Former Weakest Link presenter Anne Robinson has been criticised for claiming modern women are “fragile” and should be more robust when it comes to dealing with sexual harassment.
The 73-year-old appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme and the Victoria Derbyshire show a day after allegations of a sexual harassment culture in Parliament emerged in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein abuse scandal.
Speaking on Today, she said: “In the early days, 40 years ago, there were very few of us women in power and I have to say we had a much more robust attitude to men behaving badly.
“Now what seems to have happened is the glass ceiling seems to have been shattered but running alongside that is a sort of fragility amongst women who aren’t able to cope with the treachery of the workplace.”
Referring to allegations International Trade Minister Mark Garnier had asked his secretary to buy sex toys for him, Robinson added: “It shouldn’t be happening but on the other hand why have women lost confidence… I despair!”
Jane Merrick tweeted of Robinson’s “dreadful take”, while Ayesha Hazarika remarked: “Cheers for the empathy Anne. Why not go the whole hog and screech ‘you are the weakest link’ at anyone making a complaint.”
Robinson also questioned comments made by Conservative MP and former culture secretary Maria Miller, who revealed she had been sexually harassed “numerous times”.
She asked: “Do you not think a cabinet minister, that’s Maria Miller, should have kept quiet all this time as she’s quoted as saying she was OK with it, she could deal with it. Is that OK?”
Robinson continued: “What I want to know is how come the Prime Minister, only 24 hours ago decided this was a problem? She’s been an MP for 20 years. She’s been prime minister for more than a year. What has happened is it’s become inconvenient to ignore it anymore.”
She added: “It would be helpful – and I say that in inverted commas – if women really, particularly older women in power, stopped it being tolerated. There needs to be a sort of collective amongst women because the flipside is that if it’s a youngster complaining about sexual harassment, not only is she unlikely to be believed, particularly if she’s complaining to a male boss but also that goes on her record. Who is going to hire someone who’s already made complaints in another workplace about sexual harassment?”
While Robinson was heavily criticised on Twitter, there were some who spoke up her point of view. Joan Chalmers wrote: “Don’t often agree with Anne Robinson but good grief, stand up for yourselves as we had to do 40 years ago and we’ve survived and grown stronger.”
Perdita echoed: “Anne Robinson was right. Our generation was tougher in every way.”
Speaking to Derbyshire shortly afterwards, Robinson insisted: “I really fail to understand it, because 50 years ago there were very few of us, particularly in newspapers who had a position of power and we seemed to be much more robust then about fending off this sort of behaviour
“What is the point of women having PhDs and Masters degrees if they haven’t got any common sense? Why is someone who is bright enough to be a PA to a trade minister not able to say to him ‘I’m not going to go to a shop and buy sex toys’.”
When asked if she herself had ever experienced sexual harassment during her career, Robinson replied: “I can’t say I’ve come across much of this behaviour, I honestly haven’t and I think it’s probably because I developed a very good ‘don’t mess with me attitude’ to it. Bullies only operate where they think there’s a weakness.”
Robinson denied she was victim blaming and insisted she was merely being “pragmatic.”
She said: “There are enough women MPs it’s a disgrace that they’ve allowed it to go on happening.
“In a perfect world, men wouldn’t behave badly, but they are going to go on behaving badly until it is inconvenient for them not to and part of that has to be that women who are in powerful positions start helping younger women not to put up with it.”