This is our truth, tell us yours
So today according to one commentator on Radio 5 undead the lib dems are “lobbing hand grenades” at each other over the suspension of Lord Rennard. His defenders are insisting that no laws have been broken, and in the case of Chris Davies showing sorrow that a “good and decent man has been unfairly punished”.
Lets do a little role play, imagine you are in the pub with a female friend. She goes to the bar and a stranger strokes her arm, leers and asks if she wants to come up and see his etchings. She moves away feeling uncomfortable and clearly has no interest, the stranger moves closer and continues his unwanted advances. Do you;
A. Ignore it, no law has been broken and your friend needs to toughen up, or even accept the propositions as a compliment, after all that’s how it is meant.
B. Offer sympathy when she returns, agree it is awful, and listen to how she feels about the situation.
C. Intervene, making clear that the stranger is making your friend uncomfortable, and that he should stop.
Now the analogy falls down because the choice of B or C might be around how big, drunk and dangerous looking the stranger is, but only B and C are the responses of a decent, empathetic human being. A smoke screen is being thrown up by the supporters of Rennard. They are claiming because no law was broken there is no case to answer. The women involved have never demanded legal actions, they have been concerned that a rich and powerful man, a power broker in the party they were members of, was behaving in an inappropriate way. Harassment often does not fall under any law, it does not stop it causing distress. Which brings us to the second, and in many ways far more worrying aspect of this.
Reynard’s supporters are claiming nothing has been proved, as if this was a court of law again. In their world the distress and upset of the women involved is not evidence of anything. Only the intention of Rennard matters, he did not intend to harass or assault therefore no harassment or assault happened. We all know where this leads, the man who rapes a drunken woman does not decide if it was rape, the husband who ignores the consent of his spouse does not decide if it was rape, the man who touches a thigh or arm without permission does not get to decide if his actions cause upset or distress.
Furthermore, four women have given evidence that they were touched, or that inappropriate suggestions were made, yet his supporters claim there is no evidence. Like the Queen in Alice through the Looking Glass words seem to mean what they want them to mean, and in their looking glass land evidence is what the rich white man says.
This is a world of patriarchal values, no surprise perhaps when it is centered around the anachronistic House of Lords. A world where men not only decide what actions are acceptable, but what responses to those actions are acceptable. Rennard and others cannot comprehend that there is a need to apologize because they don’t understand that they are not allowed to do what they want, when they want. Intent has nothing to do with this, it is a lesson as parents we teach our children, if you upset someone, you apologize, regardless of whether you intended to upset them or not.
Across the country pub gropers, wolf whistlers, men who shout from cars, all the examples of harassment who pop up on Everyday Sexism daily have a new hero. They to do not think women should be upset by their actions, they to do not accept the distress they may cause, they to do not see why they should apologize when they “have done nothing wrong”. I am no fan of the Lib Dems but on this Nick Clegg has got it completely right, but it is no surprise in a country where women are not believed and their feelings ignored that so many of his own party are getting it so wrong.