Sky News gathered together four female MPs to talk about sexual harassment this week. Jess Phillips said she “can’t remember” how many times she’s been sexually assaulted, Fay Jones was flashed as a teenager, Rosena Allin-Khan was groped by a hairdresser and Caroline Nokes said that Stanley Johnson once grabbed her bottom in a rather disgusting manner, an allegation that he denies.
The Twitterati rushed to congratulate these “brave” women on reliving their trauma on national television. Well, up to a point. There’s value in prominent women publicly discussing such incidents, since most women have some such tale and perhaps hearing about them makes us all more willing to stand up for ourselves when they happen. But why is it necessary to go that step further, as they all did, in making much wilder claims?
Ms Nokes declared, for example, that after the murder of Sarah Everard, “the initial response we were getting was, ‘Well why was she walking alone?’” I’m not sure in what online Taliban forums Ms Nokes spends her time, but I cannot recall a single reaction of that kind after that appalling crime occurred. Nor is it true, as Dr Allin-Khan preposterously asserted, that: “It isn’t safe for us and our daughters and our friends to walk the streets.” In fact, once you’ve watched the testimony of female Afghan judges discussing how unsafe it is now for women in Kabul, Dr Allin-Khan’s claim is almost grotesque.
So for the sake of balance, let me add my testimony to the pile: I know several women who have been raped or suffered serious sexual assault, though I myself never have. If I were raped, I tend to think I wouldn’t pursue a prosecution unless I had irrefutable evidence. I think maybe someone flashed me once when I was a child, but I don’t really remember.
As for the broader issues, we can all agree that domestic violence and sex trafficking are vile crimes. The spread of pornography and sexual humiliation of girls in schools is worrying. Flashing may well be an indicator of more dangerous behaviour down the line. Rape conviction rates are low. These are complicated and difficult problems, each requiring specific consideration.
They are not by any means all the same issue and the only way to tie them all neatly together is with misandry, outrageous scaremongering and ridiculous campaigns like the push to criminalise catcalling.
Let’s not tell women they should feel unsafe on the streets when they shouldn’t. Let’s not imply that men are somehow sociopathic accomplices to every sexual crime. But by all means, if Stanley Johnson grabs your bottom, name and shame the man. He might think twice next time.
Insulate Britain’s martyr complex
On the topic of hyperbole, nine Insulate Britain protesters were finally jailed this week, upon which their leader read out a statement from outside the courtroom. The letter ended with a call to “highlight the injustice” of badly insulated homes because “this is what the suffragettes and Martin Luther King did and it’s what Insulate Britain have done”.
The judge correctly identified that the protesters are suffering from a martyr complex. One of them confirmed that suspicion by saying she would go on hunger strike. As long as it doesn’t stop the traffic.
The declining quality of MPs
Zarah Sultana is the latest MP to be upbraided in the Chamber for “unparliamentary language” after repeatedly calling the Government “dodgy” and, when asked to reword her thoughts, petulantly claiming: “I don’t think another word suffices.”
This follows on from Sir Keir Starmer calling the Prime Minister a “coward” and Ian Blackford declaring him to be a “liar”, both earning reprimands from the Speaker. All of them would gleefully denounce Sir Geoffrey Cox for working as a barrister while in Parliament, but when you compare his abundance of oratorical skill to their inability to master the basics of being an MP, such as making arguments, you have to wonder if they might not benefit from taking on a second job to teach them the art of rhetoric.