Her piece focuses on the allegations that have been made recently against Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Rennard, and his purported harassment of women in the party. The allegations have been all over the media, new and old, over the past 10 days or so, and have led to a widespread discussion about what’s acceptable behaviour at work (including additional prominence given to the brilliant Everyday Sexism project, which can only be welcome).
But, says Knight, in best finger-waggling tone, this is all wrong and we all need a little perspective, because actually, if you’re a woman in politics, you should have a thick enough skin to put up with this sort of thing, and comparing Lord Rennard’s alleged handsy behaviour to that of Jimmy Savile does none of us any favours at all.
First things first: who the hell is comparing the Lord Rennard story to that of Savile? Because on that point, I agree with her: the two situations aren’t alike, and anyone who says they are is out of their little tree. But I’ve heard precisely no one do that, and to conflate the two simply muddies the waters of what is an important discussion that’s rarely given this level of attention.
But saying that you should put up with unprofessional and inappropriate behaviour simply because you’re an articulate woman in a good job is utterly ridiculous. Women in politics, according to Knight, are “empowered, confident and ambitious”, arguing that they’re capable of looking after themselves in situations of discomfort.
It’s probably a fair description; it certainly rings try of the women I know in politics. But I’d argue that one’s general outlook and demeanour has about as much to do with being sexually harassed as it does the price of fish. Yes, confident women might be better placed to rebut an advance – but they might not be. And why should confidence mean that they’re not entitled to complain about being harassed in their place of work? When faced with a much older, more powerful man in a position of authority and influence, I’d argue that you could have Boudicca-levels of confidence and still feel squeamish about physically removing his hand from your thigh.
Knight goes on to say that because the incidents alleged against Rennard aren’t criminal and because those making the allegations are “not…without power”, they’re doing women everywhere a disservice by having a lack of proportion. Choosing to work in a male-dominated environment, she says, calls for “some moral courage.”
So let me get this right. What she thinks is that women in politics should be prepared to put up with this sort of behaviour, because they’ve chosen to work in male-dominated environments; and anyway, they’re the kind of women who can look after themselves. And frankly, what’s a bit of groping when some women are facing persistent abuse at the hands of others?
Jeez. Really? The “hush up because you could have it worse” argument? Really? And yes, of course, of course, of course there’s a difference between sex crimes and harassment, just as there’s a difference between having your bag nicked from under a table in a bar and being robbed of it at knifepoint. But we still recognise that both of those things are entirely unacceptable.
So no, I’m afraid not, India: your arguments won’t wash. However confident a woman may be, and wherever she chooses to work, she’s entitled to do so without her colleagues – be they superiors or juniors – overstepping the mark. And when she’s subjected to behaviour that constitutes harassment, she’s entitled to complain about it – as loudly and publicly as she likes.