“Wrooster you turn into an MP, you don’t stop being a member of the human race,” wrote Andrew Bridgen inside the Sunday Times. The Conservative MP reported his colleague Dan Poulter to the whips’ administrative center – over sexual harassment problems – seven years previously, only to return throughout first hand their now infamous disinclination to do something positive about such allegations, previous striking them on a spreadsheet.
Brigden’s sense of right and wrong is as transparent as any person’s: it takes guts to be the MP who thinks, when 3 separate ladies refuse to use the equivalent carry as a colleague, that can signal some drawback previous a lapse in professionalism. Yet I expected his sentence to continue: “… merely because you’ve been elected to parliament, you don’t instantly turn into Benny Hill, the only protection for passing female our our bodies from your hands being how fast they’ll run in their silly shoes; you don’t get a cross to take a look at porn whilst you’re at paintings; or finish a lunch looking to get off with anyone. It is also an excessively particular activity, nevertheless it’s nonetheless a role, it’s no longer a cape of impunity.”
Brigden’s sentence if truth be told ended somewhat another way: “We have all the failings and frailties of those we represent.” Fish gotta swim; hen gotta fly; guy gotta observe his manly urges anywhere they take him.
The harassment scandal engulfing Westminster writhes with misconceptions and misconstructions like snakes in a sack: defensiveness, non-public acquire, inveterate misogyny, false impression, all vying to peer which is able to do essentially the most to warp the image past the purpose the place a sober eye may make sense of it. The Michael Fallon defence was once that “what might have been acceptable 15, 10 years ago, is not acceptable now”; as a result of in 2002, in fact, ladies had best not too long ago arrived within the administrative center, and no one was once somewhat certain whether or not they had been there to make tea or give massages. Inevitably, there was a bid to make it celebration political, regardless that the Labour celebration has been noticeably reserved at the Tory spectacle, understanding – in fact – that its personal debacle is but to return.
The worst religion is from those that search to enlarge the trivial, earlier than generously waving it away. The journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer is the Boudicca of this manoeuvre, recalling Fallon’s hand on her knee and the way little it affected her – including, illogically, that had it came about once more, she would have punched him. The message here’s that correct ladies can maintain themselves; harassment is only a clumsy cross long gone incorrect; that the territory is so ambiguous it will throw up as many male sufferers because it has, traditionally, accumulated feminine ones.
This in flip aerated the paranoid fantasies of Peter Hitchens, who concluded in his column within the Mail on Sunday : “Wise men in Westminster will in future go about with chaperones, record and film all conversations with the opposite sex … nothing else will keep them safe from claims that they momentarily applied a ‘fleeting hand’ to someone’s knee.”
So, our claims are petty; males are much more likely to endure than ladies; we’ll finally end up in niqabs if we’re no longer cautious, and what’s additional, we’ll deserve it.
In this bilious overstatement the argument unearths itself: ladies who object to sexual harassment, ladies who want to cross about their running lives – no, wait, their general lives – unmolested, treated as pros and equals, are towards sex itself. We want to clamp down on it, shroud it, erase it – turn common, lusty, personal members of the family between men and women proper right into a provide of public humiliation and punishment. This isn’t a simple misrepresentation; it’s the opposite of the truth.
“Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” It’s Oscar Wilde’s line, alternatively so memorably delivered in House of Cards that everyone – satirically, in view of recent events – thinks it was once Kevin Spacey. To exchange this for a modern international and our specific instances: when anyone in a position of power seeks to leverage promises of building or threats of ostracism – or their physically presence in lifts and dark corridors – in trade for a sexual act or a touch of physically touch, that isn’t about sex. That is set attempting to make flesh their ineffable sense of the “he-man” they think they’re, desperate to similtaneously cash out on and shore up their status, at the expense of 1 different human being.
Sex is, through definition, congress: the act of coming jointly. A frisson is the impending jointly of need; a touch is the impending jointly of intent. How would possibly one thing accomplished through force or trickery or bribery resemble that criterion? If you want to have sex with anyone, finding out in the event that they’re is form of simple. You don’t will have to press your groin towards their hip, or text them a couple of activity selection. You merely will have to ask them. And for individuals who don’t want to ask because of you know they’re no longer , or want them no longer , then what you’re talking about isn’t sex. It is also a fetish, some solitary buzz from contempt for yet one more, or it might be completely asexual, a quest for power in any kind. But it isn’t sex.
The cool animated film of the empowered woman is that she despises sex, will consent to it for good purposes – alternatively lies in wait to catch men out in their needs, previous than she cries rape or attack or harassment. Having no sexual urge for meals of her non-public, the appetites of men are a treasure trove to her, to be used for her building sooner or later and revenge the next. It is a cultural truth, spotted over centuries, that female sexuality is so terrifying it’s really additional calming to take into accounts all ladies frigid, with the entire anxieties attending that fiction, than it’s to take into accounts the truth of it. But without female need inside the symbol, concepts akin to “consent”, “delight” and “mutual pleasure” are all the time going to be just a little sketchy.
If we want equality, in parliament or any place else – if we want an international all through which ladies most often aren’t relentlessly undermined through colleagues who would cut back them to their physically attributes – the activity of work is not to censure numerous rats, and solid out those that if truth be told driven it. It is to forge a proper working out of what sex is. Sex without consent isn’t sex. Sex underneath duress isn’t sex. Only a feminist would possibly have sex.
• Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist