Men, is your behaviour driving women out of politics?

Imagine you are in a meeting trying to make your case. How would you feel if, every time you opened your mouth to speak, somebody interrupted you before you had got to the end of your first sentence? Not just once. Every. Single.Time.

Imagine you are in a meeting, trying to make your case, but the decision has clearly been made by a small cabal of powerful men who have reached their own understanding over dinner and some booze the night before, at an event that you were not invited to.

Imagine you are in a meeting trying to do your job responsibly, but because your recollections or views don’t fit in with what others want, they become aggressive, shouting you down, demeaning your abilities, decrying your right to suggest something different. You feel completely under attack, humiliated, your heart is racing, you can feel the tears stinging and try to suppress them because you sure as hell aren’t going to give them the satisfaction of showing weakness.

These are just three examples of behaviour I’ve repeatedly experienced and witnessed while going about my Lib Demmery over the years, and it still goes on to this day. And virtually always, the aggressors are men, who would never behave towards other men in such a manner.

You will always to a certain extent get people who will take advantage of their position and power, but this is not what I’m talking about. That’s kind of part of politics. I’m talking about those men who, whether consciously or not, treat women with less respect than they do men. It’s almost as if they think we’re interlopers. I would not for one moment think that this sort of behaviour is confined to the Liberal Democrats, or even active politics, but it’s my own party I want to change.

Academic Mary Beard, who has been the victim of Twitter trolls, has given a lecture, reported in the Guardian, about the way women are treated when they dare to put their heads above the parapet and speak out. She says that from Homer to Twitter, prejudice hardwired into our culture leads to vocal women being treated as “freakish androgenes.” Dealing with that can’t be remedied by measures like all women shortlists alone:

But if we want to understand – and do something about – the fact that women, even when they are not silenced, still tend to pay a very high price for being heard, we have to recognise that it’s more complicated and that there’s a long backstory.”

Women’s interventions were often described as “strident” or “whining”. “Do those words matter? Of course they do – because they underpin an idiom that acts to remove the authority, the force, even the humour from what women have to say. It’s an idiom that effectively repositions women back into the domestic sphere (people “whinge” over things like the washing up); it trivialises their words,” she said.

“Contrast that with the ‘deep-voiced’ man, and its connotations of profundity. It is still the case, I’d argue, that when as listeners we hear a female voice, we don’t hear a voice that connotes authority; or rather we haven’t learned how to hear authority in it.”

What is her solution?

“We just have got to have a bit more onsciousness-raising, old-fashioned feminist consciousness-raising. How do we use language? Why does it matter? And how does it put women down?”

This isn’t about robust exchange of views. Anyone in politics should expect that. And anyone in the Liberal Democrats should always relish reasoned debate and discussion as a way to learn as much as a form of combat. Nobody in any position of power within the party should expect their decisions to go unchallenged. No, my concerns relate to a specific issue with how some men behave towards women.

Sometimes they aren’t even aware. In my first example, of the man who interrupted me every time I opened my mouth, I eventually took him to one side and, very gently, asked him why he did that. He didn’t even realise he was doing it but when I gave him a whole list of specific examples, he started to get it and to his credit worked at changing his behaviour. Our working relationship improved vastly as a result.

So, what’s the solution? Well, it’s certainly not easy. It is a problem, though that we ignore at our peril. I’ve seen good women driven away from active politics out of sheer exasperation at the way powerful men exclude and demean them. Participation in politics should not require putting up with such behaviour and politics itself is better when it more accurately reflects the society we live in.

A start would be for us all to be much more aware of our behaviour and that of others. Men in powerful positions, have a look at your own behaviour. Do you exclude women, do you behave aggressively towards them in a way that you would never do to a man? If so, change your behaviour. Decide that you won’t do that in future. It’s not difficult.

The rest of us need to look out for women who are being treated like this and challenge disrespectful behaviour. Even if we don’t agree with what they say, we should always support their right to be heard and treated with dignity. Let’s tackle our everyday sexism.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Someone has been listening in to Stockton Council meetings ! it used to happen to me all the time, with someone from the labour lot interrupting. it got better in later years, but that is just what used to happen. they didn’t do it to my husband, also Lib Dem, although he had less to say, not being group leader.
    It has never, ever, in my recollection, happened at a Lib Dem meeting here in Stockton or in the NE Region.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Feb '14 - 10:01am

    It pains me that there aren’t more women in politics. My involvement at the moment is mainly only on the internet, but even as discussing the Wythenshawe result yesterday I was looking down the comments thinking “men, men, men”. I stay silent about this, but it frustrates me regularly. It makes me think: have we scared them all away?

    Although I want more women in politics, I also disagree with strong uses of positive discrimination. I hope we can do something naturally and if this means making a conscious effort to tackle possible sexism in our own behaviour then we should do so.

