politicians in the spotlight
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”