Postcards From Beyond
One of the pleasures of life on the edge is that you get a perspective on matters. For example I cannot begin to see why everyone is so het up about the Crimea (a faraway country of which we know little). It’s mostly Russian and it voted to join Russia, by a handsome margin. The Ukraine on the other hand has just chucked its elected President in a coup, so how democratic is that? Neither the deposed Ukrainian ruler, or Mr Putin, or indeed most of the leaders elected or otherwise in that benighted part of the world are very nice people. But their history and culture aren’t conducive to promoting niceness and true democracy. I think we should just let them get on with it and stop interfering. But no, Billy Hague and all the other self-styled pundits have to lecture us about the grave dangers we face and drawing lines in the steppe. I think we ought to leave the women (such as that clever Frau Merkel) to deal with the issues – but then you remember that in the Ukraine it was a woman (the glamorous and melodiously-named Yulia Volodymyrivna Tymoshenko) who started it all a while back. Moreover, Mr Putin rightly points out that the West has been beastly to Russia ever since glasnost. Could it be a Pavlovian reaction fostered by all those Cold War years…?
Speaking of women dealing with things, I have been much exercised about the direction and scope of the feminist movement of late. It has clearly determined that violence to women is the ideological centrifuge round which all discourse must revolve. This is a smart move. All right-thinking men would surely abhor and abjure violence to the gentler sex – other than possibly a little light consensual spanking. As is evident from the media coverage, the trigger topic for arousing horror is FGM, which is, indeed, an appalling practice. And from this it is but a step to conflate all violence to women, trafficking, prostitution and Page3 of the Sun, as representative of male abuse. I can’t claim to have heard it, but it can only be a matter of time before not having enough part-time executive women on FTSE 100 Company Boards of Directors is seen as a form of social violence. Actually, I did hear a female trade unionist argue that part-time workers (mostly women) should have equal career opportunities to their full-time (mostly male) colleagues. I leave it to the intelligent and fair-minded reader to rehearse the debate on this idea.
More worrying is the general sense that the male of the species is totally beyond the pale and that we are seeing a return to the days of Andrea Dworkin when sex itself, however consensual, was construed as an act of violence. We are in serious danger of sliding into a repressive, neo-Puritan culture in which the genuine issues go by the board. So busy are we locking up the male customers of hard-working hookers, that only now are we attempting a first prosecution of those carrying out FGM, and we’re still not that good about dealing with rape and murder by boyfriends and husbands. Unfortunately, a few high-profile cases brought against ageing celebs for thirty-year-old indecencies do not represent a major effort to protect women. What’s needed is less provocative apparel and for women to be accompanied at all times by a male relative. No, on second thoughts this might not solve the problem. Maybe it is time to revive the old military remedy for concupiscence among the troops and just add bromide to our drinking water.
Whilst on the topic of male lechery, I was intrigued by Eva Wiseman’s recent column in the Observer Magazine; she seems a jolly person – just the sort of writer to dip into over kedgeree of a Sunday morning and have the brain lightly tickled but not too stirred. That Sunday she mentioned the fun one can have from scrolling through Pornhub’s search engine. I can only suppose she had entered a different portal to the one I tried, but nonetheless it sparked a page of quite entertaining insights into Ms Wiseman’s inner life, and some rather less-than-chivalrous online comments about her writing talents. All the same, I felt it was encouraging that finally a female journalist in a somewhat politically correct newspaper should mention internet porn in a sanguine way – rather than with horror-struck caveats.
But if making gender policy is too serious to be left to radical feministas, it is very heartening that the BBC has made real efforts to get female voices called as expert witness to matters political and scientific. True, this has been going on for some time, but it is good that consciousness has been raised so that we notice and appreciate the shift of balance. That said, whatever the gender-neutral qualities our female reporters and commentators bring to bear on the national or international stage, at local level girls are still girls. As is evidenced by the following exchange on West Country Television between one Jack Nowell (young Cornish rugby player, successful England squad debutant) and female interviewer:
She: ‘How do you get on with your team mates?’
He (clearly baffled): ‘Fine’.
There could have been many reasons for her asking this question. For instance, was she worried about his youth, his Cornishness, or that he was less brutal looking than many of his ilk? Whatever it was, it was predominantly about fitting in – a very female concern. Well, he was good enough to get to play for England at Rugby, so probably not a shrinking violet when it came to ‘getting on’.
Never mind, Jack, this is a problem for – and with – women. When they don’t see you as Attila the Hun they’ll treat you like a small boy who’s lost his parents at the funfair. In similarly bewildering vein, the Observer Magazine (rapidly emerging as the arbiter of permissible femininity) recently ran an odd little celebrity feature featuring the blonde TV presenter Holly Willoughby who, inter alia, had successfully sued the Sunday Sport for a fake ‘up-the-skirt’ paparazzi shot. Holly’s chief regret was that the bottom shown had not been hers since, she suggested, it was possibly even prettier.’s The interviewer’s (Elizabeth Day) tone was fond if not a tad reproving in the manner of a liberal-minded girls-school headmistress.
Which is sort of where we began these reflections; we have to leave it to the women to write the rules of engagement for our inter-gender transactions. Don’t look – and certainly don’t touch – are the cardinal strictures. Don’t even think it, is the safest position to take. And if you do think it, don’t show it. It is going to be hard, but not quite as hard as you might believe. Women are like cats. Ignore them with sufficient insouciance and they’ll come and sit on your lap – cats that is: women will take longer to reach that stage. But in general, they don’t like prolonged sexual indifference – even though they will probably respect you for it. And respect, as we know, creates a desire for greater familiarity.