BBC 'Newsnight' Debates Sexual Assault With Male-Dominated Panel And Twitter Isn't Happy

Several Twitter users have expressed their outrage at BBC Newsnight placing a panel of men at the centre of a discussion about sexual harassment and assault.

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Following on from the sexual assault and harassment allegations levied against Harvey Weinstein last month, the world has continued to be in a state of shock and disgust with the revelation of more claims against the likes of actor Kevin Spacey, former UK defence secretary Michael Fallon and actor Dustin Hoffman, this week.

As a result of Fallon's resignation, after admitting his behaviour towards women had 'fallen below the high standards' someone in his position should uphold, the BBC's Newsnight decided it was about time it discussed the issue of sexual misconduct from the male perspective.

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In the segment titled 'The Problem With Men' last night, hosts Emily Maitlis and Evan Davis debated the issue with 12 men sitting opposite just three women, including Everyday Sexism project founder Laura Bates, writer Eliza Anyangwe and broadcaster Shelagh Fogarty.

However, the imbalance of the panel's male to female ratio has upset several men and women on Twitter, who believe the 'odd dynamic' between the group appeared to diminish women's role in the conversation which, in the majority of cases, primarily affects their safety.

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Others accused the programme of being 'misguided' 'archaic' and promoting 'mansplaining'.

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To many viewers' horror, one of the male panellists complained the debate itself reflected the fact that 'this PC (political correctness) has gone to such an extreme these days'.

Another claimed he was now unwilling to approach women for fear of being accused of sexual harassment. Self-described as 'normally a fairly loveable, easy-going kind of character', the individual added 'now I wait for women to come to me'.

As a result, comedian Frankie Boyle described the panel of men as a 'cross-section of complete lunatics'.

Others thought the show was a spoof:

While the majority of assault and harassment claims have come from women in recent weeks, it's important to point out that the issue of sexual assault and misconduct isn't a female issue - it's society's issue.

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So, placing male voices at the centre of this conversation is, we admit, controversial. After all, silencing female - and male - victims and their perspective on the issue of sexual misconduct is part of the problem in the first place.

Too long have we seen men attempt to justify their actions, brushing off claims of inappropriate behaviour as 'banter' or lamenting women for being 'too sensitive'.

But, by including a group of men into the conversation - albeit a greater number of men to women, in this case - the show may have been trying to hold men accountable for their views about appropriate sexual behaviour, opening the debate up to a segment of society that are, in the majority of cases, the perpetrators of the problem.

This is something Newsnight's deputy editor, Jess Brammar, tried to explain in her defence of the programme's format on Twitter.

'The idea was to get men into the studio to discuss this, rather than repeatedly watch women try to explain these issues and behaviour,' she wrote.

'We have, and will continue to, put women on night after night to talk about their experiences. We decided to have an audience of men tonight.'

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Sadly, however, many viewers believe the show to have missed the mark by yet again giving a male majority the platform to justify their behaviour and blame women.

Rather, it could have taken the opportunity to allow women to reclaim their power, share their experiences and raise awareness of sexual assault from the female perspective which, let's face it, is far more experienced in the matter than the male, on the whole.

During the debate, the show's presenters discussed new YouGov data - taken since the Weinstein scandal broke - revealing the public's views on what constitutes sexual assault, with 96 per cent of people believe that trying to take an upskirt photo - or 'upskirting' - constitutes as harassment.

Meanwhile, 91 per cent of those surveyed believed a man pinching a woman's bum was harassment, 50 per cent believed a man looking at a woman's breasts was wrong and just 38 per cent didn't condone a man wolf whistling at a woman.

At one point during the debate, Eliza Anyangwe said the discussion had been framed 'entirely inaccurately'.

'This is a conversation about power.... whether or not a male friend touches me on my shoulder is inconsequential,' she added.

If we think back to the scene earlier this year when Donald Trump signed an anti-abortion executive order surrounded by men - despite the stripping away of rights not affecting anyone in the room - it's good that Newsnight wanted to bring men to the centre of an issue directly concerning them.

However, on this occasion, the BBC might have been wise to have considered championing the female perspective and the male perspective equally on this subject.

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