Reflections on my day – 15 March 2021

Usually, if I can, I write something at the beginning of the day. Today, however, I didn’t, as I wanted to leave space for Caroline Pidgeon’s powerful piece on violence against women.

And, at the end of the day, having looked at the comments, I’m pretty depressed. A series of men either blaming a small minority, or changing the subject, or just being blind and deaf to the words of those who actually suffer from abuse and violence. Bluntly, it isn’t a small minority of men, unless they’re awfully active given the statistics indicating that most women have been victims. And let’s change the subject, why don’t we? Anything rather than face the fact that, because of the behaviour of some men (yes, I know, not all… nada, nada, nada), women and girls make decisions that restrict their freedom of action because of the risks that exist. We, as a society, need to address that and, sadly, because the overwhelming proportion of violence against women is at the hands of men, the attitudes of men have to change. Some of you whose comments suggest that your liberalism is more polite veneer than instinctive – acknowledging that some of you aren’t liberals anyway – make me more than uncomfortable. The word is embarrassed.

Mind you, it is the case that this site is dominated by men, which explains why virtually all of the comments we reject are from men, why the tone is often so hostile and disrespectful, and why women tell me that it isn’t worth engaging on the site because of the vitriol and disrespect that too often passes for debate here.

Violence against women is about power, about its use and abuse. As a liberal, I believe in freedom, allied with a sense of awareness about how my behaviour impacts upon the freedom of others. It would be nice if some people, reading the comments thread and dwelling on what it says about our society, thought a bit harder about that sense of impact, how what they do restricts the freedoms of others and how they might, in their own small way, improve that. I know that I will.

So, as I say, a pretty depressing day. My only real consoling thought is that, having worked with the Young Liberals over the past few weeks, there is the prospect of change. And, as more women reach positions of power and authority, there is an opportunity for the sort of society that allows us to offer real freedom to everyone – and that includes the freedom for women to go where they please, when they please, without fear of abuse, assault or worse.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Little Jackie Paper 15th Mar '21 - 11:34pm

    Look, I have no problem sleeping at night over my relationship with women and the internet can pump out all the comment and clickbait articles it wants to. I no longer care for the internet megaphone of identity politics.

    That is all.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 16th Mar '21 - 12:08am

    @ LJP,

    Funnily enough, there appear to be plenty of men out there, making exactly the same sort of comment, who are a problem for the women around them.

    Perhaps a little self-reflection is good for us all in a world where the rights of the individual all too often take precedence over their responsibilities to the community?

  • Richard O'Neill 16th Mar '21 - 1:06am

    Really distressing times.

    In this moment, am very struck by the response of my autistic brother who was both upset about Sarah Everard, and then amidst his trauma about this, the fact that some people might consider him automatically suspicious because he was a man. I try to tell him that street murders are very rare, and that most men are good, but neither are getting much air time at the moment.

    To be honest, I just wish people could break through these gender fences and stereotypes and show real human solidarity. Having escorted my female friends multiple times through clubs, and seen the sexual aggression from men, I can testify to the uncontrollable extent of male aggression (often, it must be said, by guys who already seemed to have girlfriends!). A lot of my friends live in areas adjoining Clapham and Brixton, so I can with disturbing ease think this might have happened to them,

    But equally, I think sometimes we need to be more tolerant of men and their feelings. This whole debate seems to have dropped into stereotypes of gender roles. Ultimately, if this kind of horror is going to be defeated, it will take an alliance of women and progressive men to do it.

  • As a man may I say some years ago I was taking the train to Worthing and this nice lady started to talk to me. She recounted an experience of when she was staying somewhere and tried to make her way home after dark when a man started to followtng her. Eventually she had to hide and go back to where she was staying and wait until morning to go home. This is an apalling and unacceptable situation. No one should feel unsafe on the streets.

  • Brad Barrows 16th Mar '21 - 7:28am

    I have found much of the debate really depressing as well. Many of the comments are blatantly sexist and seek to blame all men for the actions of some men. It is only a small step, using that sexist logic, to seek to restrict or punish all men. One member of the House of Lords even suggested a curfew for men so that women could walk the streets safely. Collective punishment based on biological sex, no less. That someone would even suggest anything so authoritarian and not be immediately condemned for such views is a worrying indication of how this debate is moving. Very depressing.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 16th Mar '21 - 7:54am

    @ Brad,

    I hold no great enthusiasm for Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb – she was a councillor in Southwark during my time there, and she’s as much a socialist as a Green – but her suggestion was rhetorical rather than actual, something that would be self-evident if you weren’t as guilty of generating false outrage as others in the debate.

