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Polly Toynbee writes: http://gu.com/p/3m34t
What are the women whingeing about? If a grown woman can’t handle a hand on her knee, she’s probably not fit for the rough and tumble of the workplace. Men do try it on, but surely the women could politely tell the portly peer with the wandering hands that they’re not interested. Why quite such a fuss when nothing much actually happened? Either these four women are over-sensitive or else they must be part of some conspiracy.
That’s the gist of one side of the argument among Lib Dem peers who cheered Lord Rennard last week, two to one in his favour. Now the stand-off has been put back on ice: another inquiry and a disciplinary procedure to see if he brought the party into disrepute by refusing to apologise. He says he can’t, for fear of being sued. Others say Nick Clegg should have sat him down and cobbled together one of those non-apologies that go “Sorry if some people have taken offence”. But with blood boiling on both sides, this only freezes the dilemma. The party is in disrepute.
One MEP said Rennard’s behaviour was no different to the bottom-pinching Italian men of yore. But most Rennard defenders adopt the kind of “common sense” attitude that has dogged every attempt to improve women’s position since the suffragettes. Remember David Cameron’s patronising “Calm down, dear” – there it was again in Clegg’s complaint today that the argument around Rennard was “shrill”. Such mild put-downs are harder to confront than full-frontal misogyny.
But these cases are deadly: Rennard’s reputation is shot, but his four women accusers stand disbelieved, with their claims not “beyond reasonable doubt”. With QC Alistair Webster’s report being secret, all we are left with is the impression that one man’s evidence seems to have carried more weight than four women complainants, sharia style.
For those who had never heard of Lord Rennard, in the teacup of the Lib Dem party he is a storming figure. Magician of Lib Dem byelection victories, many senior figures owe their selection, election or preferment to him. Few forget the whisker-thin Clegg-Huhne leadership contest when the Christmas post delayed the postal ballots. Those votes were heavily pro-Huhne, but the Clegg side demanded they be ignored: Rennard adjudicated in Clegg’s favour.
So Rennard had immense power over the four women aspiring to be Lib Dem candidates. If he did what they claim, then surely only that power would have given this physically unprepossessing man the nerve to try his luck with younger more attractive women. Did an implied “come up and see my target seat” let a political supremo make passes at women well out of his league – or did they make it up and risk all for mischief?
Sexual harassment is all about power. When that phrase first flew across the Atlantic, we didn’t know how to pronounce it: harassment or harassment? Nor did we know how bad it had to be before it counted, along the continuum all the way to rape. Back then groping, pinching and outright sexual threats were commonplace. New girls – and “girls” we were – were warned of the worst leches, that it was not safe to be alone in their offices. But no one complained because no one would listen, and it would mark you down as trouble and no fun. In a 1980s newsroom where I was the only woman editor, other women came to me wondering what to do about an editor who promoted via his bedroom and demoted those who refused. A man with power at work over a woman can never have a fair and equal relationship: how will it end, what happens to her if they break up? Whose job is at risk? Never his.
Costly employment tribunal cases taken by brave women may make men more circumspect. As cases are now unearthed from yesteryear, some complain they’re from another age, another culture: if so, any culture change is only because some women dare to call out their abusers. But read the evidence from the Everyday Sexism Project and the change looks cosmetic, with more than 10,000 complaints about workplace harassment received last year – still so insidious, with victims so vulnerable.
How will women in politics feel on hearing these four complainants only suffered “behaviour that violates their personal space and autonomy“? Westminster remains a man’s palace, its 22% women MPs too few to tip the balance. Neither Tories nor Lib Dems learn from Labour that the only way women break past men’s barricades is with women-only shortlists and quotas. Douglas Hurd voiced what both parties think when he said last week that things are “slightly ludicrous” when parties think “there ought to be more women in this or that sphere of our life“.
Tory politicians’ use and abuse of women subordinates is well documented. The Lib Dems were always bad on women: around Jeremy Thorpe was a curious closet-gay coterie unwelcoming to women. Oddly, that unfriendly-to-women aura remained in not-gay David Steel’s milieu. Lib Dem women’s voices are few, with no uprising over this. Labour may promote more women, but more than one cabinet minister needed his women staff protected from slobbery kisses and aggressive fumblings.
Power may be an aphrodisiac, but it certainly gives otherwise unappealing men the chutzpah to imagine so. Touching up women at work is a way to exert power, often an act of aggression to keep them in their place: underneath it all, women’s realm is the bedroom. The politics of sex are too difficult to navigate, men complain. At work, as at home, the only etiquette question is who has the power. And what women hear again from the Lib Dems is, “Not you.”
I’m writing this because it happened a few weeks ago and I’ve not seen the lady in question since on my commute to and from work. I feel it needs to be shared and also because I hope maybe it’ll find it’s way back to her.
Early in October I was walking from Shirley station down the Hasluck’s Green road, and watched one lady I see on my commute occasionally cycling home. She got to a junction and waited on her bicycle for the traffic to clear to turn right into Sansome Road when a hatchback type car passed her slowly and I saw the driver’s hand reach out and touch her bottom. She looked back but carried on cycling home and I took a note of the vehicle registration as they drove away.
I’ve been trying to spot her since then but haven’t seen her, but if in the unlikely event this does get back to her, i’ve got the reg number still on my phone if you want to make a complaint to the police, or if you already have i’m fully happy to make a statement to back you up because what I saw was not okay at all.
When I was 16, I was walking home with a friend when I looked down a side passageway to a house that was being built upon. There was a man down there with his penis out, touching it and looking at us.
In shock I exclaimed ‘Really?!’ and carried on walking. My friend hadn’t seen, so pulled me to one side after minutes of silence and I explained what happened.
We thought very little of it, until we found out it had happened (on multiple occasions) to another girl in our 6th form, who lived on the road. He would see her walking from her house and prepare for when she walked past the house in question.
We then went to the head of 6th form and the case was reported to the police. After we had both given statements, the man was found but was only given a warning after he said that they ‘had to wee down the side of the house as there wasn’t a toilet fitted yet’, and he was trying to start his own business.
He certainly wasn’t weeing when I or the other girl saw him. Whilst we were a little older and could handle the situation, this house was also on a road where there was a high school for 11-14 year olds.
What if this had happened to them?
Walked to my local Tesco Express yesterday in the early evening, whilst it was still light out. Older bearded chap, Captain Birdseye appearance, in a white Mondeo, went out of his way to try and curb crawl by the side of the pavement I was walking on yesterday (by “out of his way”, I mean taking a u-turn at a main road onto the side I was walking and creeping up right by me.)
“Excuse me. Need a ride?” (Creepy grin)
Me: “No. Er, no. I’m just getting my food shopping. But I might check a licence plate so the police know what kind of perv-” The car was gone before I could finish the sentence..!
As much as the road may have once been in history part of a red light district in the small hours, that’s exactly what it is. History. And no-one should expect that level of pathetic in broad daylight – or ever, actually.
I was followed home by a man alone in a hoodie, he continuously wolf whistled at me until I out walked him with speed. I was terrified.
A big shout out to CBL Cable Contractors for hollering obscenities from their van about my chest this morning. That is just the kind of wake up call I need en route to the office, not to mention a great way to represent your company. I look forward to discussing this with your head office later.
Waiting for bus this afternoon. Several guys leaned out of car driving by and barked at me. This is not ok. This is harassment. This type of thing has happened one too many times.