politi­cians in the spotlight

The Week Middle East - - News -

The bat­tle of the sexes is sud­denly “rag­ing like never be­fore”, said Zoe Strimpel in The Sun­day Tele­graph. The rev­e­la­tions about sex­ual ha­rass­ment in Hol­ly­wood and West­min­ster have dragged us into a “mire of spite and di­vi­sion”, with men be­ing de­nounced, sus­pended and sacked on the ba­sis of un­tried ru­mours and al­le­ga­tions, while women are “re­viled as pa­thetic snitches, fun-killing blue­stock­ings and crim­i­nal teases”. And now, with dread­ful in­evitabil­ity, the scan­dal ap­pears to have claimed a life. Last Fri­day, the Labour politi­cian Carl Sargeant, 49, was sacked from his job as Sec­re­tary for Com­mu­ni­ties and Chil­dren at the Welsh As­sem­bly, af­ter the Labour party said it was in­ves­ti­gat­ing al­le­ga­tions about his be­hav­iour to­wards women. On Tues­day, Sargeant was found dead, hav­ing ap­par­ently killed him­self. We must re­store some sense of “due process and due se­ri­ous­ness”, said Peter Pre­ston in The Ob­server. “It’s only a year or so since the com­mis­sioner of the Metropoli­tan po­lice apol­o­gised to the wife of Leon Brit­tan for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion turned ran­cid. It’s only a few months since Lord Mac­don­ald, a for­mer Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions, told The Times that the po­lice in­quiry into Ted Heath was a ‘tragi­com­edy of in­com­pe­tence’.” We ought to re­alise by now the dan­gers of trial by me­dia – es­pe­cially so­cial me­dia, which, un­like print jour­nal­ism, is un­con­strained by “ac­cu­racy, reg­u­la­tion and li­bel law”. It should be pos­si­ble to hear the “sad tes­ti­mony of women” with­out de­stroy­ing the ca­reers and rep­u­ta­tions of men who have not even been charged with a crime. “A life wasted on what­ever side of the di­vide is still a life de­stroyed.” “This ‘sexminster scan­dal’ has got to stop,” said Bren­dan O’Neill on Spiked. “It is un­hinged.” You don’t have to be a fan of the current sta­ble of politi­cians to be “dis­turbed by the ra­pid­ity with which this prud­ish purge, this sus­pi­cious, sex­pho­bic point­ing of fin­gers at mere joke-tell­ers or phi­lan­der­ers has eaten them up”. Michael Fal­lon, the “De­fence Sec­re­tary un­til the purge de­stroyed him, stands ac­cused of touch­ing jour­nal­ist Ju­lia Hart­ley-Brewer’s knee 15 years ago”. When Hart­ley-Brewer in­sisted she wasn’t re­motely trau­ma­tised and bore Fal­lon no grudge, the “witchfinder gen­er­als” let it be known that this wasn’t his first of­fence: he once made a “very mild” saucy joke to An­drea Lead­som, and tried to kiss a fe­male jour­nal­ist 14 years ago. “Are these peo­ple for real?” The cult of vic­tim­hood is run­ning riot. Jour­nal­ist Kate Maltby has been called “brave” for al­leg­ing that Theresa May’s deputy, Damian Green, once briefly touched her knee. “You’d think she’d sur­vived a tour of Afghanistan, rather than an ut­terly rou­tine drink with a mem­ber of the op­po­site sex.” Here we go again, said Suzanne Moore in The Guardian. “Any wo­man who does not want to be groped has no sense of hu­mour... Women should take it in their stride... Men are the vic­tims here...” This is how the is­sue of sex­ual ha­rass­ment gets brushed aside, while women who speak out are shut down or shamed. And it’s not just men who do it. There are plenty of fe­male “col­lab­o­ra­tors” too: the women who “did not mind be­ing groped be­cause they are hard as nails”, and who now churn out “id­i­otic pieces” about how “mil­len­nial snowflakes” need to toughen up. “These mer­ce­nar­ies for the pa­tri­archy will bend over back­wards to de­fend men and to blame women for be­ing abused.” It is bizarre, agreed Jonathan Freed­land in the same pa­per, how many peo­ple’s first re­ac­tion to al­le­ga­tions of abuse, as­sault and even rape by pow­er­ful men “has been to de­cide that there is a se­ries of tough ques­tions that need to be an­swered – by women”. With dizzy­ing speed, the fin­ger of blame swivels to the ac­cused. “Why didn’t you stand up for your­self? If you were so of­fended, why did you stay in con­tact with the guilty man? Are you re­ally such a del­i­cate soul that a fleet­ing hand on the knee can hurt you so badly?”

“The re­ac­tion to as­sault by pow­er­ful men is that there are ques­tions to be an­swered – by women”

There may be a few “di­nosaurs” left roam­ing the plain, said Jan­ice Turner in The Times, but they now face a clear choice: “evolve or die”. Like it or not, there has been a “pro­found shift” in so­cial at­ti­tudes. Young women em­brace a “new fem­i­nism fo­cused on per­sonal space and iden­tity”, which makes no al­lowance for “randy old fools”. In­deed, be­ing of the gen­er­a­tion that feels “eco­nom­i­cally shafted by their el­ders”, they are “dy­ing to top­ple the old, es­pe­cially old men”. I ad­mire their de­ter­mi­na­tion to “kick down the citadels”, but I baulk at their “black and white think­ing”. Sex and hu­man re­la­tion­ships are com­pli­cated. “Nu­ance mat­ters.” Now that women have “seized the moral power”, they must be care­ful to use it “hu­manely”.

Ju­lia Hart­ley-Brewer: “not re­motely trau­ma­tised”

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