Photo: Daily Mail
Show Hide image

The Daily Mail’s attack on Kate Maltby shows the price women pay for speaking out

When a woman comes forward, she knows her credibility will be undermined.

How posh does a woman have to be for her account of a man’s behaviour to be dismissed? How ambitious?

Journalist and Tory activist Kate Maltby wrote for the Times this week about her discomfiting relationship with the MP Damian Green. For that, the Daily Mail has profiled her under the headline “One very pushy lady”, calling her “a woman determined to make it in politics – whatever the cost.”

And if accusations of betraying friends, shaming family and publicising herself are too mild for you, don’t worry: Jan Moir is there on the facing page, calling Maltby “poison”, “disingenuous” and “not afraid to use all her charms to get herself noticed”.

So Maltby must have written something pretty astringent about Green, then? Actually, no. Her article doesn’t use the word “harassment” about Green’s alleged actions; she doesn’t accuse him of abuse. “Let me be clear. This is not the most terrible thing that has ever happened to a woman,” she writes. She isn’t angry with him, and she doesn’t call for him to face any sanctions. She asks, instead, for his understanding: “Damian, as you read this, I doubt you had any idea of how awkward, embarrassed and professionally compromised you made me feel.”

It’s that feeling of being compromised that she describes so well, and that makes her article valuable. Her story doesn’t stop in the simple shape of “aspiring young woman intimidated by older, more powerful man”. He’s 30 years older than her and a family acquaintance; at the start of her career in politics, she seeks out his advice. Then, writes Maltby, comes the moment when he makes it clear this is not a professional relationship after all. She drops all contact for a year.

But when she poses in a corset to illustrate an article, Green allegedly sees the picture and texts to ask her out for a drink. She ignores him. Then Brexit happens, Theresa May becomes prime minister, Green becomes her second-in-command, at which point Maltby gets back in touch, and the two go on to have a friendly back-and-forth. (Green has denied the entire account.)

It’s messy, like these things so often are. What’s clearly described, though, is a relationship where a man had power – the power to support advancement, the power to pass on information that journalism lives or dies on. And when a man introduces sex to such a relationship, the corrosive effect for the young woman is subtle but profound. She wonders if she invented that brush of the hand; and when she doesn’t wonder any more, she doubts herself in another way, doubts her intelligence and her abilities, doubts that there was anything interesting about her at all besides her tits.

Well, so what. If you don’t want a man to think you’re fruity, don’t wear the corset – easy, although somehow I suspect that, say, Giles Coren would never be discredited in the same way for flaunting his torso in a travel feature. If you don’t like a man flirting with you, cut him off or call him out – there’s nothing to lose, assuming you don’t consider burning a valuable contact any kind of loss, and assuming you’re willing to risk being ostracised by your professional peers.

Because speaking up is terribly, terribly expensive for women. This can’t have been an easy article to write, mild as it is: Helena Kennedy has told the Evening Standard that Maltby confided the story to her a year ago, and Guido Fawkes reports that it received a similar account of Green’s behaviour from a young researcher who ultimately decided not to go on the record.

When a woman comes forward, she knows her credibility will be undermined, her past picked over and her character demolished. She might, like Labour activist Bex Bailey when she reported a rape, simply be told to hush up.

The Mail even snidely quotes from an earlier piece by Maltby on harassment where she alludes to “the guy a few tiers up from us at work – usually a few decades older – who offers to help talk up our promotion prospects in-house as he puts a hand on our knee.” “Surely this was the perfect opportunity for her to reveal how she had once been victim of a wandering hand on her own knee,” chides the Mail, while it tears a woman down in a perfect illustration of the reason so few of us will only talk about this stuff in hints and allusions.

There are no perfect women. We’re all too slutty to have said no or too ugly to be telling the truth, too privileged to have suffered or too chavvy to care about, too fragile to cope or too hardy to be victims. There’s no sweet spot from which to talk about these low-level infractions that shape our lives – shape them, always, to men’s advantage and our disadvantage.

When a national paper is willing to go to war for the hand on the knee and the presumptuous text, it’s not because they fear for one man’s career (which, again, was never threatened by Maltby): it’s because these are the things that keep women where we are.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Technology can change the world – provided we have a measure of democracy, too

You could say we need a technological revolution for the many, not the few. 

