Are women too fragile for the workplace?
Dr Charlotte Proudman has today come to blows with TV presenter Anne Robinson who, at a time of heightened sensitivity around sex harassment allegations, claimed some women are fragile and cannot cope with the treachery of the workplace.
The Goldsmith Chambers barrister hit headlines in 2015 when she went public with a sexist message she received from law firm partner Alexander Carter-Silk, in which he said she was “stunning”. Proudman, who recently completed a doctorate at the University of Cambridge, tweeted the “offensive” and “misogynistic” comment for all to see.
Though many women have used social media as a forum to shame sexist behaviour in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, at the time not everyone thought Proudman’s actions were justified. One law firm boss, Franklin Sinclair of Tuckers Solicitors, tweeted to the legal aid barrister:
@CRProudman what an awful thing to do, what kind of world do we live in when a man can't give a lady a compliment.getalife. Nomorebriefs4u
— Franklin Sinclair (@FMStuckers) September 9, 2015
Proudman was on the receiving end of vile abuse from trolls, who called her a “greedy little tart” and a “slag”. She later deactivated her Twitter account, though insists that this had nothing to do with the abuse.
Speaking this morning on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, hosted by Nick Robinson and John Humphrys, Proudman reaffirmed her position that unwanted messages about women’s appearance, like that she received via LinkedIn, are sexual harassment.
A message sent via social media will to some seem a world away from serious sexual assault. Should these instances be treated in the same way? Proudman said:
“It’s a continuum of sexual abuse. At one end of the scale you may have rape, at the other end of the scale you have sexual harassment. But all of this is concerned with male dominance over women in often subordinate positions where there is an abuse of power.”
Later in the show — in which Vicky Featherstone, artistic director of the Royal Court theatre, also took part — Proudman stressed how important it is to the fight against harassment to have a better gender balance at the top. “To ensure a collective power balance between men and women we need more women in senior positions who will then be able to speak out,” she said. Both law firms and chambers have come under fire for their lack of senior female talent.
Aside from recalling her LinkedIn sexism row, Keele University graduate Proudman also had a run-in with journalist and broadcaster Robinson. The Weakest Link presenter shocked many when she said:
“…40 years ago there were very few of us women in power yet we had a much more robust attitude to men behaving badly. Now what seems to have happened is that the glass ceiling has been shattered but running alongside that is a fragility among women who aren’t able to cope with the treachery of the workplace. It shouldn’t be happening but, on the other hand, why have women lost confidence?”
Looking back at her career as a journalist in what used to be a very macho industry, she said of women’s reaction to sexist men: “In my day, we gave them a slap, and told them to grow up!” Her comments have caused outrage on social media.
Now we have Anne Robinson blaming women for not speaking out – she clearly doesn't understand the balance of power in ALL cases. If you speak out people don't believe you #r4today
— Gail Freeman-Bell (@gailf_b) October 30, 2017
Anne Robinson, you are the Weakest Link. Goodbye. #r4today
— Matthew Clark Leach (@LeachJuice) October 30, 2017
— Lucy Wake (@lucywake) October 30, 2017
Perhaps lucky, then, that feminist Proudman was in the radio studio to dispute them. She said:
“[Robinson’s] type of attitude is putting the onus on women not the perpetrator. We should be saying to men: ‘you shouldn’t be acting in this way against women, therefore women shouldn’t even have to call out this behaviour in the first place’.”