    My final point is about cognitive science. Both men and women are sometimes accused of being sexist if we go along with opinions such as “we need to tone down PMQs to attract more women”. What can science tell us about attracting more women, what is prejudiced and what is scientific?

  • Beware the passive aggressive … A much more difficult beast to tackle… And there are a lot of them out there … Both men and woman. A little more honesty and transparency is required to knuckle down to the task of hammering out issues!

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Feb '14 - 10:14am

    I have to bring up men too because this is part of the problem. Some radical feminist opinions of men are highly offensive and prejudiced, making out that we are stupid and even a bunch of rapists. In my more aggressive past I would get verbally aggressive about these opinions and then be accused of more sexism. It becomes a vicious circle.

    I have a feminist friend who regularly distributes anti-male prejudice on her facebook and I have just learnt to ignore it, but I still find it hard to read when opinions are distributed such as “men get aggressive if you don’t sleep with them”. It reminds me of a black man having a racist white friend and having to put up with it.

    Readers: you have to read my two comments. My first one above is a positive one and this one a more negative one, but both are important.

  • Maria Pretzler 15th Feb '14 - 10:43am

    Eddie Sammons, I just don’t think that feminists are the major problem in the context of the issues Caron has raised in her article.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Feb '14 - 10:51am

    Maria, I never said feminists where the major problem.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Feb '14 - 10:56am

    Why do I have to put up with the anger you have fused in my heart by putting words into my mouth that I didn’t say? It’s not fair and you can either deal with the reasonable points I made or continue fostering a hostile environment.

  • This is not just a problem for women, Caron. It happens with all sorts of people, and in politics, because there is a lot of “power” involved, bullying and “sub-bullying” happens quite a lot in my experience. Geoffrey Payne Perhaps because “power” for Lib Dems only happens occasionally in Hackney, you don’t experience a problem.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Feb '14 - 10:57am

    I’m not even blackmailing, it’s impossible for me not to feel anger when someone miscontructs my argument. I don’t press an anger button and do it out of choice.

  • Cut out all the gender references and you’re right. Don’t think this doesn’t happen to men all the time. Most of us don’t have to imagine it — it has happened. It’s not sexism, it’s jack-assery. And there are loads of people like that out there.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 15th Feb '14 - 11:04am

    Eddie, someone may, in good faith, interpret your words differently than you meant when you wrote them. That’s because we all see things differently. If you try to get over the anger and find the common ground and explain yourself calmly, we all end up understanding better.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Feb '14 - 11:15am

    Hi Caron, in future I will try to explain my anger, rather than let it lead to verbal aggression. I can see the negatives of having to put up with aggression too. This will also be better for me.

  • Eddie: I think possibly the issue is that you decry people who lump all men together under one banner while simultaneously doing the same thing to all feminists. This will naturally get people who identify as feminist’s backs up.

  • Liberal Neil 15th Feb '14 - 12:17pm

    John – while it is right that everyone gets shouted down sometimes, it is clear that women are much more likely to be shouted down or talked over. The level and personal nature of the responses women get when they speak out in public is generally very different to that usually experienced by men.

  • “Imagine you are in a meeting, trying to make your case, but the decision has clearly been made by a small cabal of powerful men who have reached their own understanding … at an event that you were not invited to.”

    I don’t need to imagine, this type of behaviour happens all the time in parish and local councils and resident associations. Then the cabal complain about the lack of engagement by the other members and/or the community. What got me was that the majority (who could of as a group opposed the cabal) just sat there and took it as if everything was okay.

  • John thanks for that endorsement of my comment. It can happen a lot, it is unpleasant, and it can make you want to withdraw from situations you find it in (political or otherwise).

    By the way, I also disagree about “robust exchange of views” – sometimes what some people describe thus, is very offputting to others, and what I have described as “sub-bullying” above. I don’t think there are easy answers, and as I say, I believe this behaviour is more common in the political field because of the close association of power with politics. And you are never going to divorce those!

  • I don’t disagree at all with the comments above about the wider aspects of such behaviour but the fact remains that women do not see politics as an environmental where they will feel either encouraged or even one with decent standards of professionalism. We need more women to come forward if we are to get more women irrespective of party into politics but too many decide that this is the wrong place to be.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Feb '14 - 12:48pm

    Jennie, I am aware of the injustice of putting all feminists into one box and that is why I specifically said: “some radical feminists”.

    In this thread I have now received two criticisms for saying things that I never said. It not only does me a disservice, but also the people making the arguments.

  • Women, is your behavior driving men out of marriages?

    Play the ball.

    Homosexuals is your………

    Blacks is your……….

