Susan Dalgety: Scots women are gathering to take on sex abusers

It's been a miserable start to 2018. The poor folk of Hawaii were put on full nuclear alert for a terrifying 30 minutes, and while they prepared to die, their President played golf.

Wednesday, 17th January 2018, 6:00 am
A man blatantly ogles a passing woman (Picture: Getty)

Thousands of jobs and essential public services are under threat as construction giant Carillion collapses, but not before the company’s executives made sure their fat cat bonuses were secure.

The flu epidemic continues to rage, plunging our NHS into its worst crisis for decades. And now it seems our national bard, one Robert Burns, was a sex pest. According to poet Liz Lochhead, Scotland’s Makar, Bard of Scotland from 2011 to 2016, Burns raped his lover Jean Armour while she was expecting twins to him.

Ms Lochhead has, perhaps understandably, dubbed him the Harvey Weinstein of 18th century Scotland, a comparison which has upset some of Rabbie’s male fans. It has upset me too. I grew up with Burns. I won school competitions for my recitals of To a Mouse and (bits) of Tam O’Shanter.

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Robert Burns was ‘sex pest and Weinstein of his age’

I was once even allowed to give the Immortal Memory at a Burns Supper – an honour which, until relatively recently, was only bestowed on men.

I will never be able to read Ae Fond Kiss again without shuddering just a little. The terrible revelations of recent months, where household names such as actor Kevin Spacey have faced accusations of sexual harassment and assault, has forced us all to confront a terrible truth.

There are many, many men out there who think it their right to sexually abuse or harass people they deem to be weaker than them. And this abuse of power is not confined to Hollywood. This weekend, women from all over Scotland will gather to discuss sexual harassment and the toxic cultures that have allowed it to fester for so long, unchallenged.

They will hear from Lothian MSPs Angela Constance and Kezia Dugdale, as well as Evening News columnist Susan Morrison. And the organisers, the Scottish Women’s Convention, hope the event will start to address the institutional sexism that, a generation after women first burned their bras, still allows some men to believe it is their unalienable right to stick their sweaty hand up a young woman’s skirt.

We all know blokes like that. They are everywhere, in offices, factories, shops, even it seems in Holyrood. The fat bully of a boss who thinks a quick squeeze of a women’s breasts or bum is a perk of the job.

The creepy bloke who laps up porn on his smartphone at lunchtime while ogling his female colleagues. And the loudmouths who think it is funny to insult a woman by calling her a whore or a frigid bitch, or both, simply because he controls the payroll.

Just as we all know blokes like that, so it is all our responsibility to stand up to these pathetic bullies. Because if there is one thing a bully hates, it is being challenged – and loudly. Exposure makes them shrivel up into the weak, pathetic creatures they really are.

The Scottish Government has dubbed 2018 as the year of Young People. “It will give them a stronger voice on issues which affect their lives,” declares the campaign website.

What better way to give our girls – and boys – a stronger voice, than to teach them in schools about how to handle sex pests, at an appropriate age of course. We need to give our young people the confidence to challenge the blokes who harass them. To call them out the first time it happens, not when it has become a terrible part of the work routine.

But they need to have the confidence that their concerns will be acted upon if they complain. Those of us with a bit of power, whether a government minister or a canteen supervisor, have a moral responsibility to expose those we suspect of being a sex pest.

Because if we know, and do nothing about it, then we are as culpable as that bloke with the sweaty hands.