In the last week we’ve heard a lot in the news about a senior Liberal in the UK inappropriately behaving towards women junior to him. I don’t know the ins and outs. What I want to respond to is remarks made by the deputy leader of the party Simon Hughes on the BBC yesterday. He felt that as many of the women affected were robust and capable individuals they would have easily seen off any inappropriate behaviour and that it should not be made too much fuss over, consequently. This made me utterly furious. Other liberals have made much better noises about listening to evidence (http://www.libdemvoice.org/allegations-regarding-the-conduct-of-lord-rennard-and-the-partys-response-33364.html#utm_source=libdemvoice.org&utm_medium=redirect&utm_campaign=url) , but this attitude of Simon’s is made of wrong and needs dismantling. His assumptions about what is ok, what is an issue and what is an affront, I found downright offensive.
First up, a person holding a position of authority has a moral duty not to abuse their power by using it for any personal gain. This includes not using your status to give you sexual access to other people (neither gender nor orientation matter). M Hughes was not talking about one romantic proposition gone awry, we’re talking lots of complaints from lots of different women. This did not seem to strike him as being much of a problem. Not okay. Not professional, not responsible, not what anyone should consider reasonable. As a workplace attitude, those in power making advances to those of inferior status should not be acceptable. It creates a culture, where power equates to sexual power, and that’s not healthy.
Unwanted sexual advances can be threatening, especially if you start to feel your job or career may be going to depend on your willingness to put out. Even if you are robust enough to fend off the advance, it is still an insult. Inappropriate sexual advances are rude. Again, there is nothing of gender or orientation in this issue. To make sexual advances in inappropriate situations, to people who have shown no interest, is not polite. Again I raise the issue of the kind of culture you create if you tolerate such behaviour. It is not okay to be repeatedly insulting to those who work for you, and this kind of behaviour is, at the very least, insulting.
About the only people who can be let off the hook for not knowing how to conduct themselves in matters of amorous relationship, are teenagers. They are still learning, some slack must be cut, but not too much! Someone who wishes to be considered an adult of sound mind, must be able to control their sexual behaviour in public. Also, come to that, in private. I demand that this be considered necessary adult behaviour, not an optional extra, not a thing that doesn’t matter, but essential. Anyone who cannot control their sexual behaviour evidently cannot control themselves and most certainly should not be allowed to hold a position of power or authority.
The ability of a victim to defend themselves does not, in any situation, make the crime somehow acceptable. Ever. If I fend off a mugger, I have still experienced an attempted mugging and I can still go to the police. If I escape from someone who is attempting to rape me, I have still had someone attempt to rape me. If I am insulted in my workplace, or sexually harassed, it doesn’t matter how well I cope with it, from a legal perspective IT STILL HAPPENED.
Cultures are made up of the people in them. If we let people go round imagining that it’s ok to make inappropriate passes if the recipient seems robust enough to take it, we’re on a slippery slope. We have to hold high expectations of each other or we are going to get this kind of behaviour, and we’re going to accept it. I don’t want to be part of a society that thinks a little groping at work is probably harmless, or that people in power can be allowed to treat female employees as sex objects. We have some pretty clear laws on these issues in fact, we just don’t seem willing to uphold them or take them seriously. This stuff matters, it underpins human interactions, and if we get one aspect badly wrong, I don’t rate the likelihood of getting much else fabulously right.