Time’s up in Edinburgh for men who think women should be seen and not heard (loud and clear)
We’d be naive to think that Edinburgh is exempt from the behaviours being highlighted globally. This is a difficult subject for a man to breach but it’s important that more of us speak up. Almost every women I know has a “me too” story – a story of when a colleague unnecessarily sexualised them or their contribution or patronised them with a “calm down dear” put down. These “minor” “jokes” are clearly a power grab, designed to make the man look sensible and in control while the women is “behaving erratically” for daring to show passion or assertiveness. It’s surprising just how much the day-to-day experience of women not being treated an equal members of the team still persists.
As well as the day-to-day stuff, women have found the power to speak out against the unacceptable harassment that a shockingly high percentage of men still feel they can get away with. Stories of men making direct uninvited physical advances without any verbal encouragement are far more common than they should be. Other stories of men pressurising colleagues for sex also feature as a common thread of what women have had to deal with. I can only imagine how uncomfortable a workplace could become dealing with a leering, persistent co-worker who clearly has no professional respect for you or your contribution but only sees one thing when they look at you.
Having been a councillor for the last five-and-a-half years I’ve been in a number of meetings where the dominant demographics of attendees were “men of a certain age”. While I see the need to have more gender balance in our democratic institutions, I should point out that some of my best friends are white, middle-aged men. However, while I haven’t been witness to serious sexual harassment or sustained putdowns aimed at women, I have noticed the energy differences in a room dominated by men vs a room with more gender balance. As more women enter politics and local government in particular, there’s a noticeable improvement not only in the behaviour of people around the meeting table but the quality of decision-making itself.
In terms of the administration I lead, I’m delighted the SNP’s senior executive team of councillors is gender balanced, with a female whip and deputy leader. The council has created an all-party group to look at the complaints routes that councillors have and are working to improve these procedures. We’ve worked hard to make sure that all colleagues are respected for the contribution they can make to our city and I see no reason why every business, charity or any other organisation in the Capital can’t make the same effort to ensure that all citizens are respected, regardless of where they work.
Everyone has their own personal boundaries of what they find comfortable and uncomfortable. As a bare minimum, it’s incumbent upon all of us to respect others’ boundaries and leave the Neanderthal instincts of male dominance in the past where it belongs. However, ideally we shouldn’t just be avoiding harassing colleagues and other people we come into contact with. We should be refusing to stand by and accept that behaviour and be willing to call it out when we see it. Men, in particular, have a responsibility to spread the gospel and help our society evolve.
I’m absolutely clear. In this city and in this council, there is no room for harassment, abuse or sexist behaviour. When a line is drawn in the sand, I stand with the women who have experienced harassment, bullying and general behaviour aimed at diminishing them and their contribution. I’ll continue to add my voice to those calling for change to empower everyone in our city to fulfil their potential.
Councillor Adam McVey is the leader of Edinburgh City Council