  • Graham Martin-Royle 15th Feb '14 - 12:56pm

    While I agree whole heartedly with the sentiments being expressed here, I have to disagree with your statement that the 3 examples you give are made by men against women and that they virtually never do this against other men. I have seen this type of bullying behaviour carried out many times by men against men, in many different situations. It is intimidating for the recipient and causes many people, of both sexes to shy away from getting involved, not just in politics but in various other things like clubs, societies etc. It is invariably though, men that carry out this type of behaviour and they need to be called out on it every time. By allowing bullies to take over we cancel out a lot of voices, voices that we need to hear.

  • I heard Farage on Women’s Hour. Apparently women are taking over UKIP!

    Have a listen:

  • Meral Hussein Ece 15th Feb '14 - 2:30pm

    Caron, thank you for highlighting this. I have experienced this on so many levels over the last 25 years, since getting involved in politics. Local party, council, and Federal party level. Coming from a Turkish male- dominated patriarchal background, I have had to ensure that my voice is not automatically drowned out in the numerous male dominated meetings/fora I’ve attended. Consequently I refuse to be intimated or be shouted down. And believe me there are still attempts by some men to do this. Stand your ground and make sure your voice is heard equally. Politics is for all of us, regardless of gender and background, and not for the feint hearted. I often look at the comments in LDV, noting with some resignation, the male domination. Like our party, and like British politics. Little wonder women are turned off politics.

  • Simon Titley – just commenting that the men on Stockton Council Labour group were definitely not the public school types !!!!

  • Grace Goodlad 15th Feb '14 - 4:06pm

    Sean Ash : Quad Erat Demonstrandum. Your refusal to acceot and deal with gender bias in society fundamentally undermines your claims as a liberal. The whole world knows America had horrific racial rules but they forget that bkack

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Feb '14 - 4:06pm

    Prioritising specific oppressions and inequalities above others is causing a lot of tension. However specialising is fine.

  • Grace Goodlad 15th Feb '14 - 4:13pm

    Sean Ash : Quad Erat Demonstrandum. Your refusal to acceot and deal with gender bias in society fundamentally undermines your claims as a liberal. The whole world knows America had horrific racial rules but they forget that black men still had the vote before women – but for some reason men forget that one.

    Equally when the Lib Dems formed in march 1988, just over 25 years ago, our founding members felt that gender politics was a major issue, just check out the preamble to our constitution: “Upholding these values of individual and social justice, we reject all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality”.

    No-one, least of all myself or Caron would claim there are not other problems in our society, but that is no reason to ignore sexism or leave it unchallenged. If you want to write about a man’s lot – fine, please do, but do not attempt to derail a serious debate about the prejudice and problems women face.

  • Richard Marbrow 15th Feb '14 - 4:29pm

    I agree strongly with both Simon Titley and Dave Page on this and I would like to see if Sean Ash feels able to accuse me of social marxism because he will find that anyone who knows me will ridicule an accusation of marxism thrown in my direction.

    We have a problem which manifests in a lack of diversity in the parliamentary party including, but not limited to our lack of elected women. That doesn’t mean we agree on the solution though. The Leadership programme seems to be designed to encourage some but not all under-represented groups to become better represented by copying the behaviour of those causing the problem in the first place. That concerns me as well as the lack of any progress on reducing the massive impact that being rich has on your chances of advancement in the Liberal Democrats.

  • Richard Marbrow 15th Feb '14 - 4:46pm

    Should probably also say that I agree strongly with Caron too.

    Fundamentally in politics, women get treated worse and that is wrong.

    It partly connects back to the idea that people should ‘look like an MP’, a phrase I have heard far too often in this party. That basically means that diversity will be accepted by the establishment as long as people aren’t too obvious about it. As too many people believe that MPs ‘look like’ white middle aged and older men that gives exacerbates the problem.

  • Mick Taylor 15th Feb '14 - 4:56pm

    After 50 years as a member of the Liberals and Liberal Democrats I hate to disillusion some, but women have never had any chance of equality in our party because of the inherent bias of our members for pale male candidates, preferably well spoken ones.
    Our party is better in many ways in women being able to speak and not be heckled, but many Lib Dem men feel that their ambitions should come first and that women should accept that. Of course they don’t say it, but I have heard so many belittling comments about those women in our party who do succeed and so many catty comments about women that would never be made about men. Men in our party will do anything to help women except stand down in their favour.
    Eddie’s comments about men having a hard time is laughable.
    The idea that just because a few women have been selected in winnable seats we have tackled the problem is a sad reflection on a party in denial.
    We don’t even begin to select candidates on merit. We have barely scratched the surface of this problem and already men are starting to complain that we are discriminating in favour of women!

