Local MSP Maree Todd, SNP has been appointed as Minister for Childcare and Early Years in the Scottish Government. This is her regular fortnightly column in The Orkney News written before the announcement.
In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, many women across the globe have felt empowered to expose the level of everyday harassment and abuse they suffer, including in Holyrood and Westminster.
It has been shocking and painful to witness, and yet there is hope that this might be a watershed moment in history, a turning point, because these experiences are neither new nor rare.
My interview on ‘Daily Politics’ last week, didn’t feel like the dawn of a new beginning. It felt like more of the same.
I imagine in future the footage will be used to teach journalists how not to interview a woman on the sensitive topic of sexual harassment, from the interruption and talking over me, to cutting back to the studio where two men discuss whether there is indeed a problem, or whether it is just ‘tittle tattle’.
After warning me we were running out of time, Gordon Brewer, asked me directly, live on air, whether I have ever been ‘the victim of anything like this.’
This was live on TV. Not on. I reacted robustly by saying I thought the question was inappropriate, and by telling Mr Brewer it was about as appropriate as me asking if he had ever harassed anyone.
You can view the interview here.
I wonder what kind of answer I was expected to give? Was I expected to reveal live on air that I had?Was I expected to name someone?
As I tried to say during the interview, it is well established that women experience sexual harassment at work. I do not believe my personal experience is relevant. Allegations, including the very serious allegation of rape, were already in the public domain.
A report conducted jointly by the TUC and Everyday Sexism found that 52% of women had experienced some form of sexual harassment at work, nearly a quarter had been touched without invitation, a fifth had experienced a sexual advance.
He didn’t need the salacious details, to know that there is a problem.
Hundreds of women have approached me as I go about my business in Edinburgh, in the Highlands and on social media, to thank me for how I reacted. It clearly resonated widely.
While Gordon Brewer contacted me over the weekend to apologise, the BBC insist Brewer’s question was “in the public interest” and have not offered an apology. Instead the producer suggested my reaction was OTT – some parallels there with women who refuse to accept harassment.
Just to be clear – it is completely inappropriate to ask a woman, live on air, if she has ever been a victim of sexual harassment.
I hope that one thing to emerge from this recent focus is that safe, secure and confidential systems are put in place so women can speak out. Asking such a question on a public forum with thousands of viewers is just perpetuating the whole culture that has silenced women for years. I believe we all must play our part in challenging that culture.