I cried hot angry tears in my kitchen when I heard the news that Bex Bailey had been raped. Perhaps it was because I know Bex, albeit only in a professional capacity – coffee, emails, Twitter. But perhaps I would have finally cried anyway, cried for her and all the other women who have been crushed by the weight of men’s power in the most heinous, violating way imaginable. Hearing these stories in an endless nervous quiver – from Anita Hill to Bex Bailey – of brave women stepping into the limelight, is starting to suffocate me. Man, how we have suffered.
Bailey was just 19 when she was raped at a party event. When she told a senior member of staff two years later, she was encouraged not to report it because of the “damage” it may cause. Since she shared her experience with Carolyn Quinn on BBC Radio 4 yesterday, the Labour Party has announced an independent investigation and pledges to set up an a third party complaints system – something that Bailey had actually been campaigning for but to little avail.
Yet, as Radio 4’s Jon Humphries and MP Michael Fabricant still use the words “witch hunt”, and as politics plays "whataboutery" with neanderthals on Twitter accusing Laura Kuenssberg of bias in covering Bailey’s story, yet again, men (and some women) try to relegate sexual violence. Even as our candid chorus of testimony tries to lift our voices above them, they are still, still shouting us down.
And that’s partly because men have been trained to think their voices are more important, even on subjects they can’t possibly know about. And it’s partly because of fear; because despite what we are regularly told, women’s voices – finally, perhaps – have the ability to overthrow power.
An institution born from, fed off and kept alive by power - male power, white male, class power – is being rocked by the brave voices taking some of that power back
This is the crux of the crisis Westminster is facing when it looks in the mirror today. An institution born from, fed off and kept alive by power – male power, white male, class power – is being rocked by the brave voices taking some of that power back. Something so very long overdue. Because in the playground of parliamentary politics, its “high jinks”, and its rowdy school hall mentality, men exert the power they so crave in the lowliest way – at the exploitation of women, especially young women (and occasionally young men), young women who feel particularly powerless, young women whose careers can rest in the decisions made by these same men. These men pray on those without power to bolster their own; a pathetic, cruel act that men have been permitted for time eternal. It's how the scales have always hung. It’s the oldest and most harmful trick in the patriarchal book.
Bailey was just 19. Conservative activist Kate Maltby has written in The Times today how cabinet minister Damian Green – 31 years her senior and friend of her parents – brushed her knee and sent her suggestive text messages in 2015. (Green has fiercely denied the allegations and is said to have hired a lawyer.) Further allegations leaked to the internet reveal a similar pattern - established, powerful men and young junior women - and some men. We saw it with Weinstein; influential male movie producer accused of assaulting young, hopeful actresses. And it’s the same reason we don’t believe Amber Heard or Dylan Farrow. It’s the same reason Jimmy Savile and Bill Cosby and Rolf Harris did what they did for so long. The ingrained fundamental imbalance of power between men and women permits men to abuse and violate and beat; and so great has been this imbalance, that we don’t even listen to those women, we don’t believe those women, and in the case of of Bex Bailey, we tell those women to be quiet and go away. This power, propped up by fear, shame and silence, has acted as a force field of protection, and this has meant young, powerless women are mere collateral, trampled on by a abuser’s belief in their own invincibility, their own untouchability, or their own self-perceived supremacy.
Tearing down these ancient pillars of powers is not going to come quickly. Women have been chipping away at these structures for as long as they’ve been there. But I really believe our most effective tool is our voices. Which is why we simply ignore the – in the words of The Pool's political editor Gaby Hinsliff – “dinosaur” women who tell women to toughen up – it’s just another form of silencing. It is why we ignore the ridiculous suggestion that men can’t flirt or date women ever again – it's just another form of silencing. It's why we call out every man who uses the word “witch hunt” – it’s just another form of silencing. It’s why we call out those who try and politicise a woman’s rape – it’s just another form of silencing. And all these attempts to silence proves one thing – the power of a woman’s voice.
Bailey's voice and all the other voices have begun to shake the very foundations that this power is built upon. The halls of our institutions are no longer to be roamed freely by men who think their power extends to a woman’s body. The noise of our voices is reclaiming power and that’s why we must applaud those who speak out.