Daily Telegraph, Friday 21 June 2019
Angry men don’t just wear jeans and carry placards. Sometimes they wear dinner jackets, leaping into action when a woman does something incredibly offensive, like walking past them. It happened last night when the Foreign Office minister Mark Field grabbed a climate change protester at Mansion House, pushing the woman against a pillar and grasping her by the neck as he frogmarched her out of the room.
The incident has caused widespread shock. So has the response of some Tory MPs, including Peter Bottomley and Johnny Mercer, who have made the situation even worse by defending his actions. Field has apologised and referred himself to the Cabinet Office, a bureaucratic device that is not likely to satisfy his critics, although he has now been suspended as a minister. It has also been reported that police are investigating reports of an assault made against Field.
Theresa May famously put tackling violence against women at the heart of her premiership, yet it took hours for her spokeswoman – and not the prime minister herself – to describe the video as ‘very concerning’. It’s clear from other footage that the protesters were peaceful and already being dealt with by Mansion House security, who didn’t see any need to use force. Field watches the woman approach and no one sitting near him shows any alarm, suggesting that they’ve already realised that the protest, no matter how annoying, doesn’t pose a threat
So why does he leap to his feet and slam her against a pillar? It’s not even as if she makes any attempt to resist. And why, when something so shocking happened in full sight, did no one think to intervene? Didn’t they see Field’s face, contorted with rage, as he restrained a woman armed with nothing more threatening than a mobile phone and a sheaf of papers? I suppose we ought to be grateful that no one started a chant of ‘lock her up’ as some Trump supporters did, reviving an old chant against Hillary Clinton, at a rally in Florida earlier this week.
Let’s be clear about this: we have all encountered men like Mark Field, furious beyond reason and so full of entitlement that they won’t even try to control themselves. Field claims his reaction was ‘instinctive’ but would he have been so quick to lay hands on a burly male protester? Most women who’ve seen the video will instinctively recognise his assumption that he’s an important man who doesn’t have to answer for his actions. In the age of smartphones with cameras, let’s hope that assumption – age-old, in certain quarters – turns out to be wrong.
There’s too little recognition of how much time and effort women routinely put into avoiding angry, self-important men. We come across them at home, at work, on crowded buses and trains. Avoiding them is second nature, something we do without even being fully conscious of it; we’ve all encountered men who take the seat next to us, try and strike up a conversation and get angry when we don’t respond. Last week, on a tube train, I had to avoid eye contact with a man in an expensive suit, obviously drunk, who banged on the train wall and shouted ‘You’re rubbish’ when female passengers didn’t react to his overtures.
It’s no good saying that such incidents are one-offs. They’re not, and they’re fed by a political climate where threats and actual violence against women are so frequent as to have become unremarkable. They’re so normalised that a man who joked about raping a Labour MP, Jess Phillips, was able to stand as a UKIP candidate in last month’s European parliament elections. You think it’s funny to video yourself talking about whether you’d rape a female politician? No problem, step this way, sir.
Civility is important, even towards people we don’t agree with. I’m not amused by people throwing milkshakes at politicians, and I think Jo Brand was wrong to joke about throwing battery acid. Protesters from Greenpeace disrupting Philip Hammond’s Mansion House speech may have seemed like an eye-catching stunt but I’m not sure what it would have achieved, had Field not reacted in the manner he did. In the event, the headline news from the evening wasn’t climate change but the spectacle of a Foreign Office minister grabbing a woman like an angry man who’s been queue-jumped on a bus.
This episode should be a wake-up call for politicians and commentators who believed even for a nanosecond that Field’s behaviour was excusable. An MP manhandling (the word is apt) a woman who posed no threat should be a sacking offence in a culture that values women. Angry men have had their own way for too long: we see you and we’ve had enough, no matter how well you dress or where you work.