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Charlotte Proudman vs Anne Robinson: On-air battle over female response to sexism

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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:

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.

The latest comments from across Legal Cheek

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.

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’.”

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31 Comments

Anonymous

Nice helmet.

(25)(0)

Anonymous

Keele University

(20)(0)

Anonymous

Never went to Harvard.

(6)(1)

Anonymous

It’s a Yale thing.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

So we’ve had Amal and Lady Hale Beyoncé articles, and now one about “Dr” Proudman. Anything left to be ticked on the Katie King cliché bingo card?

(20)(3)

Anonymous

An sentence that includes the words: Instagram hashtag OMG literally wannabe bag a training contract

(6)(1)

Anonymous

Where do you draw the line in the legal world when social lives, due to the time spent in the office, cross with personal lives?

Many relationships are started at work in this profession and if you make advances towards women (or men) completely outlined and deemed unacceptable, you make it even more difficult for busy, professional lawyers to meet somebody. Perhaps you could argue that it is less of an issue when a colleague is also considered a friend that you subsequently make a pass on, but at what point is a colleague a friend?

Water gets even more muddy when you consider dating apps and other social sites. If a partner matches a trainee on a dating app and propositions her there, is that inappropriate conduct or is the match an “invitation to treat”? What is they simply match and said partner puts a stray hand on the trainee’s uncovered shoulder in his office?

(26)(7)

Anonymous

If you’re a partner and they’re a trainee, then they’re almost certainly too young for you. Buy a sports car. It’s likely to be a cheaper way of expressing your mid life crisis in the long run.

(14)(26)

Jones Day Partner

Don’t be ridiculous.

(16)(0)

Jones Day Equity Partner

What else are we supposed to do with our trainees? Train them into competent lawyers?

(13)(0)

Anonymous

Disagree. Perhaps a 45+ year old partner with a 22 year old trainee is a bit much, but under 40 with a 23 to 25 year old trainee is a completely different story. Particularly if dating app parameters put the two together. Women like older men. Fact.

(11)(6)

Anonymous

They like older men if they have money and/or power.

(18)(7)

Trumpenkrieg

I bet that with you the “age appropriate” requirement only runs one way, ie only applies to men. Men who date younger women are perverts and manchildren who need to mature, women who do the same are sassy empowered cougars.

(17)(6)

Anonymous

Our law is quite odd in this regard.

A 16 year old boy would be breaking the law with a 15 year old girl who might be in the same school year, yet a 16 year old girl is fair game (in law) to a 50+ year old man.

(3)(0)

Trumpenkrieg

I am not sure which knee jerk feminist slogan would apply here, “her body her choice” or “all heterosexual sex is rape”…

(2)(0)

Anonymous

I prefer “No Woman No Cry”

(1)(0)

LL and P

So a 26 year old trainee with a 38 year old partner is too much for you? Don’t be daft, it is about behaviour and not age.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Anne Robinson maybe comes from a different generation where being spoken to a in sexualised manner or touched was tolerated…..or where it was expected that your ability to get promotions depended on your cooperation with such practices….

I remember as a kid, watching the weakest link wimbledon edition, and she made some vulgar remark and gesticulation over the word “bust” to a female wimbledon champion / athlete…..it was vile….. she was also slobbering all over boris becker ….. it was horrible…

….so i would not take anything Anne Robinson has to take seriously…..the woman does not know how to behave …

(7)(12)

Not Amused

In my weaker moments I think these people are in the pay of the guilty perpetrators of the actual abuse and actual offences.

Because nothing will kill this story stone dead (and let’s face it, it probably has already) than a colossal bandwagon whereby every minor slight or perceived grievance gets lumped together with what are in fact incredibly serious allegations.

(13)(2)

Anonymous

“Because nothing will kill this story stone dead (and let’s face it, it probably has already) than a colossal bandwagon whereby every minor slight or perceived grievance gets lumped together with what are in fact incredibly serious allegations.”

The thing is though, current trends suggest that the reverse is actually true. Even in the worst 1970s sexist office, sexual assault and rape have ALWAYS been regarded as bad. There’s never been any debate about this. Yet, it seems that in those olden days (and even in the not so olden days) women (and men, and children) have felt unable to come forward with allegations of sexual assault and rape. The difference between today’s climate and the sexist seventies office isn’t the attitude towards what you call “incredibly serious allegations”, its the attitude towards “every minor slight or perceived grievance”. In the past, people were expected to ignore those off-colour comments, pinches on the bum at the Christmas party, and so on. Complaining about them was humourless (according to the men who found them funny), or else it distracted from the ‘real’ feminist issues, of sexual assault, equal pay and so on (according to well-meaning women of Anne Robinson’s generation).

