Aanother bites the dust. Daniel Korski, favorite to be selected as the Conservative candidate for mayor of London, has withdrawn from the race after an allegation of fumbling. He denies it, while his accuser, screenwriter and producer Daisy Goodwin, claims other women have contacted her with “very interesting stories” about him. #MeToo seems to have struck again.
Men in seemingly unassailable positions of power have been toppled in a most extraordinary sequence of scandals. The masters of the universe everywhere must cower at what might emerge from all they have done, taking it for granted that working women were there to be touched or subject to “jokes”, all with a shadow tacit threats to careers.
Young women have taken great risks to unmask the bosses who can control their future. These women typically face a torrent of online and mainstream abuse for their bravery, with vicious accusations ranging from “you brought it on yourself” to “gold digger”. I watch, deeply impressed by their courage, as each new wave of feminism pushes the boundaries beyond what my generation has dared to do.
With friends of my age, we go back to what we should never have tolerated when I started out, in the fabulous revolutionary year of 1968. We were the first snowflakes, who would not have considered going to see a editor with stories of assault or harassment. Such stories would likely have been met with astonished, if not ridiculed, incomprehension. Fraternal solidarity was limited to warning each other, not exhorting each other to complain publicly.
Yet, it is clear that some women still think that this behavior is more or less acceptable, even normal. Writing in the Mail about the Korski affair, Sarah Vine claimed that another guest once abused her breasts at a No 10 party, “reaching out, grabbing them with both hands and shaking them in sort of with a vigorous enthusiasm which, I must confess, rather took me and everyone else by surprise”. His answer ? “I wasn’t particularly upset – after all, he did it in plain sight, so it wasn’t threatening or sinister. But it rather cut the wind from my sails. In the end, I decided to file it under “someone who has a little fun at my expense”.
On Korski, she was forgiving: “If Korski did what Goodwin claims, then he made a stupid mistake. But should that be the end of him? Unless concrete evidence emerges from other similar incidents, no. There is not yet, and I hope there never will be, a law against flirting, having fun – or just being a jerk. (You might wonder if she would be so lenient with a Labor politician.) Specifically, this “boys will be boys” attitude has run its course. Behind every unwanted fumbling is a male-in-charge worldview that lets every little boy or girl know their rightful place.
#MeToo was a bold move. As with any campaign, it is vital that we trumpet the successes, even recognizing that the Himalayas are yet to be climbed. It all started with Harvey Weinstein, Emperor of Miramax, sentenced to 23 years in prison for rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse he committed, without control, over a period of 30 years (he received an additional sentence of 16 years in February). After all these years of silence, 80 women, many of whom had been gagged by non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), have filed charges after the remarkable bravery of her AP, Zelda Perkins.
Later came the downfall of Jeffrey Epstein. This month’s standout Icarus is Crispin Odey, a hedge funder with $4.4 billion in assets, after a fierce investigation unearthed the stories of 13 women in an “abusive workplace “. The charges against Odey, a major Brexit backer, were shocking. His fund collapsed within days as investors fled. The fund’s executive committee had already tried to contain it; he fired them.
And who would expect a handful of brave young women to implode the mighty CBI on charges of sexual harassment? Initial reports led to a cascade of more than a dozen women who came forward with stories, including rape. What ultimately brought down Boris Johnson was his cavalier promotion of Chris Pincher, ignoring warnings of sexual misconduct against him. Other sectors, including the media, have also been shaken by such cases. The ‘Pestminster’ scandals continue to mount, as MP David Warburton resigns after being suspended over sexual harassment allegations.
These are just a few examples of the #MeToo quake that has thousands of old men shaking in their big boots. This widespread fear is the underlying success of the campaign, the sign of a culture that is beginning to change. Finally, the mistreatment of women, whether sexist banter or violent rape, threatens the great citadels of power.
Leaving the Commons, Warburton, who denies the harassment, acidly claimed that #MeToo had “gone too far”. The backlash is of course fierce, as always. When I spoke to Jess Phillips, a Labor MP and women’s rights activist, she was coming out of a meeting with Weinstein whistleblower Perkins. They had discussed the campaign against the NDAs that have gagged Perkins for 25 years and still silence abused women. So far, one province in Canada has banned them, and Ireland is following the same path. The Free Speech Bill contains a Labor amendment banning universities from using NDAs to silence victims. But she says, of Parliament: ‘Next time around people will still be elected who think they can get away with abusing this power imbalance in the workplace.’
Are we nearly there yet? Some things get worse, says Laura Bates, whose site Everyday Sexism has collected a quarter of a million stories of abuse and harassment. She lists her successes, from cultural outreach to “catharsis, hope and solidarity for hundreds of thousands of survivors”. Yet she recounts few signs of schools tackling sexual assault.
Around two-thirds of girls in the UK have reported experiencing unwanted sexual attention, including fondling, in public places and thousands of cases of sexual assault have recently been reported in schools. Yet teachers are still not getting adequate training on how to counter the extreme brand of Andrew Tate-influenced misogyny that is spreading online, and sex education is under attack from the right. Meanwhile, in the workplace, the most defenseless women are those on zero-hour and precarious contracts.
There’s still an Everest to climb, but what happens at the top reverberates all the way to the classroom. Overthrowing the most powerful aggressors is important. The feminist revolution is barely half done. But we should celebrate every click up of every new wave of women.
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