This morning I received a phone call from a friend to be informed that I was “in the newspaper (again),” …..she said it with a wry tone and I could picture her rolling her eyes. Not because she disagrees with anything I’m saying; just because she’s fed up explaining to people that I didn’t raise the issue of sexual harassment at Argyll and Bute Council to name and shame or ruin lives; I did it to hopefully shine a light on a taboo subject and to affect some positive change in the current culture.
I shared the online article from the Daily Record this morning on Twitter because I welcomed the fact that it highlighted progress being made in the fight championed by female councillors, against bullying and harassment in Scottish local authorities. Rest assured that I and many others, will be punching the air in triumph over the fact that COSLA and The Scottish Government have listened, and are now tackling this issue head on. The proposals being brought forward to amend the councillors code of conduct, to reflect the fact that bullying and harassment is a very real issue within our councils is long overdue and a very welcome start.
However on closer inspection the article had me shaking my head in despair. For me it’s a study in how to not deal with a sensitive issue like sexual harassment; how not to treat the women who speak out; how not to cast assumption. The reporter, I don’t know who wrote it because they’ve not added a name to the piece, has obviously chosen me as the token complaining councillor, that part I’m fine with considering I’ve already been very vocal on this topic.
What I take an exception to is the fact that they’ve used me, without actually having the courtesy of speaking to me or asking permission to use my photograph. Worse still under said photo it states “SNP Councillor for Oban North Julie McKenzie who claims she was referred to as ‘the hot blond’ by colleagues.” This isn’t factual and makes it sound like there’s a Brethren of my council colleagues who call me “The Hot Blond”, when actually I’m pretty sure that they don’t. One male councillor made that comment to me ……but hey-ho I guess that wouldn’t make for nearly such good clickbait!
Indeed anyone who has read my blog will see that what I actually wrote was……….. “I can give many examples of the comments I have been subjected to; from being told by a male Councillor that he “finds me a distraction in the Council Chamber” to being called a “hot blonde” and being told that “I should be kept on a leash”.
However the “hot blonde” comment keeps getting trotted out and adapted by lazy journalists, who do a disservice to everything that my sister councillors and I are trying to achieve. Speaking out hasn’t been easy for any of us. The backlash is ever-present. Every time a paper uses this quote without context, it appears to send a bat signal to faceless social media accounts to come forth with a barrage of online abuse. Sticking your head above the parapet on an issue like this is akin to putting a target on your back.
I’ve spent far too much time having to deal with online abuse and becoming acquainted with solicitors, when my time could be much better spent dealing with constituents issues. My health has suffered and I’ve had to take time off to deal with that. If the nameless journalist had called me we could have had a chat and my comments or the comments of my female colleagues across Scotland would undoubtedly have made for a much stronger piece.
I’m not even angry with the journalist, more despairing that this topic and the women affected be treated with such insensitivity by some sections of the media. I should add that I’ve worked with some amazing journalists on this issue; Karin Goodwin, Kirsteen Paterson & Rita Gatner deserve a mention. All fierce women who get this and aren’t afraid to challenge and stand up to the patriarchy. More power to the elbow of the journalists who do their job like these women.
Surely together we can challenge sensitive issues like sexual harassment and bullying with empathy, honesty and kindness; Compassion and respect doesn’t cost anything.
I’m determined that I will not let politics change me. Why should female politicians be forced to develop thick skins in order to survive? We shouldn’t have to morph into hard-hearted armadillo coated versions of ourselves to deflect abuse. Changing the misogynistic culture that is pervasive throughout our Councils isn’t going to be something that happens overnight. The patriarchy is a stubborn beast. We all have a part to play in bringing about the required shift.
I called The Daily Record earlier to have a chat with the journalist about my concerns and I’m still waiting for someone to return my call.
You can read the article I refer to here.
Update. I’m delighted to be able to let you all know that my blog post on this issue attracted some attention, both as usual, positive and negative. I also received a call from David Clegg – Political Editor at The Daily Record, who was incredibly willing to listen to my concerns. He gave me his assurance that the offending line would be changed to reflect what I’d actually said. I’m grateful that he took the time to correct speak with me and correct this. A small change in the big picture but an important one for me never the less.