Last night Theresa May forced her Deputy Prime Minister, Damian Green, to resign following an investigation into his conduct. Just to recap, Green has been embroiled in something of a scandal in recent weeks after it emerged he had been watching porn on his parliamentary computer and made unwanted advances to the journalist and Conservative Party activist Kate Maltby.
Now, it’s worth pointing out that it is not actually either of the above that have forced Green’s resignation. May had no choice but to ask him to go because it turns out he lied and lying is a serious breach of the ministerial code of conduct.
Green denied all knowledge of there being pornography on his computer which, it was decided meant he had broken ministerial code, while the accusations made against him by Maltby were found to be ‘plausible’.
The whole situation is a mess of several different and distinct but all equally important things. First up, is the problem of legal porn being found on Green’s computer in 2008. He knew about this and denied it, which isn’t the sort of behaviour you’d expect from a Minister. However, the outrage about a middle-aged man watching porn has rather detracted from another, arguably more important, conversation.
Above all, the allegations made against the former Deputy Prime minister by Kate Maltby speak to the wider conversations we are currently having as a nation about sexual harassment not just in Westminster, but in workplaces everywhere.
Green is the second minister to go from Theresa May’s cabinet in similar circumstances. Former Defence Secretary Michael Fallon was forced to resign at the end of Octoberafter a growing number of accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct against him culminated in the revelation that he had ‘lunged’ at the journalist Jane Merrick.
In the latter half of this year men have been falling from positions of power because of their past behaviour which suggests that something, however slowly, is changing. However, what remains stubbornly the same is the way that women who come forward to tell their stories are treated.
When Maltby came out publicly to say that Green had sexually harassed her she received an onslaught of abuse from all angles. She was the subject of a cruel and sexist profile in the Daily Mail which labelled her as a ‘very pushy lady’ and described her as ‘ambitious’, ‘relentless’ and ‘pushy’ as though these are somehow qualities which undermine her experiences of being harassed by a very powerful man and, as if that’s not painful enough, she then received violent threats.
Let’s just take a moment to dwell on that: a woman, who has been found to have made ‘credible and plausible’ accusations of improper behaviour against a powerful man, has been abused for doing so. We’re so used to this that it isn’t shocking, but it really ought to be.
Maltby’s parents (who are, or were, friends of the man who stands accused of harassing their daughter) have, today, released a statement which serves as a sharp reminder that every woman who has ever been sexually harassed and then not been believed when she reported it is part of a network. Whenever a woman is mistreated it impacts not only their family and friends but the rest of our society too.
‘We are not surprised to find that the inquiry found Mr Green to have been untruthful as a minister, nor that they found our daughter to be a plausible witness’ they wrote. ‘We have received many supportive messages from people near and far who appreciate Kate’s courage and the importance of speaking out about the abuse of authority’ they continued ‘we join with them in admiring her fortitude and serenity throughout the length of the investigation and despite the attempted campaign in certain sections of the media to denigrate and intimidate her and other witnesses. We are proud of her.’
The Mail went as far as to suggest that Kate Maltby’s parents would be ‘aghast’ by what she had done, casting her as an errant child and not a woman making an important point. It’s now clear that this was just plain incorrect but the damage has been done. Every time a woman is belittled by a newspaper like the *Daily Mail *or a man who refuses to take responsibility for his actions, other women who have stories that need to be told will stay silent because the fear their reputations also being left in tatters by our sexist society.
In the same newspaper that published the abhorrent profile of Maltby, Jan Moir trotted out dangerous cliches and said the journalist, like other young women, was 'making a big fuss about nothing'.
What we have learned in recent months is that despite all of the progress we have and are making, society is still inclined to trash women who dare to speak out about the abuses of power they experience at the hands of men. Women, like Maltby, are not supported but instead scapegoated when they criticise men as though they’re somehow responsible for any harassment or assault that they’ve experienced.
The idea that woman is responsible for the downfall of man…because it's never the fault of the man himself...it sounds rather familiar, doesn’t it? Now, where have we heard that one before?
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.