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Feb '14 - 5:32pm

    Mick, I see your comment, but I’m not going to respond to it because it will derail the debate.

  • Mick’s comment fits perfectly with the attitudes expressed by many (it’s hardly necessary to name names) commenters on LDV — though, happily, not most LDV writers. There are many who don’t think it’s a problem that Lib Dem politics are overwhelmingly male-dominated; they like it that way. It’s a bastion of privilege, sacrosanct and safe from the changes of the last forty years..

  • Mick Taylor I don’t see many people here complaining of “discrimination in favour of women”. What I and others are saying here is that the type of problem Caron and others have rightly identified (of not listening, interrupting, demeaning etc and /or actual bullying) is not first and foremost a gender issue, but one which can occur, conducted by individuals on each other, irrespective of the gender of the bullier or the bullied, the demeaner or the demeaned. I would like to reject strongly Graham Martin Royle’s contention that those responsible are “invariably men”. I am sure they usually are, but I have seen a few spectacular cases with a woman playing the lead role!

    Mick, what are your suggestions for selection “on merit”? Two I can think of, which are either impractical, or outside our culture and principles as a party, are 1) Throw money at the problem. If you could pay people to be candidates it would bring more forward, many from relatively disadvantaged groups, and 2) Reject election in favour of selection on fairly set criteria (ie we would use the current process minus hustings). Idea 1) after today’s Grauniad front page is even more impractical. As a postscript, why have large donors to the Lib Dems had a tendency to be dodgy?

  • Following the Woman’s Hour with Farage, I thought I would have a look at his claim about women taking over UKIP.

    Their list of MEP candidates is here:

    Out of a total 64 candidates there are 11 women.
    Counting women in the top half of each regional list, there are 9 out of 32. In other words getting on for a third of the relatively winnable UKIP MEP seats are likely to be won by women. This is without any All Women Shortlists or preference treatment. In other words, about the same proportion of women MEP candidates as we currently have as MEPs.

    Being a bit controversial, can we learn a lesson about gender equality from UKIP?

  • Candidate Diversity
    Parliamentary Candidates who stood in 2010 General Election

    Figures valid as of March 2010.
    The total number of selected candidates standing in 2010 – 633
    Total number of women – 133 (21%)
    Total number of candidates identifying as Black, Asian or Ethnic Minority (BAME) – 43 (7%)
    Total number of candidates who identify as disabled – 16 (3%)

  • Like Graham Martin-Royle above, I completely recognise the examples of bad behaviour you’ve mentioned Caron, but I’ve also seen it where it wasn’t just women who were the victims. Whoever are the victims, the behaviour needs challenging. Regarding one particular person I’ve known, he was a bully and he was also an utter sexist, which dawned on me over time from snide comments he would make against political opponents, but disproportionately women. The shouting down, the interrupting, the patronising of his opponents was just something he did if he didn’t like you.

    I wonder if i can guess at a reason why this sort of behaviour is tolerated? In a local party, everyone is a volunteer and there are few of them to go around. When elections come around, most of us as grateful for any help we can get and if someone comes with baggage (they’re unwittingly rude or sexist say) perhaps many of us are too afraid to confront the behaviour for fear of losing the volunteer? Of course if someone really is a liability, it’s better to get rid of them completely, but I wonder if many are tolerated (wrongly) just to keep them onside?

  • A Social Liberal 15th Feb '14 - 10:50pm

    I find myself in something of a quandry here? I know I am politically a newboy, having only been an activist for ten years or so, but do Liberal Democrat members REALLY behave in this way, and is it the norm for them to do so?

    I ask because this fundamentally isn’t the case in my branch or constituency party – not least because the women who have and do serve in it wouldn’t allow it. For those who knew them, does anyone think that the Graham sisters (Beth and Claire, who became Brooks) would put up with any man (or woman come to that) trying to shut them up. We are just as well served now with fiesty women who go toe to toe with anyone.

    So Caron, can you honestly say that your local branch, your constituency branch male members act this way? Or are you talking about men in other parties. If so, do you really think that challenging mainly liberal men to examine their behaviour on here is the right approach rather than writing a piece for, say, Conservative Home?

  • Some really bad examples have taken a huge amount of getting rid of. I am sure you are right, Julian, many are tolerated as “better inside p….ing out, than outside p…ing in”. The actions of the current Govt in abolishing the National Conduct framework for Local Government, and thus effectively removing any effective sanctions on councillor behaviour has set this cause back by years. In the past those shown to have behaved badly could have been banned for up to 5 years. No ban is currently possible. For local parties, it is quite possibly counterproductive, as the kind of atmosphere generated by such behaviour dissuades most people from working for such an organisation.

  • Julian Tisi: spot on.