Over the last five decades, the American Consumer Technology Association’s annual jamboree has grown to become the world’s largest tech show: attracting over 190,000 visitors and 4000 companies, with 7,460 reporters filing 59,969 reports over the course of four days in Las Vegas. In the process, it has achieved an almost mythical status – from unveiling the first-ever home VCR (Philips 1970) to Bill Gates’ resignation from Microsoft in 2006, and has included cameo appearances by the likes of Jay-Z and Barack Obama.

As a fully qualified geek (Electrical Engineering degree, 20 years in tech – before it was cool) and the shadow minister for Industrial Strategy Science and Innovation, I couldn’t resist seizing the opportunity to venture to Las Vegas while on a family holiday to the US’ west coast; hoping, against all hope, to see the progressive future of a technology-enabled, more equal world.

If only.

But I did emerge with a renewed conviction that technology can solve our problems – if we use it to do so.

In some ways, the most remarkable thing about the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was the way it demonstrated how technology has taken over our entire world. CES was a car show in the middle of a health show, which happened to be around the corner from a home show, which was adjacent to a sports show that was next to an entertainment show. Just about every sector was represented.

Nissan had a huge stand for their new autonomous vehicle showcasing the ‘Brain-Vehicle Interface’, as did Philips for their new sleep enhancing devices, and Huawei for their connected home. In 2018, technology can be used as an enabling platform to aid just about everything. And in a world where near enough everything is politicised, technology is very political.

But this was not evident from CES: not from the stands, neither the keynotes, nor the participants. There were few speakers from civic society nor governments, and those politicians who attended – such as Donald Trump’s Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao – talked only of their ‘excitement’ at the sunlit uplands technology could guide us to. The show existed in its own, largely self-sufficient world. While Ford created an entire street to show off its autonomous cars, there was no reference to who would pay for the road, pavements, lamp-posts and guttering if only robots worked.

And as a politician rather than an engineer, it is the societal impact that matters most to me. One realisation brought about by my visit is that I have greatly under-estimated the consequences of driverless vehicles: communications, parking, urban layout, and public transport are all likely to be deeply impacted. The automobile industry is working to position cars as your personal moving office-cum-front room-cum-hotel-cum-lecture theatre; where you can work, maintain personal and social relationships, unwind and learn – all while going from A to B. How will crowded, under-funded public transport compete?

At the show, Nissan launched its Brain-to-Vehicle technology, which reads the driver’s brainwaves to determine when the car’s intelligence should intervene. Although I'm personally unsure about the inclusion of brain surveillance in the driving experience, it may well be the next logical step as we increasingly give up our data in return for ‘free’ services. Certainly the anthropologists at Nissan argued that this was the very definition of assisted artificial intelligence.

Fortunately, autonomous vehicles are not the only way to get around. Improvements in battery technology mean that – between electric scooters capable of folding away into airplane carry on, and electric bikes with the power of motorcycles – personal mobility has become a market in its own right.

Personal health and sport were also big themes at the event. Philips has brought back the night cap, which not only looks far more fetching than the Victorian original, but is now also capable of lulling you gently into a slumber before monitoring the quality of your sleep. Orcam’s discrete camera-glasses for the visually impaired can read text and recognise people, whilst L’Oréal’s UV Sense is a sensor small enough to be worn comfortably on your fingernail that detects ultraviolet exposure.

One aspect of the show that has remained largely unchanged is its demographics. Whilst the glossy adverts on the walls depict women and BME people using technology, those actually designing it were, with a few exceptions, male and largely white. As always, there were no queues for the women’s loos and while there were not any ‘F1 girls’, the gender balance was improved largely by attractive women, who were not engineers, being employed to ‘explain’ technological advances.

Weeks later, the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos was also dominated by technology, which the Prime Minister used as a fig leaf to cover the absence of vision for Brexit. Lacking in both the CES and Davos, was any sense that the interests of the many had any significant stake in what was going on. We need a Labour government to help change that.

Chi Onwurah is the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, and the shadow minister for industrial strategy.