Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Inappropriate behaviour

Britain is currently in the grip of one of its periodic moral panics. This one is centred around the Palace Of Westminster and primarily involves allegations of insensitive behaviour by some male MPs against women. The chief casualty has been the former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon who has not denied claims that he ‘inappropriately’ touched a couple of female journalists about 15 years or so ago. Sir Michael has admitted that his behaviour has fallen short of what might be expected adding that ‘what had been acceptable 15, 10 years ago is clearly not acceptable now’.

Sir Michael is clearly wrong when he assumes that this kind of behaviour was ever acceptable. Unsolicited advances of this kind by sex pests have never been considered acceptable in a work environment; although a more relaxed approach may be taken in a social situation such as a party. Some women have complained that it is an example of the power imbalance between men and women. In this respect it is certainly completely unacceptable for any man in a senior position to promise career advancement in return for the granting of sexual favours. So it must be admitted that some of the complaints that have been raised are justified. The question that needs to be addressed is what should be done about it.

The allegations appear to fall into two categories, the less serious and the very serious. The former consists of unwanted touching and suggestive remarks or messages; the latter involves accusations of rape. With regard to acts of clear criminality such as rape or a serious violent sexual assault the response is clear – the police should be informed as quickly as possible. One of the women alleged that she was raped by a senior Labour Party activist some years ago when she was nineteen. What is unclear is why she did not report this to the police at the time, rather than raise the matter some years later with a party official. The law is there for women to seek redress in situations such as this and it is inexplicable why this teenager failed to take advantage of her legal rights by reporting this assault to the police. It is absolutely no use for her to condemn the inadequate response of Labour officials, when she herself possessed the power to bring the perpetrator to justice by informing the police, but failed to do so.

The law can also be used for the less serious claims, for example Max Clifford was prosecuted for behaviour not too dissimilar to that indulged in by Sir Michael. However, most women are likely to consider the legal route to be an overreaction that is not worth the hassle and many juries might agree, resulting in a low probability of conviction. Effective alternative remedies are available. For example a woman called the BBC Radio 4 programme Any Answers to reveal how she dealt with this problem in pre feminist days. Her boss, with whom she had a good working relationship, followed her into the file storage room and proceeded to fondle her legs whilst she was on a step-ladder. Her response was swift, she threw a heap of files on his head which sent him sprawling on the floor. No words were spoken, she continued to have an amicable working relationship with him, but she was never again troubled with unwanted advances from this source. A firm response such as this can usually be relied upon to terminate the gratuitous attentions of these kinds of sex pests, and this includes bosses.

Instead of this kind of direct action, in which women take personal responsibility for challenging their more disreputable male colleagues, an agenda for a more intrusive and interventionist workplace disciplinary or grievance procedure is beginning to emerge. The problem with this approach is that is usually involves the word of one person against another, and the management is placed in an impossible position of trying to determine who is telling the truth. In any case it is not really the job of an employer to police workplace relationships, or to reinforce the dismal notion that women are always hopelessly vulnerable to male bestiality. So it is advisable for women to go easy on portraying themselves as helpless victims, and instead become more self-reliant and resilient in handling unwanted advances, rather than depending on officialdom and unreliable work procedures for redress.

The current furore has implications which extend well beyond Westminster. The BBC has been providing a platform for a stream of vocal feminists who are using the current uproar as a means of smearing all men as potential sexual predators, when the vast majority are well mannered and treat women with respect. In pursuit of their controlling agenda there are demands that innocent flirtatious remarks, complements and dating requests should all be deemed sexual harassment, and that such a wide interpretation of what is deemed ‘inappropriate’ should be rolled out in all workplaces nationwide.

Both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have voiced comments which suggest that they have strong sympathy with this agenda, which will have the effect of massively increasing the power of disaffected feminist agitators to police and control the attitude and behaviour of male colleagues, leading to a situation where the most innocent of remarks could lead to disciplinary action. The pernicious effect of what can happen with such a policy has been demonstrated at American universities in which officially sanctioned kangaroo courts operate with impunity, in which female accusers are invariably believed and male defendants’ evidence is ignored.

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