Belfast Telegraph

Friday 11 July 2014

Why sexism is still all in a day’s work for women

If ever there was a political party which matched the photofit of the perfect libby-luvvy-lefty lobby, it's the Lib Dems.

What makes them even more attractive to the open-toed sandal mob, of course, is the fact they weren't supposed to sully their purity by ever being back in power. Or, if so, only as part of the mythical ‘centre left' coalition with Labour so beloved of the British intelligentsia.

Instead, they hitched their wagon to the slick evil Tories and so dumped the lefty consensus into a mincer of confusion. There was horse DNA in the beef burger. Or fly in the vol-au-vent.

In any case, the solution for lefty cadres has been to abuse David Cameron routinely as a neo-Nazi, while Nick and the LibDem benefit-cutters escape untouched. And when the irresistible force of one lefty cause — sexual harassment — meets the immovable object of another — the Lib Dems — there's only one winner.

Hypocrisy.

The most astounding example of that this week was the intervention of Dame Shirley Williams in the Lord Rennard scandal. “Chris Rennard”, she opined, “is a very fine man, and I think the whole of this has been hopelessly exaggerated. Let’s be frank, the bad stuff is basically what’s happened to Savile. It's abusing children, it's abusing very young innocent women, it's using the temptations of celebrity ... I completely understand that this is terrible, simply terrible. I don’t think anything that’s been said about our chap is in the same category at all.”

“Our chap?” Funny that. One Tory peer gets slandered and libelled on Twitter by lefties delighted (oh so very wrongly and so very expensively!) to have bagged a Conservative. Another peer, a Liberal this time, has a bevy of LibDem beauties wheeled out in the Sunday press in defence of his good name and no less a tyro than Dame Shirley rushing to pooh-pooh the allegations from a string of women who may once have looked to her as a role model.

General attitude? Keep schtum and pretend that all this rather mild and healthy slap 'n' tickle took place in the distant past and we are so much more sophisticated today ...

As if. The fact is that sexual harassment is still prevalent in the workplace, just as discrimination against women in employment is still as rife as it was 30 years ago.

The other fact is that so much of this remains secret and undercover, because what makes it possible in the first place — hierarchical power at work, the promise of preferment, the threat of demotion or dismissal — is exactly what keeps it hidden for years.

The complete menu of harassment — from insistent staring at embonpoint to the hand on the small of the back in the lift to the full groping assault in the storeroom — is still on the table for “our chaps” in the workplace.

The course of action open to women to redress such activity is so laborious, intensive and lengthy that many women aren't experienced enough to take it on, are psychologically wrecked by the persistent anxiety at work or choose simply to switch jobs rather than devote a good portion of their working lives to fighting a case through tribunal. No women choose to be harassed.

Survival takes many forms. Principally, successful women find it necessary to “man up” in the workplace, becoming tougher, more resilient, less tolerant, especially the higher they rise. They just have to ignore the office bromances that see men snuggle up together to discuss and guffaw at ...well ... who knows what? After all, women are excluded. You see, there won't be a history of Mummy passing the family business on to her daughter, the way Daddy routinely hands on his business to a row of chunky-headed sons who (under open recruitment) wouldn't even get to buy anything in the shop, let alone own it.

The game remains stacked against women in work. The fact that these equality issues come so far down the list of priorities for the liberal left (as exemplified by Dame Shirley) is one reason — just one — why I could see their flat-cap misogyny far enough when they come begging for support on other causes.

Men generally don't need to do anything in the workplace — sometimes quite literally — in order to gain preferment. They just trundle on. Where women need to prove themselves every day in every new environment at every meeting — to show “they're not just a pretty face but have brains too”, men just need to pull their chair closer to the table and not dribble on it.

And some can't even manage that.

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