  • There does seem to be a paradox here – the more that women and ethnic minorities are given special treatment and handled with kid gloves, the more they feel entitled to take offence. I am yet to be convinced that equal numbers of women to men are actually interested in politics anyway. If so, it would be a mistake to enforce a 50:50 percent ratio.

    As I pointed out in my comments above, with our special training courses for women and ethnic minorities, we still end up with about the same proportion of women as UKIP do, who have no special treatment for women, and let them get on and compete based on merit alone.

    Does Anne Widdecombe have a point? That women in politics should stop moaning as she puts it.
    ‘Women MPs should stop their moaning
    If I hear one more miserable wimp of a woman whinge that parliament is not friendly towards female MPs I shall conclude that the suffragette movement was a colossal waste of time and energy.

    Surely those sturdy, courageous warriors would cringe with embarrassment if they could hear the present generation of women moaning away about sexism and seeing every slight as proof that life at Westminster is stacked against them.

    Oh come on, sisters, get real.

    The problem has been the wholly misguided attempts on the part of both Blair and Cameron to increase the number of women at Westminster as if numbers matter more than quality.

    In the days when women competed with men and with each other on a level playing field instead of having their paths smoothed by all-women shortlists, quotas and blatant manipulation of the selection procedures, they had to be just as tough and just as determined as the men and by golly, they were.

    Maggie Thatcher, Shirley Williams, Betty Boothroyd et al needed no special help, no patronising male condescension (yes, Messrs Blair and Cameron, I do mean you), no all-women shortlists to get themselves to Westminster or to survive and thrive there.

  • Peter in Hampshire 16th Feb '14 - 10:46am

    When Caron mentions “a small cabal of powerful men who have reached their own understanding” many of us will know what she means.

    When I was first elected a councilor, I did not understand how business came to meetings so well sorted out. After a few years of speaking up in meetings I was recommended to take up golf. I don’t play golf, so never did find out if that was how difficult agenda items were smoothed out.

  • I think bullying behaviour happens in all directions, to all types of people. It needs others ( in meetings, or anywhere) to speak up and say to the person that the behaviour is not acceptable. Having said that, I have never experienced any issues within the Haringey party where I am involved 🙂

  • Grace Goodlad 16th Feb '14 - 11:56am

    QED Sean Ash, again. Woman speaks out so she is attacked as a racist. As I said above “No-one, least of all myself or Caron would claim there are not other problems in our society, but that is no reason to ignore sexism or leave it unchallenged. “, hence we have EMLD and some excellent work with BAME candidates being done via the Leadership Programme. There is work to be done in all sorts of areas.

    God forbid that women talk about issues affecting women, without you attacking them or attempting to subvert the conversation.

    Your comment above claiming feminists in this party do not care about black women is offensive to myself and others, and damages the party.

    Go and talk about your social class issues if you want to, but stop attacking women for voicing their views.

  • I take Simon’s point about class. A major factor in my winning the selection as PPC in East Hampshire was the fact that I was local. However, had I inherited the broad Hampshire accents of my father or grandfather I am almost certain I would not have been taken seriously and would have lost to the old Bedalean who came second!

    What has to be recognised though is that sexism sometimes has the added worry of physical threat. I have experienced two occasions where sexual harassment (once many years ago, from a councillor; once very recently from someone at work) incorporated an implicit physical threat. Sadly such threats are not rare.

  • Grace Goodlad, you take me into dangerous waters here, and because society changes and is changing so fast anyway, an opinion ventured today may not be applicable in a year or two’s time. Certainly society has moved on since the 1988 writing of our constitutional preamble you refer to. Our “deep” activists (and I include myself in that description) have always been committed to those values – equality between women and men being a key pillar of an equal and liberal society. However, whatever Sean Ash’s argument about “social marxism” concerns (I can’t follow it), when you look at what happens, especially within PPC (and PEPC) selection in the Lib Dems, people with money are more in favour than those without – clearly an independent school background also helps. Many men and women actually live together as couples, and it is striking that both partners will either get on, or not get on, according to their backgrounds. This, unfortunately is as much the case in the Lib Dems as outside. In many fields of life, privileged and advantaged women have done much better career-wise that in previous decades, much of that progress fuelled by attitude changes brought about by two world wars and the intellectual quest for equality among my generation, the baby boomers.

    The difficult bit, of course, is to ensure that all women – and of course all men as well – benefit from a general quest for equality. The first thing to recognise is that the Nick Clegg “social mobility” drive is insufficient. We live in an era of “turbocapitalism”, and until we recognise that, it threatens the values of our 1988 constitution.

  • In general, without individual and collective effort, rich trumps poor, higher class trumps lower class, black trumps white, and in all categories male trumps female. Bullying, disdain and talking over people are common expressions of this trumping. Because there has been individual and collective effort there are now many exceptions to this pattern, but it is still easily observable.

