Allegations against MPs are the tip of the iceberg

With sexual harassment allegations against Members of Parliament, it’s clear that it’s too easy for MPs to abuse their power

Image: Chatham House

We live in a society where we vote for those we want to lead us. We elect Members of Parliament into the House of Commons to represent us. Therefore, it becomes a difficult pill to swallow when some of those very people whom we have elected are revealed as sexual harassers. We have placed our faith in our representatives and it has subsequently been broken. However, does the fact that we elect these people say more about our own relationship with power than it does about politicians themselves? If we take a moment to look at sexual harassment on its own it is evident that it isn’t uniquely relevant to Westminster as in recent months we have been swept with revelations of powerful Hollywood figures committing indecent acts.

The difference is that we don’t allow Hollywood the authority to directly govern us or the jurisdiction to create laws. The tragic reality is that society has brushed issues regarding sexual harassment under the carpet for decades. While such actions are abhorrent, this isn’t a new phenomenon. Why do those in power go on to abuse it? Perhaps the answer to this question lies in how society views the nature of power. Just over a year ago the 45th President of the US was elected into office, an individual who had spent his career profiting from the sexualisation of young women with Miss Universe; an individual who was exposed as a serial sexual harasser, who was recorded by AccessHollywood saying “I don’t even wait.. when you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything… grab them by the pussy”. Despite this, he is now the leader of the US. If we put politics to one side, this speaks volumes on the way we construct our society. The fact we disregard and turn a blind eye to such actions grants power to those who conduct themselves in such a manner.

It’s unsurprising that there has been an abundance of allegations in Westminster politics: from Michael Fallon to Ivan Lewis there is no party distinction. It is not a question of political ideology but instead a comment on social norms and what we expect of those to whom we give authority. It would be wrong to say that ‘power’ as a concept is inherently evil and that every single person considered powerful is by default an abuser of it. That said, my stance on society’s current attitude to power is that it permits certain individuals who are capable and willing to exploit their pedestal.

This allows them to believe they can act without penalty. Due to society’s democratic endorsement of these individuals’ ascent to power, it becomes harder to speak out against it, and there is no surprise that it has taken victims so long to gather the courage to speak out. There is a sense of shame for victims of sexual harassment; even though they are not at fault, the act is humiliating. It is the feeling that one’s body is no longer one’s own, that something so personal and distinctive of oneself is solely a vessel for the gratification of others. Sexual harassment is commonly associated with female victims and while the victims of the Westminster Allegations are predominantly women, sexual harassment is not a uniquely female experience: just look at Kevin Spacey. I don’t absolve Westminster of blame, but society urgently needs to change its attitude towards this issue. We need to reassess our relationship with and expectations of authority.

Ultimately, we need to change the way we raise our children, because these very individuals are our future leaders and they in turn will continue to teach their values. It’s no longer enough simply to speak out; we need to act on our condemnations in order to form a society that we ourselves would want to live in, and pass it on to future generations.

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