I’ll be honest: it feels good to be one of the women who have beaten a misogynist such as Donald Trump to the title of Time magazine’s Person of the Year. It’s great to get the better of him, given his desire for the award was so great that he used to display fake versions of it in his hotels.
I hope Time is right in its view that this year has “unleashed one of the highest-velocity shifts in our culture since the 1960s”. But let’s not kid ourselves. We still have a long way to go. I feel proud of everyone who decided to speak out this year. It has helped hold to account predators including Oscar-winning film producers and political heavyweights.
While justice is important, lasting change requires more. I started speaking out on the practical solutions needed to tackle sexual harassment head on, along with other women in the Labour party, when I served on Labour’s national executive committee a few years ago. Similar debates were going on in other political parties; Ali Goldsworthy and other Liberal Democrat women were incredibly brave, but for all their efforts, were largely ignored.
I pushed for the changes that I thought would have helped me. In politics – in all political parties – we need an independent agency we can report to, so we can do so without fear of retribution. Having such a body in place would give women access to expert, unbiased advice as well as the emotional support that victims need. Elected officials, party staff and local party officers should receive safeguarding training, too, so they know how to handle issues when they arise.
I had hoped that people would recognise the need for change without me having to say publicly what had happened to me. Sadly, that didn’t prove to be the case. Seeing lots of amazing women speaking out gave me more courage; I wanted to support them and tell my story to highlight just how much has to alter, in the hope that this would lead to the changes we have been fighting for.
Sexual harassment is something that happens at every level of every political party – and parties aren’t dealing with it in a way that actually tackles the issue or works for victims. It’s great that women are finally being heard, but now we need action. Across all industries, we need comprehensive culture change backed up by independent reporting processes.
First, men need to know that this behaviour isn’t acceptable and that they won’t get away with it. Obviously the biggest change would be for men to stop seeing women as sex objects and instead respect us for our talents, intellect and skills. In the meantime, strict codes of conduct and a clear sense that organisations take these complaints seriously would help to deter offenders.
Second, put simply, people need to believe women. Women have been saying that sexual harassment is happening for years and we have been ignored or called liars. In recent weeks, we’ve still seen far too much victim-blaming in the media and online. Like I was, many women are still scared to speak out; not surprising when there’s still no guarantee they won’t be penalised or called a liar.
Third, women are still shut out of leadership roles in many organisations. Having more women in those roles is a key step to ridding those organisations of misogyny.
It should not be necessary for people to talk about their experiences publicly for organisations to do the right thing. But now that we have, there is no excuse not to act. The #MeToo campaign shows the shocking extent of sexual harassment. But even if you haven’t experienced it yourself, my plea to you is to ask questions about where you are working or studying and what processes and procedures are in place. Employers and institutions must face up to the need for better (independent!) processes, for better support for women, and for women to be believed.
As for this year being a turning point – I think we’ve only really scratched the surface. It’s great that some women’s voices are being heard but there has been little action – in politics or elsewhere. I won’t apologise for my impatience.
The hope has to be that, now this issue is out in the open, things cannot go back to how they were. One thing is certain: we won’t stop fighting until we get action, not just words.
Bex Bailey is a women’s rights charity worker and former member of Labour’s NEC