Yet now, when young people, especially young women, have decided that they are not putting up with even what the older generations consider to be trivial examples of sexism and misogyny, we see that women (including women from those older generations) are coming out and reporting ‘serious’ crimes – rape, sexual assault and so on – and prosecuting authorities, professional organisations and public opinion are taking note.

In other words, the change in attitude towards ‘trivial’ offences has brought about a greater willingness to report and prosecute ‘serious’ offences, and more generally is putting in place an atmosphere in which those more serious offences are not able to flourish.

It’s exactly the same strategy that transformed NYC from one of the most dangerous cities in America in the early ’90s to one of the most crime-free ones now: zero tolerance, ‘broken-windows’ policing. People in the Bronx thought that it was stupid and a waste of police time to arrest people for fly-tipping and selling cigarettes illegally in a city where there was a crack epidemic and the murder rate was so high. But now the homicide rate in NYC is lower than its ever been and the city is one of the safest in the States.

(7)(9)

Not Amused

Pinching another person’s bottom without consent is not trivial. It shouldn’t take me to tell you that.

If women need encouragement to go forward to the authorities then I encourage them to do so.

These arguments are being hijacked by a bad political agenda. No one should be jumping on the bandwagon over trivialities. No one should be distorting the legal definition of actions just so that they can pretend they are a victim too. Everyone should be encouraging and supporting genuine victims and serious complainants.

There are HR departments, grievance procedures, countless charities and the police. Let’s start encouraging people (men and women) to use these services.

Because at the moment, the genuine victims risk being drowned out by this sort of nonsense.

(10)(2)

Anonymous

You are ignoring my basic point. A robust attitude towards infractions called ‘minor’ or ‘trivial’ creates an environment in which people feel able to come forward. Do you genuinely think it’s all a huge coincidence that the Harvey Weinstein allegations came out in 2017 and not 1987? Saying “I encourage women to go to the authorities” while at the same time dismissing many of their concerns as ridiculous is at best naive and at worst hypocritical. So women should definitely 100% come forward ‘to the authorities’ with allegations of sexual misconduct, in perfect assurance that they will be taken seriously… unless those allegations are not ‘worthy’ of attention by some unnamed standard, in which case, they should definitely 100% not say a word, and anything they do say will not be taken seriously at all? It’s not exactly hard to see why this attitude (which to be fair to you, has been the prevailing attitude for the last 30 years) didn’t create a climate in which women felt able to discuss sexist behaviour and sexual offences.

I don’t think you are even clear on the standard sexual misconduct must meet to be taken seriously. For example, you say that bum-pinching is obviously unacceptable. You then immediately suggest that allegations should be dealt with by going ‘to the authorities, by which I guess you mean the police. But clearly the police are not interested in bum-pinching…

As for arguments being hi-jacked… There’s an obvious ulterior motive for trivialising workplace sexism (if one indulges in it oneself). There’s no obvious ulterior motive for taking workplace sexism seriously.

Anyway, hearteningly, I think that this argument has been won already. The teenagers, and especially teenage girls, I meet have a completely different attitude towards sex, sexism and feminism to the one current when I was their age. The tide has already turned. The younger generation has made up its mind that it’s not putting up with sexism anymore, so discussions between you and me are rather beside the point…

(6)(8)

Anonymous

“the city is one of the safest in the States”.

I mean that sounds nice and fuzzy but its not even remotely accurate. Out of all US cities, NYC has the 14th highest levels violent crime. In terms of its overall crime data it is a fairly typical US city.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_cities_by_crime_rate

(2)(1)

Anonymous

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_New_York_City “Violent crime in New York City has been dropping since the mid-1990s[1][2] and, as of 2015, is the lowest of any major city in the United States.[3] In 2014, there were 328 homicides, the lowest number since at least 1963.[2][4] Crime rates spiked in the 1980s and early 1990s as the crack epidemic hit the city.[5][6] According to a 2015 ranking of 50 cities by The Economist, New York was the 10th-overall-safest major city in the world, as well as the 28th-safest in personal safety.[7]”

Also you have misread the table on the link you cite. The city that is 14th on the violent crime ranking is BUFFALO, New York. New York, New York is at number 52.

(2)(1)

Anonymous

Also, according to that list, of the 10 cities other than NYC with populations of a million or more, 8 have higher violent crime levels higher than those in NYC, and only 2 lower. And clearly NYC is by far the largest city on the list, over twice as big as the second biggest city by population (LA).

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Stunning photo.

(15)(3)

Studdmuffin

Amazeballs!

(0)(0)

Anon

I thought the response to the comment on LinkedIn was a bit sexist.

(0)(0)

Comments are closed.

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