Rennard saga: what about men's rights, asks Liddle

'A cat can look at a king', says columnist, attracting even more opprobrium than ever

LAST UPDATED AT 12:47 ON Thu 28 Feb 2013

CONTROVERSIALIST Rod Liddle has a message for all the women who claim they were inappropriately touched by Lord Rennard – what about a man’s right to try it on?

In the wake of sexual harassment claims against the former Liberal Democrat chief executive and as alleged victims meet police, Liddle writes in this week's Spectator: "It may slightly turn the stomach to be propositioned by a sweating Europhile lardbucket with breath that could stun a badger at 30 paces, but – hell – a cat can look at a king. If you don’t ask, you don’t get."

While Liddle's column has already been described as "awful, even by his standards" on Twitter, some say it's time for women to "toughen up" about workplace harassment. Jo Phillips, once former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown's spin doctor, told Radio 4’s Today programme this morning during a discussion about sexism in Westminster that politics was a "very tough world" with "a lot of bullying ... so you do have to toughen up a little bit". John Major's former press secretary Sheila Gunn said women should understand the "culture" of Westminster and find ways of "coping with that sort of inappropriate behaviour".

Liddle suggests such advances should be "brushed off", describing a dinner party he attended where an attractive young female journalist fended off a lecherous fellow guest by warning him of severe reprisals if he tried to touch her "clunge" again. "The hand-on-the-knee business is not especially pleasant, for sure; but is it too antediluvian, too chauvinistic, to suggest that it might easily be brushed off?", he asks.

Not so fast, writes Allison Pearson in the Daily Telegraph – women must stand up to "crass sexism" wherever they find it. If the allegations against Rennard – which he denies – are proved correct and it turns out that Lib Dem women have acquiesced to a groping in order to advance (a scenario she describes as "squeezes for seats"), no wonder the party has only seven female MPs.

"This is the damnable dilemma faced by women everywhere, from Hollywood awards ceremonies to the Westminster casting couch," says Pearson. "What woman in her right mind would choose a working environment where immature prats on the opposite benches cup their hands on their chests and shout 'melons' when you stand up to speak? But such is our noble Parliament." · 

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All this fuss about the fuss about alleged knee-touching misses a more serious point that some have tried to make.

When Sid the cleaner brushes the bum of Jessica in IT, she can tell him to get lost without fear of having her career stopped dead in its tracks. When someone in considerable power makes an "inappropriate" request of someone just starting out on their career, the implication of saying get lost are altogether different. It's the attempted use of power that makes such requests inappropriate - not their easily-dismissed sexual content.

"Help, I've been sexually assaulted. Somebody call the BBC."

With an ever increasing number of female bosses in the corporate world, so to the number of reverse harassment claims. Is this really a gender (male perp female victim) driven domain, or simply a natural consequence of power play? I do hope we'll all get just as hysterical when men start to make the complaints in reverse. Oh hang on, they have... and no one cared. Consider that this complaint would not get very much attention if we lived in an egalitarian world (feminist objective) and that only in a patriarchy where women and children are valued more greatly does this even get any attention. Think on that.

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