    The male-female dimension is one slice through this morass (and there are more slices than those I identified above) but it’s a fundamentally important one, and one on which particular thinking and working is both possible and necessary.

  • Mick Taylor 16th Feb '14 - 2:03pm

    It’s a simple fact. We have neither the right number of women or BAME MPs, councillors, MSPs AM’s and although we did have a decent balance of MEPs – following our experiment with zipping – it’s slowly being eroded.

    Everything we have done has changed nothing. We always reject action that might change things because it’s derided as ‘positive’ discrimination.

    I predict that we won’t do anything about the problems of the diversity of our representatives without quotas and that our party will continue to reject quotas and continue to be appalled that we haven’t solved the problem. The one time we did do something approaching quotas – zipping for Euro elections in 1997 – it was abandoned despite giving us an almost 50/50 balance of men and women, because people – mainly men – complained.

  • Nick Tregoning 16th Feb '14 - 2:13pm

    One biggie you left out Ed is that youth trumps age! I do get angry when people respond to the reasoned arguments and personal experience of women such as those voiced by Caron, by attempting to play the race card. Yes this kind of bullying and dismissal happens to BAME people too – I’m mixed race, and it has happened to me both within this party and elsewhere – but that’s no reason to put up with it happening to women friends and colleagues. Neither should it be left to women themselves to put it right. Men need to call out other men when they witness this behavior, and examine our own too.

  • Eddie Sammon 16th Feb '14 - 3:20pm

    Mick Taylor, why should diversity only be about gender and race? I can see the argument for diversity quotas, but I can’t see the argument to leave out class, sexuality and disability. Why do you effectively only want diversity for the cameras?

    I disagree with quotas regardless, but if I put my left wing hat on, I just can’t see what is moral about excluding class, disability, sexuality and any other underrepresented and discriminated against groups.

    I respect people like Owen Jones and Laurie Penny, whom I disagree with, but at least they make strong arguments.

  • Eddie Sammon 16th Feb '14 - 4:31pm

    I don’t mind disagreements, it is just annoying when people like Mick Taylor and David-1 accuse us of being motivated by a selfish desire to preserve the patriarchy. Unnecessary provocation.

  • David Evans 16th Feb '14 - 4:33pm

    @ Mick Taylor. Do you have any evidence to support your contention that “The one time we did do something approaching quotas – zipping for Euro elections in 1997 – it was abandoned despite giving us an almost 50/50 balance of men and women, because people – mainly men – complained.” Or is it just a convenient point to put forward to polarize people?

  • Grace Goodlad 16th Feb '14 - 5:56pm

    At no pint have I said that other factors do not need to be addressed. My concern is that whenever the discussion is started about gender and womens’ roles a minority of male voices shout very loudly about other issues. As I said above I am happy for others to lead on these debates. I am not however happy for every discussion around women and the challenges that disadvantage women disproportionately more than men to be derailed, devalued and trolled.

    We consistently hear about the party being too male, pale and wealthy. While some of us deal with the “male” issue perhaps others would do better to deal with the barriers that keep it “pale” and “wealthy” rather than fighting to stop us from dealing with part of the problem. I am more than happy to collaborate with EMLD, LGBT+, LDDA and others to make the party more representative.

    It feels like some people would still like to throw strong women in the pond to see if they float sometimes.

  • Grace, I am not sure whether you are answering me here? When you say “strong women”, do you mean “rich women”?
    What I was trying to say, is that couples pair off, and it is better that we look to bring other couples in, who are not from the same gilded circle. Which means, in my view, we need to rethink all our strategy in relation to selection. What I am NOT saying is that we should not be concerned about the pathetic ratio of women MPs to men, although better,I think at Councillor and constituency level.

  • Eddie Sammon 16th Feb '14 - 7:18pm

    James, I disagree, because I think politicians who have family members dependent on the state are less likely to cut it. I also disagree that class is more important than gender.

    I support what Grace is saying almost word for word.

  • Eddie Sammon 16th Feb '14 - 7:53pm

    Hi Sean,

    I am not saying money isn’t or is the most important issue. I am just saying women’s issues are very important.

  • Eddie Sammon 16th Feb '14 - 7:56pm

    Also Sean, let’s have a bit of balance. A fairly poor candidate with good policies can beat a rich candidate with bad policies.

  • Eddie
    One of the ideas of the welfare state was to ensure that people were not patronised, looked down on in the way we are moving back to now, because they were poor. I fear that your attitude here is moving us all back to 19th Century style dependency.

  • Tim Oliver What do you mean by the term “sexism”?

  • Eddie Sammon 16th Feb '14 - 8:08pm

    Hi Tim,

    I’m not quite sure I follow you, but to be clear I am interested in class equality too.

