Caution: Men at work

Published in The First Post on 28 April 2006
View the published article here

Women shouldn’t put up with porn at work, says Rachel Bell, after watching C4’s Dispatches.

Porn is part of the policeman’s lot, it seems. In Dispatches we saw officers asking to watch porn DVDs and urging female colleagues to watch hardcore porn including bestiality – on mobiles. Porny posters adorned the walls. It¹s hardly reassuring to those of us who expect the police to be first to respond when women become victims of violent, sex crimes. And, on an everyday level, it sends out a clear message to female colleagues that it¹s still a man¹s world. “The presence of porn in the workplace defines all women in terms of sex,” says Professor Liz Kelly, director of the Child and Women Abuse Studies Unit at London Metropolitan University, who appeared on Dispatches. “It means there isn’t a space for women in that profession.” It’s not just police stations where porn is circulated; semi-naked babes take up space on walls and as screen-savers in insurance companies and City banks; the bestiality sequence from Dispatches is already doing the rounds. Men are occasionally disciplined for downloading porn, but the emphasis is usually on misuse of company time rather than sexual harassment. Where does that leave women who feel under pressure to be one of the lads and accept it  or quit their jobs? An employment lawyer, Sunita Knight-Webb, says, “If someone is downloading porn or puts up a whopping great poster of a semi-naked woman, that can amount to sexual harassment and an employee is entitled to complain under the Sexual Discrimination Act. Most employers will be afraid of a tribunal claim and will act. It’s very poor employment practice if they don’t.” Alternatively, wait for the Gender Equality Duty to come into force next April. It’s hailed as the biggest change in sex equality law in 30 years and you can take part in drafting the code of practice.

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