The MPs tweeting in defence of Mark Field are making the world a terrifying place for women
Now suddenly whether or not an MP should get away with manhandling a woman is a matter of opinion
Here’s a bit of free advice for all the male MPs out there: if one of your mates grabs a woman by the neck, shoves her against a pillar and then aggressively pushes her out of a room, maybe don’t jump on Twitter and tell people it’s no big deal.
This is exactly what Johnny Mercer, Conservative MP for Plymouth, did this morning in response to the disturbing video of his fellow parliamentarian Mark Field assaulting a female protester. “Try being in our shoes… if you think this is ‘serious violence’, you may need to recalibrate your sensitivities,” he ordered, before telling people to “calm down and move on”.
Which begs an important question: if what we saw on the video isn’t “serious”, what exactly is? Does a woman need to have a visible black eye for the man who inflicted it to be condemned? Does she need to be stabbed? What about Raped? Murdered? Forgive me for thinking that violent behaviour is incredibly serious – regardless of the motivation or ultimate injury.
Anyone who has been subject to physical assault, sexual harassment or psychological abuse will recognise this attitude. “It doesn’t look that bad, could be a lot worse, calm down, move on,” are exactly the words people – and especially women - fear hearing from people when they disclose their experiences. Clearly with good reason. According to Women’s Aid, women “often don’t report or disclose domestic abuse to the police and may underreport domestic abuse in surveys”.
And it’s not just the minimisation of violence that is troubling. Mercer’s tweet also attempts to justify the actions. “He panicked, he’s not trained in restraint and arrest,” it reads. This may be true – although I would assume that Mercer’s guess as to Field’s state of mind is about as good as anyone’s. From my perspective, Field certainly doesn’t appear panicked in the video; to me, he looks angry and dangerous. He does not try to restrain her hands, as one might out of fear that she was concealing a weapon. He does not reach for her bag to see if there’s anything threatening inside it. Instead, he grabs her by the scruff of the neck and shoves her out of the room, lips pursed like an irritated parent.
Others have also weighed in. Notably and most distastefully, the Conservative MP Nadine Dorries seemed to suggest that his actions were justified in the light of Jo Cox’s murder three years ago. She tweeted that as a result “he acted instinctively,” and “his instincts were right”. Citing one act of violence to defend another is baffling, and to many women who have been on the receiving end of male violence on more than one occasion, deeply offensive.
Field’s actions are reprehensible, but they offered a valuable opportunity. Field has been apologetic, yet still attempted to justify his actions, saying he felt “understandably threatened” – this was not a helpful remark. He should have acknowledged that his response was disproportionate and indefensible. Had he done so, he could have – and should have – still been suspended from his position, but he it would have been a chance to start an important conversation about politics, protest and the boundaries of both. Fellow MPs could have come together to condemn his actions, sending a clear message to all that any type of violence is unacceptable, whatever the preceding circumstances.
Instead, the response has served to turn this into a debate. Suddenly whether or not an MP should get away with manhandling a woman is a matter of opinion. This is making the world a much more dangerous place for women – and, indeed, for all of us.
It’s worth noting that domestic violence only became a crime in the UK in 2004, one year after marital rape was criminalised. We are barely 15 years into accepting as a society that men should not be allowed to assault women with impunity, and now our MPs are arguing that perhaps sometimes it’s fine after all.
These “views” must be immediately and unequivocally denounced by the Conservative Party, which should be ashamed to have its people offer up such deeply offensive and misogynistic tweets. It’s not a good look for a party whose female MPs make up only 21 per cent of the total, whose policies disproportionately disadvantage women, and whose candidates for leader seem to all share some sort of anti-feminist sentiment.
If you are considering defending the actions of this violent man, or blaming any victim for their own assault, I implore you think harder about the dangerous impact of such rhetoric. And then take a long hard look in the mirror. I suspect you will see a previously unrecognised privilege staring right back.