Leader comment: A brave decision to speak out about sexual harassment
Writing in today’s Scotsman, TV and radio presenter Hayley Matthews describes the sexual harassment and sexism that she has suffered in the workplace.
The incidents she relates would not have attracted the attention of the police and might have been difficult to prove at an employment tribunal or company disciplinary hearing. Partly because of this, it is the sort of behaviour that has gone under the radar and clearly become far too common in our society – as the growing number of such #MeToo stories demonstrates.
The comedian Jo Brand spoke eloquently and for many when she reminded the men on BBC panel show Have I Got News For You that harassment “doesn’t have to be high-level for women to feel under siege … actually, for women, if you are constantly being harassed, even in a small way, that builds up and that wears you down”.
Ms Matthews writes how her refusal to take part in vile conversations about sex with a male colleague who felt he had the right to smack her on the bottom – technically an assault under the law – saw her treated like an outcast in one office and she left soon after. She also reveals how a male boss’s insistence that she should not take time off to deal with “childcare issues” made her sick with worry.
She thought long and hard before deciding to go public and did so with some trepidation. It takes courage to put your head above the parapet in the current climate of public debate. The inexplicable reaction by some to the sexual harassment scandal has been to attack the women making the complaints.
But Ms Matthews rightly wonders what might have been. If she had been a man – or if some men didn’t sexually harass women – would her career have taken off at one of the places where life was made miserable? How many other lives have been blighted by such behaviour? How many others have been worn down? Intelligent, capable people are being prevented from fulfilling their potential in life – and that is a tragedy for each individual but also a loss to society as a whole.
The Scottish Government is currently running a campaign, Equally Safe, against violence and abuse towards women; last weekend former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale urged Ministers do more “so that no woman ever has to face sexual harassment in their job”. But this is a societal problem and we all need to play our part.