The hit song, ‘Let It Go’, from Disney’s animated feature film, Frozen, may be an Oscar-winner, a favourite among children and adults, and good advice for Princess Elsa who lives in constant fear of her ice-shooting powers. But counselling women, who have been groped without their consent by strange men, to do the same, as one writer for The Independent has (http://goo.gl/YwmRYc), is a dangerous precedent.
Supporting the suspended prison sentence awarded to former BBC Radio 1 DJ, Dave Lee Travis, for groping a woman’s chest, the author of the above article says that women who have been subject to such unwanted attention from men should simply “get over it.” Why? Because that’s just the way it is in the media and women who want to work in the industry need to get used to it. Although the author acknowledges that “there is no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’ behaviour,” she then goes on to do just that – excuse him, because according to her being groped “is a part of life.” But slavery too was a part of life for black men and women in 18th and 19th century America, so was racial discrimination in the 20th century, but Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. did not tell people to “get over it.” Bottom-pinching is only “a part of life” because we have allowed it to become a part of life. Silently suffering abuse (which is what the article advocates) can too easily turn into an acceptance that the act isn’t abuse at all.
The author argues against criminalising Travis’ misdemeanour from 20 years ago, not just because of the huge time lag (“Is this action, which happened nearly two decades ago, really worth a custodial sentence?” she asks) and its common occurrence (does it make any sense to de-criminalise an act just because it has become common in society?), but also because of the gravity of the situation. Because Travis’ assault is “not on par” with graver offences, we are told that it should not be heavily penalised. According to the author, groping a woman for ‘just’ 15 seconds classifies it as a not-so-serious form of abuse, especially when compared to the full fledged sexual abuse perpetrated by DJ and television presenter, Sir James Savile, publicist Max Clifford (who got 80 years in prison) and Rolf Harris (more than five years), whose victims included girls and boys under the age of 10. But if smaller crimes (if it is right to call them that) are not penalised, what hope is there of preventing their escalation and the consequent perpetration of far graver offences, resulting in incidents like the Rotherham ‘scandal’. How do we know that the men who abused the 1,400 girls in Rotherham, over a time period of 16 years, did not also start out with the minor offence of groping, and then upped the scale because there were no repercussions? How are we to prevent abuses of great magnitude if the perpetrators of so-called lesser abuses are not penalised?
One of the United Nation’s Women Goodwill ambassadors, Emma Watson made her #HeForShe speech advocating gender equality only a few days before this article was published. The belief that women ought to silently accept abuse because that’s just the way it is, sheds some light on the question of why men and women are not respected equally in and by society: because women themselves have decided to accept the current status quo and, more importantly, because perhaps we value our careers over and above our self-respect.
The US Navy rear admiral, Grace Hopper, a female pioneer in the field of computer programming, is remembered today for her belief that, “The most dangerous phrase in the [English] language is, ‘We’ve always done it this way’.” The above scrutinised opinion is a tragic example of this exceptionally relevant adage.