Michael Gove on Weinstein: beyond a joke

Comment: It's time to stop laughing about violence against women.

It’s Saturday morning and there is an apparently endless stream of news about the variety of ways men are violent towards women.

This morning there is a story that almost half (yes, half) of female aid workers have “experienced inappropriate physical contact from male colleagues” and very few told anyone about it because they had a fear of reprisals or losing their job. We also heard that Oxfam has investigated seven senior officials over safeguarding allegations (including allegations of sexual harassment) in the last year. The White House has accused the women who claim to have been sexually assaulted by Trump of lying (despite the tape of him admitting to sexual violence being public). Women working in parliament have spoken about the sexual harassment and assaults they’ve experienced, and there’s more talk of women being ignored and abuse being covered up when women do speak up. This is while the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse continue to investigate allegations of child sexual abuse linked to Westminster.

These stories are at the end of a week dominated by the revelations about Weinstein and the way his alleged crimes were covered up and the women silenced, Jared O’Mara’s suspension from the Labour Party for misogynistic and homophobic comments and the many thousands of tweets with #MeToo as the hashtag, detailing the many ways women experience violence, harassment and misogyny.

There is so much discussion about sexual violence and harassment that, apparently, it’s almost funny for some people. Certainly Michael Gove, current Secretary of State for the Environment, thinks it’s amusing, ‘joking’ with John Humphrys and Neil Kinnock that being interviewed on Today can be compared to being assaulted by Harvey Weinstein. All the old white men with access to the mic thought it was funny and joined in. It took a stream of people on Twitter to point out to them that perhaps this isn’t something they should joke about…not while women are still being raped, assaulted, harassed and silenced.

Maybe it’s the sheer volume of stories around about the violence women are subjected to that makes it hard for some to take it all in, and regard the matter with the seriousness it demands. What we’re seeing is huge number of women speaking up, from all walks of life and from across the globe, and this seems to be overwhelming for some people.

Anyone who’s been interviewed about this in the last few weeks has been asked if “it’s all gone a bit far and if maybe some women are just jumping on the ‘bandwagon’ ”. Lots of people want us to stop making links between these stories – “can you just comment on catcalling, we’ve done enough on Weinstein” or “I know you’re unhappy with the way the CPS figures on the low levels of rape convictions were reported, but can you just stick to sexual assaults in the workplace and why women don’t speak out?” or even “don’t you think we should reduce the time women can bring complaints about these men, leaving it so long can be really horrible for men?” [who carry on with their lives thinking they’ve got away with it].

What were really being told is to stop making the connection between all these events. We’re encouraged to see them as one-off attacks by rogues and monsters instead of a result of inequality, toxic masculinity and abuse of power. Because, if all these stories are connected, if women really are subjected to violence at endemic levels and we’re not doing anywhere near enough to end it, that’s too hard, too big and requires too much change.

When campaigning about sexual violence in schools, universities, at work and on public transport we’re constantly being asked if we’re being a bit hysterical, overdoing it a bit, ignoring the impact on boys and men hearing about all this unpleasantness. It’s taken over a year to get the Government to respond to enormous volume evidence about the scale of sexual assaults of girls at school, with the Minister finally admitting that girls shouldn’t have to go back into the classroom with the boy who raped them. Instead of sharing our outrage, we’re asked to stop making the links, to stop being so sensitive, to suck it up a bit so we can all pretend to get along.

It’s exhausting. And it’s unfair. And it shows just how far we have to go. This Saturday morning, we stand beside the millions of women who are shouting ME TOO at the top of their lungs and who are still being ignored and laughed at by the very men who have the power to say NO MORE.

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