    I’m off now, I’ll probs speak to you guys tomorrow.

  • Good night then, Eddie. All I was doing was commenting on your remark that those “with family members dependent on the state” were not likely “to cut it”. I think we should be working to overcome that attitude wherever we find it, for the reason I gave in my previous answer to you.

  • I can echo these words from Simon —
    Simon Titley 15th Feb ’14 – 12:17pm
    Almost every insult and discourtesy that Caron describes is also done by ex-public school boys to people from humbler backgrounds. And I should know. I’ve had to put up with nearly 40 years of this treatment from privileged, so-called Liberals.

    Just one incident from my slightly more than 40 years on being on the receiving end of this sort of prejudice. I had been invited to be the guest speaker at a party fundraising event in Richmond. I was met at the door by someone (St Paul’s School and now the House of Lords) whose first words were “Good grief. Are you coming dressed like that?”. Needless to say I was dressed perfectly respectably but this was just the standard put-down from someone who thought he was my social superior. I have put up with similar prejudice in the civil service, local government and even amongst some medical professionals. I can sympathise with women who feel they are being driven out of politics by the behaviour of men, I to have suffered from the behaviour of men and also from the behaviour of some public school women.

  • David Evans

    We did use a system called zipping in the 1999 European Elections where our regions were told what gender the person at the top of the list should be and that meant that half our lists in the first ever PR European elections were led by women and that it turn led to a parliamentary representation of 6 men and 6 women. 3 of those women have now stood down and in each case they have or will be replaced by men. No men have been replaced by women. At this election there will be only one case of a woman being replaced by a woman and may in any event struggle to get elected, because of the political situation the party is in.

    This system was abandoned after just one election and replaced with much more vague rules about the list containing a minimum number of men and women. Effectively the system we had that gave us equality of representation between men and women (and incidentally our one BAME MEP) was dumped. Apart from the SE where we have at the moment 2 MEPs the only place that counts is the first place on the list. Zipping did give us equality, the present system does not.

    Eddie Salmon continues to deny that we have a problem. Quotas ARE difficult for a Liberal Party, but I would argue that it is only through some kind of quota system that we will get fair representation. And yes, we may have to deal with other sections of our diverse membership too, though I note in passing that we do have homosexual men in our parliamentary party and at least in the Lords, disabled men and women and lesbians. I’m not convinced by Eddie’s argument about the working class. We have had working class MPs in some number in our party and it’s predecessor the Liberal Party.

    And before someone chips in with the hoary chestnut that good candidates won’t be selected under a quota system – always the argument about the ‘best’ candidate – I merely remark that good women candidates don’t get selected now and that sometimes they are not selected in favour of relatively poor male candidates.

  • Eddie Sammon 17th Feb '14 - 1:36pm

    I’ve never denied we have a problem. I’m saying I don’t want to solve one problem by making another one worse.

  • Alex Baldwin 18th Feb '14 - 1:22am

    @Caron said in the article:
    “These are just three examples of behaviour I’ve repeatedly experienced and witnessed while going about my Lib Demmery over the years, and it still goes on to this day. And virtually always, the aggressors are men, who would never behave towards other men in such a manner.”

    This may be a pedantic point to make, but were both genders equally represented in the room in those situations? If there are far more men than women involved in politics (as saying they are being “driven out” implies) then surely in any incident that occurred you would expect men to be responsible more often than women.

  • Shirley Campbell 18th Feb '14 - 1:54am

    John Tilley has effectively hit the nail on the head. I do not see justice and equality as being a gender issue, and I am what many would consider to be a “feminist”; however, first and foremost, I am a Liberal.

    As a woman, I have been on the receiving end of those who see themselves as my social superiors in North Devon. I live in Nick Harvey’s constituency in North Devon and believe me Caron rampant sexism and a perceived social order is alive and active in North Devon.

  • I get this: the same can happen with people from minority ethnic groups (some more than others, I think, depending on stereotype) and people with disabilities.

    I suspect it happens a lot less when women are in the majority. That was so in the health authority middle management meetings I used to attend around twenty years ago, though that didn’t prevent women going on maternity leave being badly treated – jobs changed without consultation while they were away – two out of two for my closer female colleagues who took maternity leave. One of them complained to the top and won hands down. Women are a majority on our Exec Committee too, but now I’m Chair, I’ll ask the Secretary (female) whether this kind of thing happens without me noticing. I strongly suspect she’ll say no, because she’d have mentioned it, being fearless.

