I woke up the other morning, as one does, and found myself reading, at a free speech outlet not a million miles from here, a joke. At least I think it was a joke.
Hell! I hope it was a joke. The notion was that women being systematically shoved from ‘always wear a head covering when you go out’ (which could almost have applied to my late mother) to ‘abaya at all times and a male escort if you ever go out’ should take advantage of their anonymity to create mischief. Mischief?
Where dress codes are enforced they are, in the final analysis, enforced on pain of death though the death rate may stay low. And as you read that, dear Westerner, think not of faraway places with deserts. Think trans people.
Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, a cover story is unravelling in a very untidy manner. One TV company did a story on, I think, 4 women who had been sexually assaulted, when teenagers, by a not-long-dead pop super-star. First response, in chorus, was I don’t believe this because he was a good bloke. End of story, as they thought.
As more women came forward that changed to but why didn’t they tell anyone at the time? Within minutes the news came back – they had reported, not all of them but enough to establish a pattern, had anyone been interested. Cases had been dropped, journalists had backed off, one distressed teen had been punished for telling lies about that great and good man. And so forth.
There is, at last, to be a full police inquiry and two very successful women have come out and said that their success was bought – bought at the price of having uninvited hands shoved inside their clothing when they were live on mic and broadcasting to the nation, a culture enforced by managers to whom they complained asking, “What’s the matter with you? Are you a lesbian or something?”
Should we be shocked? Yes, but only if we can be as shocked about denial of the right to a personality, to full citizenship, as we are about sexual impropriety tipping into the criminal. Anything less than this is prurience.
We are still together, right? Now, what about freedom of the mind? What about the right – which the teenage girls above were denied – to say, ‘This is what happened to me and this is the effect it had.’ And be believed!
Doing anything necessary to shut up a crying teenager may seem at 40 years distance to be a failure of empathy. Yes, but we can’t leave it at that, can we? At the time it was an abuse of power and – didn’t they tell you? – the effect of abuses of power is cumulative. It acts against the social good as it damages individuals.
So the people who have done real damage to whatever it was – we can discuss that – in the 16 months since a woman of our acquaintance put up four words of advice to the lovelorn on YouTube are not the repetitive trolls. Nor are they the idiots who have argued, inter alia, that women’s brains are entirely different in every way from men’s brains or that terms I learned in the social sciences 50 years ago are neologisms and should not be used, that the definition of a word given in a dictionary – even if that’s Dr Johnson’s original – is the only sense in which a word may ever be used, especially by a woman. No, such people are merely incredibly boring.
The destroyers have been that small handful of men who, either all the time or just when drunk, believe that they are Genghis Khan and destined to be the ancestor of just about everyone a thousand years from now. They have supporters, of course, and at two levels. First line of defence – the powerful people of all genders who address bad behaviour with a sort of gamesmanship. You know, I can get away with ignoring this, we can circulate our own version to key opinion formers, by next year no-one will remember exactly what happened and so forth. And then there is the Greek chorus, very numerous, always masked of course, who make a lot of noise but seem always to be acting from fear and have no real part in the drama.
And now, because I am not a philosopher, I can sum this up in a sentence. You do not get to barrack, harass, humiliate, exclude, disbelieve and disregard another group of your fellow humans and then call them the splitters.
Lessons of history and all that.