It's a man's world, Westminster. More than three-quarters of MPs are male. Granted, the secretaries are mostly women, but so rare is the sight of a young blonde female MP that when Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) stepped into an MPs' lift, she was told to know her place by the Conservative Andrew Robathan.
The atmosphere in the chamber is steaming with testosterone. Women usually find it intimidating, and only if they learn to join in the roaring and barracking are they accepted as one of the chaps. For it's no use being calm or reasoned or consensual at the dispatch box. You'll be roadkill within minutes.
Meanwhile, sexual tensions are higher than in most workplaces. For a start, women are hugely outnumbered, which makes them as instantly attractive as sixth-form girls at a boys' school. Then many of the male MPs have left their families at home in their constituencies and have no one to watch over them in the evenings. Stir into the brew late working nights and alcohol consumption, and it's not surprising that Westminster women often find themselves having to fend off unwanted sexual advances.
What's more, power and sex are a heady combination. Power is supposed to make men sexier to women, and it certainly makes the men feel more sexually entitled. The chances are that they're going to be senior to, and older than, the women in their employ. So if a woman's boss hits on her, it can be harder to say no.
There's also the sense that everyone in an MP's office is working for the same team in a very competitive game. Teamwork is famously conducive to affairs – being thrown together to fight a common cause tends to breed intimacy.
But these relationships are consensual. What's much worse is sex pestery. Of course, clumsy passes and groping go on in many other walks of life. But at Westminster, all the ingredients conspire to give the men a sense of entitlement and the women too little power to fight back.Reuse content