Home » Columns » A Knee-Jerk Reaction?

A Knee-Jerk Reaction?

Publishing Date : 06 November, 2017


Another week, another sex-sleaze scandal!  One week it’s Hollywood, the next it’s the BBC and now it’s the turn of Westminster, seat of the British government.  It ‘s starting to seem like every time you look under a metaphorical rug, there’s a predatory, powerful, male lurking, ready to pounce on an unsuspecting, whiter-than-snow young maiden,  a naïve ingénue in a world of bullying men:  Or so it might seem….

…..I recall many years ago posting a job advert with the catchy heading ‘Searching for the million dollar man’ only to be hit with a  barrage of hate mail from mostly unemployed women calling me sexist and a misogynist. I had never heard the term before but I have now with men all over the world being so labelled by the feminist movement. It means a person who dislikes, despises, or is strongly prejudiced against women. There seems to be millions of them and yet as I write this at my desk I really know only a handful of men who are like that.  

Curiously there is no male equivalent for the term, the masculine form ‘misanthropist’ taken to mean someone with a grudge against the whole of humanity but in recent weeks we’ve seen plenty of synonyms – male chauvinist, sexist pig etc. , as manicured fingers have been pointed in accusation and righteous indignation.  A few weeks ago I wrote about the film director Harvey Weinstein who has been disgraced and plummeted from power in magnificent fashion, for allegations of rape, sexual harassment etc.  Since then there has been many women who have come forward documenting their treatment from him and others. It seems that the Weinstein case has fuelled a smouldering conflagration that has engulfed not only Tinsel Town but now the UK government as well.

Before proceeding I want to stand on the shoulders of all the women who have come before me and admit that I too have been the victim of handsy hands and lewd suggestions. When I was 21, fresh from my studies and seemingly ripe for the picking my boss would always insist we finish early to go into the work bar (ah yes, the 80s!) where she would inevitably have too much to drink and she would get closer and closer, until I could make my escape. She was old enough to be my mother and as I had not been exposed to the world of cougars and dudes with mummy issues, and no role model like French President Macron, this was all a bit strange - threatening no, annoying, yes, manageable, in this instance, of course.

But obviously, it is not the same experience for everyone. The journalist Jane Merrick told the BBC news recently that she felt “humiliated” after a male MP made a grab for her after a boozy lunch. Apparently, she rebuffed him and there was no damage done but she was so traumatized that she can only speak of it now 14 years later (not sure I am buying that).  Another story which was reported was of an MP who sent his secretary into a sex shop in Soho to buy a vibrator while he waited outside. I might not know all the facts of this case but seriously what employee really would do this for their boss and allow him to refer to her as sugar t*its as he reportedly often called her in public? As a man, I’d be reluctant to even hint that perhaps this young woman might have been partially to blame for the inappropriateness of the relationship but I can’t help thinking that had the toad in question tried it on with a young Germaine Geer or Janet Street-Porter, he would have been given sharp shrift.
Right now there are hundreds of accusations flying right left and centre, including one that the PM as Home Secretary, did nothing about it when allegations concerning various parliamentarians were presented to her. But as Jilly Cooper said, 'All power attracts'. Parliament is like the Square Mile - a place of power, influence and excitement. Nobody forces you to work there. If it's going to be too stressful, you can always settle for a job in a little wool-shop in the Cotswolds, where all is peace and propriety’. That may be so but it really doesn’t justify an ‘anything goes’ culture and this is what this should be about, except it’s way out of hand…and the danger is that we go to the other extreme such as earlier this year when US Vice President Mike Pence said he wouldn’t dare ask a single woman to dinner for a business discussion: it wouldn’t feel inappropriate. As it turns out he was castigated for this and pilloried as a misogynist who was scared of feminine power. He was damned, whatever he did and surely that is how the MPs in London must feel today?  

And how ironic is it that in the light of allegations surfacing about Kevin Spacey, Netflix should immediately announce the cancellation of its hugely popular House of Cards series, set in the corridors of power on  Capitol Hill and based on a much earlier British series set in Westminster; not because of the sex, drugs and Russian moles that absolute political power attracts, but for the off-camera sexual  shenanigans  of the lead actor - art imitating life imitating art?

Before I put myself in front of the firing squad let me just say that sexual bullying, harassment, misuse of power etc. are all deplorable and should not be allowed. But what is happening now feels more like a witch hunt which has the aim of trying to prevent any man so much as shaking hands with a woman in a business or social situation or vilifying us merely for being born male and where will it stop? Can we never be left alone with a female worker because our actions are misconstrued if when getting in a lift we accidentally touch her, or thinking we are assisting, put our arm under her elbow, or even speak to her? It’s all bit scary really and will lead to that old political correctness, which is already a mess, becoming even more so.

We are men and women with natural attractions and urges towards or against each other. Is a pat on the bottom so reprehensible – well, yes to some, but is it enough to blow the whistle and end a career? If an MP’s hands brush your knees this cannot be a call for a resignation because it is not sexual assault, nor  the end of the world and it should not be viewed as such. And when the whistle is blown there is a problem from the male side as it is almost impossible to defend yourself -it’s your word against hers and you look like a sex pest, villain and a perpetrator of a hate crime when all you are guilty of is a moment of minor misjudgement.  All I am saying is that at the moment it feels like persecution and the bombardment of accusations and demands for investigations is out of all proportion.

This over-the-top backlash trivialises the big issues like real sexual assault and rape, most especially when minors are involved, as did the comment by female MP Naz Shah endorsing the behaviour of the Muslim Rochdale and Rotherham grooming gang , telling their sexual abuse victims to "shut up in the name of diversity"? There was so little fuss over that, which is a far more serious, but perhaps if the comment had come from a man, it would have been a different story?  Come to think of it, why so silent now, Ms. Shah?



Do you think the closure of BCL will compel SPEDU to double their efforts in creating job opportunities in the Selibe Phikwe?