    The fact is that men do need to step up. In the same way that peer pressure has, over time, made drink driving less acceptable, we need to find ways to reduce the levels of male violence against women. Each of us can play a part in that, should we choose to.

    As political activists, we believing in persuading people to affect change. Should it be any different for violence against women?

  • Well said Mark. I think myself and other men need to be re-educated. For example, here are some tips from a website from 2019 (link below)

    “1. Keep your distance

    “When walking behind a girl or woman at night, remember that the closer you are, the more threatening you seem. So make sure to leave a good amount of distance between yourself and her.”

    2. Don’t run up from behind

    “Having someone run up behind you at night can give anyone a fright, but for a girl or woman it can be terrifying. Next time you’re out for an evening jog and see a woman walking ahead… cross the road or make sure to leave a good amount of space while passing.”

    3. Don’t stare

    “If you’re by yourself, being stared at is intimidating and unsettling. Taking out your phone and focusing on something else can go a long way to showing you’re not a threat. Look out the window to focus on something else, or call a friend to have a chat.”

    4. Keep comments to yourself

    “What you might see as just a bit of fun, or even flattering, is actually harassment and can be terrifying to lone women and girls.”

    5. Keep your mates in line

    “You may not harass women, but if you stay quiet while your mates do then you’re part of the problem.”

    6. Be an active bystander

    “If you notice a woman is uncomfortable with someone’s behaviour, show your support by being an active bystander. It can be as simple as standing between a woman and her harasser to block their line of sight. Ask her if she is OK, and back up anyone else who is intervening.”

    7. Share the walk

    “Keep the conversation going by sharing these tips, and helping girls and women feel safer at night.”

  • nigel hunter 16th Mar '21 - 9:13am

    Learning respect for others ,of both sex, should start at school.We will not be able to change social attititudes overnight but our campaigning could be a start. As long as the media exploits the situations,fear and its attributes will remain.The media has a part to play in the education.

  • Peter Martin 16th Mar '21 - 9:41am

    @ Paul,

    I’d say this good advice. I’d add to be careful even with females you know. I once made the mistake of playfully tickling the waist of a friend of mine when I surprised her from behind and frightened her quite badly.

    Keeping my opinions to myself has never been my strong point as anyone who knows me will know. I’ve already done everything you’ve suggested, not just on feminist issues but on other social issues too that the Lib Dems support. So I’m not sure what Mark is getting at when he points out that not everyone is “Liberal”. In the early days of my career I made myself unpopular with my boss my challenging him on not giving a job to an otherwise suitable candidate on racial grounds. He didn’t think the company was “quite ready for that”. It certainly doesn’t do your career prospects any good to be seen as a “lefty” in a conservatively inclined engineering profession. Speaking out does come at a cost.

    So I do have a problem with tarred with the very broad brush that some ultra feminists are using against seemingly all men. We all want women to feel safe but how to do it? That’s the big question. There are no easy answers.

  • Paul Barker 16th Mar '21 - 9:50am

    Hear hear !
    This article puts intowords whatI have been feeling.

    On the general state of Comments on LDV – appeals for decency wont cut it & Comment Moderation cant work, The LDV Team dont have enough people or time.
    The only solution I can see is to (temporarily) ban commenters who break the guidelines more than once & then simply refuse to to engage with them apart from a standard email.
    Applying that policy could change the tone over time.
    The LDV Team should be responsible to the whole Liberal community not to a tiny minority of loudmouths.

  • Ruth Bright 16th Mar '21 - 9:59am

    Agreed Mark. Just had a look on the comments on Guido Fawkes about this issue – the comments on LDV don’t look that different!

    Sadly I don’t think Caroline’s article was hijacked by outsiders. The party has a real problem. There are some men and women of the party establishment who are happy to make “sound” points about women’s safety here but were less than vocal when we had problems a few years ago. Nothing was done and (as ever) it was the women who had to leave.

    During lockdown I have lived in a flat without a garden so my local park has been a joy and a lifesaver (thank you Eastleigh Borough council!) January 29th 10.30pm I went for a walk there having not been out all day. I had a torch shone in my face by local police. I gave them my age name and address and explained I was not breaking lockdown as it was my only (local) walk of the day. They accepted my explanations but told me it was not safe for me to be there at that time. I felt not perfectly safe, but pretty safe, in a place I know well. They TOLD me to be frightened and clearly the onus was on me to avoid the park rather than for them to make it safe.

  • James Belchamber 16th Mar '21 - 10:00am

    It is frustrating to watch someone that approves/rejects comments (and even edits them sometimes) lament at the state of the comments on this platform. You have control over this, Mark.