    That said, such behaviour does come from women too. I was really grateful in my NHS days, when I found myself the only man in a domestic violence working group, for the way the other members recognised I might be a bit nervous in the circumstances and made sure I felt welcomed. However, very recently in a non-Lib Dem meeting, the female Chair came under attack from two female members (pursuing separate agendas) and they repeatedly interrupted her and one another. In the end, having no particular line to pursue on the issue being debated, but caring about proper conduct of meetings, I intervened to point out that we ought to have one person speaking at one time and ought not to interrupt one another. It did the trick (I hope not because I’m a man, or a lot older than any of those three) and the Chair thanked me.

    Perhaps there’s a lesson in that: all members of a meeting have responsibility for being alert to and stopping inconsiderate or aggressive behaviour.

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Feb '14 - 12:27pm

    Jayne, there is no conspiracy against women. Men get angry, just as women do, but an angry man is likely to be more intimidating than an angry woman.

    We cannot ban male anger, but we can adjust.

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Feb '14 - 12:45pm

    I know I always sound negative or engage in whataboutery, but all I’m trying to do is balance debates up. Male behaviour will drive some women out of politics, but we should not forget that there is a large amount of women who aren’t really interested in feminist goals. Men cannot carry the whole burden.

  • Alex Baldwin 18th Feb '14 - 4:31pm

    @Simon Banks: “Perhaps there’s a lesson in that: all members of a meeting have responsibility for being alert to and stopping inconsiderate or aggressive behaviour.”

    I agree that everyone has a role to play, but the ultimate responsibility for managing these things has to be the Chair because doing this is actually their assigned “job”. It is unfortunate that “Chair” seems to *also* mean “most important person at the meeting” because this often results in there being two strongly conflicting drives operating in the Chair’s head. “I’m the Chair so I’m in charge and responsible for getting things done.” vs. “I’m the Chair so I must make sure everyone has their fair say.”

    I have fallen foul of this before when I’ve operated as a Chair. It is difficult to simultaneously handle whatever the committee is supposed to be deciding *and* keep track of who has and hasn’t had their say (particularly when time is an issue). In future I would probably set up committees with separate people responsible for the two halves (“leading” the group vs. managing the engagement of the participants) of the typical chair role.

    In the very particular case of the thesis defence (viva voce) in academia, the Chair is only responsible for managing the timetable and keeping the proceedings fair. To prevent them “getting involved” they are usually (by my understanding) chosen from a different academic department, with the idea being that the actual content of the discussion will be sufficiently alien to them that they won’t be able to take sides. I imagine something like that would be much harder to achieve in politics, where everyone is going to have an opinion.

  • Eddie Sammon 19th Feb '14 - 2:24am

    Jayne, my assumption of “an angry man is likely to be more intimidating than an angry woman” was me trying to be more feminist and think whether my status quo attitude of attempting to treat men and women the same is the right one.

    Anyway, we have a difference of opinion, but not a major one. Good luck in your work.

  • @Alex Baldwin: Probably the roles of Leader and Facilitator ought to be separated, and I believe there are some organisations that do this.

  • A Social Liberal 19th Feb '14 - 8:25pm

    Given Newsmoggys article about Lorelys Huff Post piece, the answer to Carons question would seem to be no!

  • Steve Bradley 21st Feb '14 - 5:07pm

    The examples given in Caron’s piece are unacceptable, and examples of bad behaviour. I personally feel such behaviour may reflect more a certain age and demographic of male rather than a general rule. There are some men who just don’t like being disagreed or opposed by anyone except their own ilk. They therefore exhibit bad behaviour towards women, as explained above – but also towards younger people, people from a different social class, minority groups etc. In my experience only a minority of men confine a lack of respect for others based solely along gender lines.

    As an aside on all of this – there does seem to be a perceived wisdom that all that is needed to improve behaviour in politics (and its appeal to the public) is to have less men and more women involved. it has come up a lot again in the recent debate over PMQs.The argument for having more women involved is much simpler than this – it’s because no institution purporting to represent and lead society should get away without reflecting that society in its composition. But the suggestion that men bring bad behaviourial sets to politics and more women would help resolve that is pretty infantile. The reality is that men bring a set of both good and bad character/behavioural traits into politics, and having less men and more women would simply add a different set of both good and bad character/behavioural traits. I have both seen and been the victim of bullying by female members within our party. It wasn’t the obvious type of bullying that men are usually associated with. It was much more subtle, discreet and pernicious, and as a result much more damaging and difficult to deal with than straight forward being shouted down.

    Changing the gender balance in politics needs to happen because it’sthe right thing to do, and it would bring a lot of new and more positive behaviours. But we also need to be honest and accept that it would also add some other negative ones to the mix as well. Both genders have strength and weaknesses in how they broadly (and we can only speak in broadstroke terms without stereotyping unnecessarily) approach people, roles and activities. No one gender has a monopoly on good behaviour.

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