Deborah King

A barrister and member of the Women Against Sexual Harassment management committee responds to Terence Blacker's article on middle-aged gropers
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The Independent Online

Terence Blacker obviously spends too much time in his office, feeling bored with his libido cranked up. His editor should send him out on more assignments to the employment tribunal. Women sacked for being pregnant, for wanting equal pay or for complaining about sexual harassment, trust in the judicial system to get the equality denied to them by their colleagues and bosses. Such is the state of women's rights in the year 2000.

Terence Blacker obviously spends too much time in his office, feeling bored with his libido cranked up. His editor should send him out on more assignments to the employment tribunal. Women sacked for being pregnant, for wanting equal pay or for complaining about sexual harassment, trust in the judicial system to get the equality denied to them by their colleagues and bosses. Such is the state of women's rights in the year 2000.

Who benefits from this? Directly, men do. There is only so much in the pay pie to be divided between the sexes. If women get equal pay, men get less money. It's as simple as that.

Perhaps Mr Blacker benefited from this at some stage in his life. He has surely never been sacked for being pregnant, is unlikely to have been paid less than a woman for doing the same job, and has never brought a sexual harassment case.

Now that he has defined himself as "the middle-aged male", he considers that this is the reason why his behaviour might now be seen as harassment. Surely self-deception about consent is what he really means.

Blacker states that it is anti-feminist to suggest that the adult female is so frail that a stray hand or a naff remark can offend her sensibilities. But just which sex is protected? Where are the nude males on our television screens or in magazine advertisements? Why are the middle aged in the House of Lords so scared of protecting gay rights?

The aesthetics of molestation can be seen every night on television - both in the sexualisation of commodities and the commodification of sexuality. So why not try a completely new tack and get the European Commission Code of Practice on sexual harassment discussed at a trade union meeting?

Ensuring that sexual harassment is discussed when people are sober prevents a lot of late-night blundering. However, open and direct communication about sex is less likely in an unequal power relationship. So, when women finally achieve equality, middle-aged men might get more consensual sex.

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