    Start by treating anonymous comments differently from authenticated comments by party members. Anonymity is an important aspect of the internet, but when someone is using anonymity to concern troll (as e.g. Richard O’Neill is doing) or to outright gaslight people (as many people, questioning women’s experiences, have done on this platform over the last few days) then DENY THEM A PLATFORM.

    (Party members have to deal with the consequences of their words and actions – we have a members code of conduct and a disciplinary process, as weak as it is, as well as people having to stand by their comments in their future endeavours in the party.)

    More generally, accept that the internet is full of very persistent, very online, very right-wing trolls seeking to pull any conversation or debate back to the lowest common denominator. They spend a huge amount of time online because it’s very satisfying to derail a conversation, and to force people to consistently defend their basic values instead of being able to expand on them. Some aren’t even very right-wing – they just enjoy the effect they can have on people expending their energy into something the troll might not even care about. Regardless, their goal is destructive.

    Yes, there are depressing comments – from not only members but representatives (!) of our party. But you are contributing to the problem by enabling a chorus of anonymous trolls and cowardly members to amplify the hate and ignorance within the party’s community.

  • @nigel hunter. You have hit the nail on the head when you mention schools. Unfortunately, children are not sufficiently monitored when in playground situations and bullying is everywhere. I taught my children not to fight back and they were to varying extents bullied in school. I feel badly about that, but they have all grown up to be decent human beings with respect for others. I think we need to focus more attention on schools and the attitudes of young people before they are let loose on society.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 16th Mar '21 - 12:54pm

    @ Peter M,

    There is a key difference between “liberal” – lower case “l” and “Liberal” – upper case “L” – and if you insist on misquoting me every time, we are going to fall out.

    You will note that I refer to “liberals” which is a philosophy-based descriptor as opposed to a Party-based one. I expect a Liberal to be liberal, whereas a liberal may, or may not, be Liberal. Is that sufficiently clear?

    @ James,

    As one of the site’s “enfants terrible”, might I offer you a mirror to remove the mote from your eye? I edited your comment to remove the swearing – not permitted – and the ad hominem attack – also not permitted.

    You don’t have any idea how our moderation system works – which is perhaps why you fall foul of it – nor what we reject – because you never see it. The rest has passed through our moderation software because, amazingly, it parses language and not meaning. Sometimes, I allow comments through so that they can be argued against – if some of our readers want to demonstrate that their views come hot from the Cretaceous Period, perhaps it’s good that others can see that.

    I accept that this might be a controversial stance to take – it clearly doesn’t suit you. But if we are to reach out beyond a narrow, purist community, we have to accept that there are those who might not share our stance but might be persuadable. That means dialogue, which requires eternal vigilance on our part.

    Remind me to set aside more of the time I currently assign to my family, my job and my Parish Council…

  • Miranda Roberts 16th Mar '21 - 2:49pm

    Thanks for trying to get the point across Mark. It’s a good post and I’m grateful to you for trying to make the point. Sadly this week has shown that some people, mostly male, are just unwilling to deal with the discomfort of the topic.

  • “I allow comments through”
    “their views come hot from the Cretaceous Period”
    “it’s good that others can see [them].”

    “this site is dominated by men”
    “the tone is often so hostile and disrespectful”
    “women tell me that it isn’t worth engaging on the site because of the vitriol and disrespect that too often passes for debate here.”

    These quotes are from an editor and moderator here. I’ve highlighted them and brought them together in the hopes of indicating a direct link between letting anyone say anything anonymously on the internet and accepting an environment that abuses women.

    Let’s be clear: the moderators do not intend to abuse women. The culture of abuse is an unintended consequence of letting anyone say anything.

    And yet, if the editors seem to acknowledge that current moderation policy is producing an abusive environment for women and driving women away from the website, shouldn’t we expect a change to the moderation policy?

  • Can I make one comment, which shouldn’t be controversial in a party which believes that policy should be evidence led ?
    Can we start looking for answers using a scientific approach ? Can we start by categorising events that are problematic for women rather than conflating them so that events as different as awkward or unwanted flirting and rape and murder become essentially part of the same thing ? I don’t think that’s helpful if we are serious about finding an answer.
    Can we accept that events which appear in different categories might have different causes and can we make use use of the extensive literature which exists on deviant male behaviour ? If we had some input from criminologists or evolutionary psychologists that might help.
    We would soon realise that, for example, just as most crime is committed by a very small number of people, almost exclusively male, so that pattern is replicated when looking at sexual crimes. The problem (and please don’t jump up and down) is that our approach is often led by ideologies that we find superficially attractive rather than hard evidence about how human beings think and behave. And so we have people asserting that sexual micro aggressions are the result of power imbalances between men and women. That is i) a theoretical proposition that hasn’t, indeed can’t, be empirically proved and ii) a proposition that might be partially true of certain events such as unwanted touching, but not, I would suggest, of murder which is likely to be committed by a person with serious psychopathic personality traits.
    I hope those comments do not give offence. Like all of the comments i post here (under my own name) they are intended to focus the debate in ways which I hope and believe will make a positive outcome more likely. I don’t post in order to get a pat on the head for saying the “right” thing.

