We talk, we metropolitan chatterers, as if ours is the whole world. Bad things happened in the past, to women and children, and to various other classes of people, but nothing like that would happen nowadays, we crow confidently. All of us are just doing fine. Look at me. Look at all my friends, having moved from the squalid urban districts of our dare-devil youth into thoroughly family-friendly neighbourhoods; and/or educating our golden-haired children privately, bar our few wacky-eccentric friends making their boho point about primary state education.
We may know very few black people, actually none we would count as friends, but we certainly know some gays. The point being that whatever, sexual equality (“nowadays”), acceptance of gays, and anti-racism are a given. Of course they are! The dark ages are long gone; we have moved on massively from the worlds of our parents and grandparents, whose lives were bound by the assumptions and attitudes of another country entirely.
My now-very-elderly mother once shocked me with her take on the story of a distant acquaintance charged with rape of somewhat closer friend. “But the ridiculous thing was, you know, he could probably have had her anyway,” she declared in all earnestness, “If he’d only been more patient. She had told us how much she was looking forward to getting to know him better, and you know, she was single at the time.”
The truth is, her generation had only the haziest notion of rape as a crime against a person (though one was free to joke, innocently, about “a fate worse than death.”) They were naturally sceptical of the idea of rape in marriage; one had one’s duty to one’s husband and there was an end to it. The traditional view of rape, I believe, saw it as a crime committed by one man against another man’s property. It’s clear this view still holds sway in many places and in even more people’s minds, in every country. How can property be expected to consent to anything? Still less if it’s underage?
Reports like this, in the press this week, are a reminder of how fragile all our supposedly-givens are. Male gangs convicted of “grooming” young girls for sex have apparently claimed in their defence that the underage girl-victims, mostly from children’s homes, were “just trash; no-one’s daughter or sister”, so what’s the problem, guv? The chilling thing was that I could almost see the police officers falling for it.
I note my own reluctance to speak up at school in support of Stonewall/Mumsnet’s anti—homophobia campaign, because I know that the issue, though a no-brainer to me (and all my friends) in the context of our multi-ethnic school could be sensitive and even backfire on my child. I note my reluctance to raise the issue of sexual stereotyping at our school’s annual book fair (fairy-princess books for girls, action-superheroes for boys) and elsewhere at our termly parents’ forum for much the same reasons. It’s so easy to uphold all the right values within your own tiny comfort zone. So much harder out there in the real, unreconstructed world.
Someone needs to take on Boris Johnson head to head. He’s likely to be too influential to ignore. If it were me, I think I would start by asking him if he really thinks the super-rich (who pay for 30% of our public services, apparently) really deserve the billionaire salaries they draw. Do they really work a billion times harder than the average care-worker, nurse or fire-fighter? Are they a billion times more talented? And is what they do really a billion-billion times more essential? And if the answer is, no, not really – I’d try to remind him, and all his followers, that all high taxation levels towards decent public (ie. free) services does, is attempt to redress the unfairness a little. Just a little. That’s assuming, of course, that there is any.