Why #metoo is important

MP for Peterborough Fiona Onasanya
MP for Peterborough Fiona Onasanya
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It seems that not a day goes by without a new revelation about the Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. It appears that he has habitually and flagrantly disregarded the rights and feelings of the women he has encountered; indeed, he has been accused of outright assault.

Outrage remains though surprise has long since departed: here in Britain we’ve been wrestling with the double standards applied to entertainers ever since the truth about Jimmy Savile became known. However, what has made the Weinstein revelations different was their effect: women took to social media, using the hashtag #MeToo, to indicate that they had also been subjected to sexual harassment.

I am a habitual user of social media; I also am very aware of the unwanted advances that women face on a regular basis. Nevertheless, I was shocked by how many other women reported “#MeToo” : upon reflection, I realised that sexual harassment is a rare phenomenon in that it is an isolating experience, yet simultaneously one is far from alone.

We can argue the causes of such endemic behaviour: could it be because we live in a hypersexualised culture that has been made worse by the relentless 24 hour a day drumbeat of a sensationalised media? Could it be due to ancient chauvinistic notions that men have a right to women’s bodies, going back beyond when a king had “the right of the first night” to a new bride in his domain? Could it be that the last great frontier of feminist endeavour lay beyond equal pay and conditions, and rather is in a change of heart, that we should all learn to accept each other as human beings, and judge each other on individual merits?

I don’t believe there is any one cause. However, we should look to our institutions to provide leadership in addressing this problem. We can and should look at the makeup of Parliament. Despite progress in recent years, I regret to report that Parliament still has the air of an old boy’s club: it is still largely “pale, stale and male”. Only 29% of MPs are female; the numbers improve if you look at only the Labour Party, 43% are female. Yet, women are over half the population. Iceland has set the benchmark 48% of their MPs are female.

Parliament is just the start. Women compose only 6.4% of the CEOs of Fortune 500 listed companies. The lopsided nature of the leadership of most religious institutions almost goes without saying. Under such circumstances, is it any wonder that society functions, or rather, doesn’t, in the way it does?

We have made progress; there are people alive today who were around when women didn’t even have the right to vote. #MeToo signposts that we have much farther to go: it isa long distance, but we have to make that journey in Parliament, and as a country.