  • @ Peter Martin

    You have made a number of important and insightful comments on this topic so thanks for that.

    You are indeed correct as you said previously that people are innocent until proven guilty and there is an assumed narrative about what happened in the Sarah Everard case that has not been tested in a court of law.

    It has often been the case in these kinds of high profile cases that the first person charged does not turn out to be the guilty party. There have also been famous miscarriages of justice e.g. in the Jill Dando case.

    So we must not forget these lessons of the past as to do so makes us all less safe.

  • Just had a chance to read the comments on Caroline Pidgeon’s article. I can only assume that the worst offenders were moderated, as I didn’t see anything rude, or personal. What I saw was people struggling with a really serious problem, trying to work out where the heart of the problem lies and what we can do about it. Yes there was some questioning of certain data, but isn’t that what educated people are supposed to do ?
    As for all this talk about censoring these relatively mild comments, or the wringing of hands at people who may have a slightly distant take on this…….. as for right wing trolls, do you spend much time on twitter….really ?
    We must listen to women’s voices. We must look at the literature on deviant and criminal behaviour as well.
    I was talking to my mother about this whole business this morning. She’s in her 90s now and she was telling me about when she worked in the office of an aircraft factory during and just after WW!!. She told me about the sex pests in the office, the blokes who were a “bit fresh”. She went dancing in Cambridge at the weekend. Many of the American airmen she knew left their names on the ceiling of the Eagle Pub, still there I think. They would always walk the girls back to the station after the dance as they knew the streets weren’t safe. And occasionally a serious attack would take place. But she didn’t live in a state of constant fear, you were just “sensible”. She also felt that things today had got out of perspective. People today didn’t accept that life is imperfect, people are imperfect and bad people exist. Always did. I hope you won’t moderate this out. It’s one woman’s take on this. Yes, she would be one of the 97% and yes, she’s a different generation to the women on Clapham Common, but there is a lot of life experience behind her opinion.

  • Little Jackie Paper 16th Mar '21 - 7:24pm

    Chris Cory

    A scientific approach? I’ve got two words for you: replication crisis.

  • Richard O'Neill 17th Mar '21 - 1:43am

    That really wasn’t my intention. perhaps I expressed myself poorly, writing late at night.

    Just to be clear I think it is undeniable women are suffering completely unacceptable treatment at in public spaces on a large scale. I’d support vastly more vigorous policing against catcalls and other such activities with heavy fines and then prisons sentences for repeat offenders. And woman always need to be listened to when they report incidents. And encouraged to do so.

    I was just concerned whole debate from this tragedy has spun off into a battle of the sexes discussion where the main issue is being lost in arguments about gender. Unfortunately often relying on cliched, old-fashioned views of what normal male or female characteristics are (and therefore reinforcing these harmful stereotypes). Guys are going to have to be a major part of the solution to this problem, so getting them engaged with the discussion is important.

    That is a really good list, I think possibly a public info campaign using role models could be used to promote it similar to the one for the covid vaccination recently. Really they shouldn’t have to, because these are all matters of common courtesy.

    Number 6 is the only one I’ve sometimes had issues with. Confronting people on public transport for making inappropriate comments, I’ve then had blazing rows several times. Afterwards I’ve been left worrying that this may have made the women (or in one case, a man) in question more embarrassed and uncomfortable than if I hadn’t intervened. More recently I’ve just resorted to just glaring at people who are mouthing off, but that always feels a bit inadequate.

  • Richard O'Neill 17th Mar '21 - 2:06am

    I just want to add I think you all do a great job managing and moderating this forum. The articles and responses that appear are incredibly civilised compared to social media which is still too slow at removing racist, sexist, abusive and threatening material. And even on TV where for too long people like Piers Morgan were able to get away with incredibly mean-spirited behaviour.

    In contrast I find this a real haven offering a more reasoned perspective on issues of the day. So I really do appreciate the time you all put in.

  • I have to agree that maybe the moderation policy should change so that women feel more comfortable engaging here.

    “Mind you, it is the case that this site is dominated by men, which explains why virtually all of the comments we reject are from men, why the tone is often so hostile and disrespectful, and why women tell me that it isn’t worth engaging on the site because of the vitriol and disrespect that too often passes for debate here.”

  • Jayne mansfield 17th Mar '21 - 8:30pm

    @ Mark Valladares.
    Thank you Mark.

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