MeToo movement as something that ‘disempowered’ women.

A self-described “old-school feminist”, the newspaper stated, Butcher lampooned the campaign that challenged and changed the corridors of power in Hollywood and beyond in the late teenies.

“Feminism, like other forms of identity politics, has become obsessed with female victimhood,” she said during a TedX talk in 2018 amid the throes of #MeToo.

“Whereas it once used to be about the portrayal of women as mature, equal partners in society, it now seems more to be about girl power – and yet it disempowers, assumes that we’re weak and defenceless, like children.”

She decried “working-class girls” being “deprived” of jobs “they love” such as “Page Three girls and [Formula One] grid girls” – hot-button professions long pilloried for objectifying women.

“What happened to ‘my body, my choice’?” she added.

“Men have had their careers and reputations ruined overnight by #MeToo,” she continued. “Some possibly justly, but without any due process, no innocence until proven guilty.”

The Butcher playbook when it comes to how women should handle discrimination also fuelled alarm among activists.

In 2019, she suggested in an interview that those discriminated aginst should “actually go ‘well come on then, I’ll show you’ and take the onus to circumvent the situation in some way.”

Such comments chaff against one of the chief roles of the EHRC itself. As an agency, the EHRC exists to tackle inequality and often intervenes in anti-discrimination lawsuits.

“You know, resilience, it should be about resilience,” she added, “and I feel that the narrative of discrimination and victimhood undermines both that confidence and that resilience and also the individual onus to take ownership of how you put yourself forward, and to mould yourself, change yourself to the circumstances as required.”

The appointment of Butcher drew criticism from various academics and activists, many took issue with Truss seemingly mercurial appointments of new officials with wobbly histories of supporting equality measures and movements.

“I’m delighted to be appointed to the role of EHRC commissioner,” Butcher said in a statement shared to the Observer while also declining many of their questions.

“I’m confident my background in business gives me a strong understanding of the work and goals of the organisation. I look forward to working with my fellow commissioners to advance equality issues in the UK.”

A spokesperson for the government’s “equality hub” part of the Cabinet Office, said: “The new EHRC commissioners were chosen as part of a fair and open competition, and each of them brings an expert knowledge base to the role.

“We are confident that they will help the EHRC carry out its important work of upholding and advancing equality and human rights at this vital time for the United Kingdom.”