Anachronistic conduct

Is Lord Rennard refusing to apologise for his conduct because he will not admit guilt? And/or because he does not understand the nature of the stated “offence”? And/or because he takes for granted his right to behave in this way? And/or because he (and his many Lords supporters) see this behaviour as “normal”, nothing to complain about? (Rowena Mason & Decca Aitkenhead, 18 01 2014. No apology, no whip for Rennard, activists tell Clegg; Patrick Wintour, 20 01 2014. Rennard’s allies say he is victim of conspiracy.) In this context, apologising for “distress caused” (especially after protracted refusal to do so) becomes an irrelevance and compounds his liability.

The problem of language:
Referring to Rennard’s behaviour (of inappropriate, unsolicited sexual touching of several colleagues, for example) as causing “distress”, reduces the women complainants to ‘damsels’ and glosses over the nature of the charges as an abuse of power / sexual harassment / personal violation – all indications of a heterosexual man with inherited power and influence, who knows no bounds / boundaries: his sense of (sexual) entitlement a function of upbringing, social position, age(?), ignorance and power. He is therefore now a liability, no longer an asset for his Party.

The word “offence” needs an adjective to make sense. For example, unless we speak of criminal offence or sexual offence, the word “offence” carries insufficient and nebulous weight and meaning, communicating no sense of a power inbalance, abuse and/or injustice; and little sense of either the personal and social seriousness of the allegations, or consequential injury (to mental health, safety, social status, dignity, etc.) of the complainants. Sexual harassment and sexual violence undermine and damage, not just individual women victims, but the class of women: the prospects of all women.

Intent.
Or the proclaimed absence of, can be no defence in 2014. Rennard’s social incompetence (as charged) in committing acts that repeatedly violated the boundaries of contemporary acceptability (morality) demonstrates a disregard and/or contempt for women as citizens and colleagues, which means he is not fit for purpose as a member of the Lords. The significance of repetition over time should be noted (as in all the other recent cases that have surfaced). Someone who relates to women in the public domain, with whom he does not share intimacy, as heterosexual targets, the droit de seigneur, constitutes an obstacle to the safety, wellbeing and equality of opportunity of women colleagues. And it sets a bad example to children, young people, and other men.

In the Upper House.
The widespread condoning of Rennard’s behaviour and attitudes by Lib Dems in the House of Lords suggests that there may be many more old bottom pinchers, thigh rubbers and breast oglers in the Upper House, who are now somewhat nervous about their own backstories. And of course there are all those, including (mainly older) women, who have witnessed and/or experienced sexual harassment in the House, and let it pass, as either “just normal” or “a bit of fun”. . . .  The surge of Lib Dem support in the Lords for Rennard indicates how serious a problem both the House of Lords and the Lib Dem Party still present for women in 2014. Anachronistic is here a euphemism. It means ignorant and culpable. Your time is up.

val walsh / 20 01 2014

Afterword.
Polly Toynbee (Why make such a fuss? Here’s why, Lord Rennard, The Guardian, 21 01 2014) notes how “we are left with the impression that one man’s evidence seems to have carried more weight than four women complainants, sharia style”. She shares her own firsthand experience in a 1980s newsroom, as well as remembering how “more than one (Labour) cabinet minister needed his women staff protecting from slobbery kisses and aggressive fumblings”.

The good thing about the sleazy disclosures this and other recent cases have exposed, is that women of all ages and everywhere are talking and sharing about “slobbery kisses and aggressive fumblings”, and worse: in the cafe, at the gym, on the phone, by email and text and at meetings; finding memories jogged, as long-buried experiences resurface and flashbacks remind us of the insults and violations we have endured, kept to ourselves, or shared and been told to keep to ourselves. (See poems section.)

When the accused seeks to present himself as victim (Rennard’s latest ruse) of women as the attack dogs, and accuses his disapproving colleagues of a “lynch mob mentality” (Rowena Mason, ‘Rennard threatens legal action after Lib Dem suspension’, 21 01 2014, The Guardian), it is clear that Rennard’s struggle to retain power and dominion has an ugly way to run yet. But looking increasingly ridiculous as well as anachronistic, is surely the slippery slope, even for someone accustomed to power and dominance.

val walsh / 21 01 2014

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