Like the press pretty much everywhere, the UK media is in a frenzy of outing and shaming rapists, sex pests, touchers and all sorts of hitherto hidden pervs and miscreants. And a good job the turgid status quo is being challenged and reframed at last to rouse society not to tolerate base behaviour and generally to encourage people to ask before they take, especially when it comes to other people’s bodies.
A post-Weinstein world is reshaping fast before our noses, under a firestorm of victims’ stories and perpetrator scandal. In the thick smoke it can be hard to see the flames, especially when so many stories are from long ago. Memory is a notoriously fragile construct. And so, caution is essential in apportioning blame accurately.
But equally, it is vital victims are emboldened to report what has happened to them and to be heard and taken seriously. The freezing, terrible shame must be burned off.
Listen. Don’t turn a blind eye. Speak up. These are the activating key words released like a healing virus into 2017.
May they bring peace, justice, and change.
This week in Britain, the defence minister, Sir Michael Fallon, fell on his sword, admitting “inappropriate sexual behaviour” towards a junior, Julia Hartley-Brewer, 15 years ago.
Hearing the news, Hartley-Brewer commented, “If he has gone because he touched my knee 15 years ago, that is genuinely the most absurd reason for anyone to have lost their job in the history of the universe, so I hope it is not because of that.”
Few believe it is the only reason and fresh allegations are expected soon. It’s impossible to know what’s going on behind the scenes.
The lives of public figures are always skewed by what the media can see and show. And in many instances, the sheer clamour of outrage then arising from a million home keyboards judging and opining befuddles and obscures exponentially.
We are living in an age of hyper commentary. I tweet therefore I am. Everyone has an opinion (on everything). Everyone is a judge. Trial by social media is an ugly business of stocks and gallows. Accusation blurs into proof. Kevin Spacey is shot to pieces in a week, but meanwhile Roman Polanski has been feted for 40 years and never brought to justice. One is condemned instantaneously, yet with the presumption of innocence; the other allowed to win awards and smile cheekily as a convicted outlaw. One was busted in 2017; the other in 1977.
Glamour hides the filth
It’s no surprise many of the cases reaching the news are from those heady old days. Glamour hid the filth. But now we know Jimmy Saville was doing it, Rolf Harris was doing it, Gary Glitter, Sir Edward Heath (probably, say police), the list goes on and on.
Happily, the differences of those 40 years may finally be ravelling up. The cry is clear: Enough! Louche, casual, sexist conduct belongs in the bin. Accountability matters. Respect is a basic. Consent is key.
But the process is wild and dirty and fuzzy. Our mores change grindingly, even while sentiment erupts so fiercely.
Last Christmas, I did jury service in a murder trial at the Old Bailey. Grisly business it was, hearing what the plaintiff had got up to and having to sit across from his victim’s family who were in no doubt he should be violently dispatched himself. Apart from one afternoon off when the judges went for Christmas tea, and the holiday days themselves, we endured three weeks of the laborious, forensic, technical and fanatically fair practices of the legal system.
It was a tawdry, horrible tale. Everyone was a victim, their lives affected by ten pointless minutes of drunken belligerence. Yet the care with which each aspect was explored and mapped inspired a willingness to engage in the process, to try to be fair, to listen, to consider, to weigh and balance and then decide.
We all made judgements the whole time going along, of course. But we reserved them.
It was an experience that changed my outlook on life considerably, and, by paradox perhaps, made me see the good in people more. It amazed me that such a critical decision about the future of the accused was left in the hands of a bunch of lay strangers. And moreover, that this method of deciding guilt, trial by jury, was deemed the best our entire civilisation had come up with in however many thousands of years crimes have been punished.
Without the evidence, and the arguments, and the time to chew it all over, it would have folded in a flash.
Let’s keep the 2017 hoses pointing to where the cleaning must be done. Let’s rein in pornification, so a new normal doesn’t take root even more pernicious than the old. Let’s remember most men are not pests or boors and are participating in making a better, more equal world. Let’s make consent king and queen in all spheres. Real confidence is knowing what you want, knowing how to ask and feeling okay if the answer is no.
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