From Meghan to Sarah Everard, this terrible week underscores the hollowness of International Women's Day

From Meghan to Sarah Everard, this terrible week underscores the hollowness of International Women's Day

Catherine Neilan

21:12 10th March 2021

Another week, another culture war, and what a war it's been. Encompassing everything from racism and mental health to privilege and freedom of speech, the Oprah Winfrey interview with Prince Harry and Meghan has undeniably set the agenda.

The fact a women's claims of suicide and racism rapidly turned into a debate framed around a white man's career and right to speak, was only too depressing for most women and people of colour.

The fact it coincided with International Women's Day, which I have long felt is little more than a day for hollow marketing speak, was particularly jarring. As the week wore on, and the news about Sarah Everard worsened, it underscored the extent to which women remain vulnerable members of society.

Women are not weak: any number of female MPs, journalists and business people will tell you that. And yet women's voices are so often ignored or dismissed.

The outpouring of stories from women this week comes as no surprise to other women, but it still seems that men are taken aback by just how common sexual harassment, both verbal and physical, is.

Not so long ago, the Me Too movement spread around the world, shining a light on some of the worst abuses of male power and casual use of it to gain sexual satisfaction. Men responded with the same disbelief that Harvey Weinstein and others could operate unchallenged for so long as they have done this week.

Perhaps if men listened rather than waiting to have their turn to speak, they would have remembered how widespread women's experiences of workplace harassment was, and be less sceptical about those experiences in the wider world.

Piers Morgan's disbelief of Meghan comes from a different place. He has personal grievances that lead him to claim that he does not believe "almost anything that comes out of her mouth", a claim he has stood by, despite it costing his job.

He is, of course, entitled to those beliefs, just as his former employer - who is currently running a campaign around mental health - to ask him not to express them on their programme.

Morgan refused to do that, just as he refused to listen to a colleague explain how hurtful his rejection of her claims of racism was.

But the knee-jerk reaction of Morgan, and Society of Editors boss Ian Murray, to raise the drawbridge rather than engage with the nub of the problem, is precisely why we keep going around and around in the culture wars.

Murray, who also resigned following an eyebrow-raising interview with the BBC, had put out a statement saying: "The UK media is not bigoted and will not be swayed from its vital role holding the rich and powerful to account following the attack on the press by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex."

Journalists can and must do that, but by refusing to acknowledge that there are serious issues within the industry, the SoE has only weakened their foundations. The media is far from diverse or representative, not just the basis of ethnicities but backgrounds in general. By accepting this, as some editors already have done, there is a hope that progress can be made and bridges built.

The same must happen when women speak out about their experiences of harassment.

In a week, in which so many corporations adopted the International Women's Day exhortation "choose to challenge", it would be nice if just a few of them could listen.

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Tags: Feminism Sexism Freedom of Speech Racism