The scariest thing about the video of Mark Field assaulting a protester is that no one spoke up

Violence against women thrives on our refusal to believe these terrible things happen before our eyes

Abby Tomlinson
Friday 21 June 2019 17:18
MP Mark Field slams woman against pillar at banquet

We know by now, in 2019, that violence against women doesn’t just happen in dark corners and behind locked doors where no one is watching. It happens on the streets and public transport in broad daylight. It happens in offices, it happens in bars, it happens pretty much everywhere where women aren’t alone. As we saw last night, in the video of Mark Field manhandling a protester, it happens at black tie dinners, perpetrated by an MP, with more than 100 people watching.

How many of the people in that room have put themselves in such a situation before, have thought about what they would do if they saw such an act of unprovoked violence happening in front of them? I bet not one of them would have reasoned that it would have been OK to just watch, and yet that is what so many of them did.

When the MeToo movement took place and allegations of violence towards women were revealed about powerful men, from comedians to directors to politicians, so many people around these men must have asked themselves: how could I not see? How could I not see when it was right in front of me?

Surely, we tell ourselves, if anyone had seen it happening then they would have done something. But these men got away with it for years, so the answer is not, of course, that no one saw.

The truth is much harder to confront, that people did see, that people did know, but they chose to ignore it. They chose to ignore it because you can convince yourself that maybe you don’t know the full story, or maybe it’s not what it looks like.

It is in these thoughts that violence against women thrives. It thrives on the uncertainty and our refusal to believe these terrible things happen before our eyes.

It thrives in the people who know these men and think that because they have never been violent towards them personally that they are somehow incapable of it. We’ve already seen a flurry of comments from Mark Field’s colleagues defending him, with one even suggesting that “the protester should be apologising to him”.

The image of Mark Field grabbing the protester by her neck and slamming her against a pillar was shocking. It was so shocking because today we want to think that, for women in politics, it’s getting better.

We want to think that in this day and age men that want to commit acts of violence towards women, particularly men in public spheres like politics, are too scared of the consequences. We are even told that men are now too scared to even talk to women without being accused of harassment. Violence like that carried out by Mark Field prove that is not the case.

What he did was so unspeakable because he did it so casually, in front of a room full of people, a room full of eyes and cameras. It was as though he thought it was completely normal and justified behaviour towards a woman peacefully protesting, walking past him and barely looking him in the eye.

The force with which he grabbed her by the neck should have warranted an intervention. Shouting, people standing up to help, protests – this is what everyone likes to think they would do if they saw those things.

Michelle Obama on the critics of #MeToo

But no one you can see in the video one does anything. They sit straight and stare, lacking even a look of concern or disbelief. Everyone in that room legitimised his actions by also acting like it was normal.

If there had been no one filming, he would have probably gone on thinking that his behaviour was acceptable. And that is how these powerful men get away with violence towards women for so long.

The outrage at the Mark Field video is only right, and I’m glad people can see it for what it is. But the fact that the outrage only came from social media after the violence took place, and not while it was happening, helps us to understand why it is that violence towards women still thrives in politics and in society as a whole.

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