Watch the powerful men scrambling to defend their unearned privilege, equating rape with ‘hands on knees’. They must be really worried
I know it feels like years, but we are only just over three weeks into the post-Weinstein “#MeToo” ramifications on media and politics. There is a cultural shift under way. Those in power, who hitherto were immune, are beginning to understand that there are consequences. But even though some big names have been challenged, it is only the beginning of a correction. Barely even that. It is the beginning of a hope of a correction.
Yet even this is too much for many. Almost every day now, there is a man on the radio or the television telling us that things have gone too far. Almost every day, there is a man’s sneering, hovering head sitting on top of a few hundred words of what is really no less than the sort of existential hysteria of an animal whose cosy ecosystem has been disturbed. Like an anthill that’s been kicked, the commentariat complex is scattering its ants, frenzied and confused, crawling all over the pages of British newspapers and the airwaves, warning that a merciless McCarthyite campaign is under way against men. All men.
If you think this is hyperbole, you would be forgiven. I quote, in the Telegraph, Charles Moore declares that the women are “now on top”, and hopes that they will share power equally with men, not “crush” them. In the Mail, we are spoilt for choice, but let’s go with Peter Hitchens’ (amazing even for him) logic that all that women gain from all this “squawking” about sex pests is a niqab.
In the avant garde of this movement was – of course, predictably – Giles Coren, who expressed resigned confusion about how one is to navigate this scary new world without accidentally sexually assaulting someone. Rod Liddle, in the least surprising take ever, wonders if women are hardwired to be attracted to powerful men. Brendan O’Neill called it a “sexual inquisition”, saying it was a “sinister menace to democracy”.
To the usual suspects, we can add Michael White – once of this parish – on Radio 4 calling Westminster female reporters “predators”, David Goodhart tweeting that the debate is a “metropolitan one” that fails to distinguish hand on knee/sleazebag behaviour from rape/serious intimidation, and various others on panel shows and interviews.
While some of these men are cynical professional trolls posing as contrarians because they’d rather be wrong than irrelevant, the response en masse is actually not that much of a pose. They really do think that this current furore is a disaster, and that things are completely out of control.
There is now a well-worn perch for such men who pop up to push back against progressive agendas. But we are now dealing with a countermovement that is doing the work of the resistance as if it were a coordinated propaganda campaign. A helpful way to look at this phenomenon is to see these people less as thinking individuals with agency, but as organisms on top of a food chain reacting with instinctive self-preservation to what they perceive to be an existential threat.
Something deep in their DNA is telling them that their status is unearned: it is just a fact of biology and social conditioning. It is why they have their jobs and their social status, despite not doing very much to uniquely distinguish them from others apart from their gender and class access. The weakness they project is very real.
And, yes, the women too. Jan Moir, Melanie Philips, Anne Leslie, they also – like women who vote for self-declared misogynists everywhere – are willing to trade in their group rights in order to secure their individual privileges. The patriarchy is a sophisticated system that survives because it creates enough winners who have a vested interest in maintaining it. As is the case with any entrenched political order, when it is challenged it is always those with the most to lose, those who don’t have the skills to function outside, who kick back the hardest.
And so, yes, it must all be a gross overreaction. Acts of sexual harassment must all be collapsed to the most anodyne in order to minimise what is a very serious problem that goes well beyond the touch of an elbow. The language of the witch-hunt is a giveaway. It betrays an understanding that if any of these allegations are taken seriously, then so much entitled behaviour needs to be unlearned. The Humbling must not come to pass.
That is why Michael Fallon’s resignation was reduced to merely a hand on the knee, which has now somehow become the motif for the entire slew of assault allegations. You would think that what precipitated this entire moment is a rash of knee touching (as if that also is fine and “just courting”), as opposed to allegations of rape in some cases, and unwelcome sexual advances that include lunging at women from the Westminster lobby.
Brave women all over the world are coming out to share painful, confusing, even damaging experiences; and many men of influence are responding by trying to render their collective efforts stillborn. All these columns, all these interviews and frenzied tweets ask: “But how are we to survive if there are rules?”
The answer is, they don’t. And they know it. By striving to maintain the status quo they are willing to sabotage what could be a profound shift in a toxic culture, and instead prop up a system that ensures women remain vulnerable to assault. A hand on a knee does not a sexual harassment epidemic make, but a group of influential men choosing to think that is all that is happening certainly maintains fertile ground where would-be harassers can continue to thrive.
Source: The Guardian