My school’s approach to gender, relationships and sex education was as they say, of the age and I am terrified to say, probably not unique.
I went to a single sex boys public school in the 1960s.
Using Shakespeare to explore gender relations was a good example . The approach was to take the slimmest and most effeminate of the gay boys in the boarding house, stick him in a frock, shove two balloons up the front and call him Ophelia.
It didn’t get a great deal better. If a boy was considered to be having “ tendencies ‘ ( towards other boys ) he was sent to talk to the Gym Teacher. In fairness he had a great deal of expertise because he was a changing rooms voyeur and the most enthusiastic pederast in the school.
We did have “ biological education.” This was undertaken by the School Chaplain. Can you imagine a better person to do sex education than an ex Army Major Chaplain who co-incidentally had lost his faith in God?
He talked about “ Congress.”
We were bemused at first but eventually we realised he wasn’t suggesting we had sex with the Trade Union movement or the Supreme Soviet but the unmentionable “Act’ itself.
Much was done through the ever helpful medium of the Old Testament .
“ Begat” was a much used word , there was a lot of “ begatting.” It seemed 400 year old men could begat if they weren’t careful, but curiously the more relationship orientated element of who begat with whom and why, wasn’t really covered. The begatting also seemed curiously one-sided, men decided to begat and children were begot, the woman’s role remained understated.
We did dip into the New Testament briefly to consider “loose women “ ( curious description , none of the women I have ever met have been “loose”; tall, blond, medium, brunette, short, dark , slim not so slim , but the description loose is lost on me. ) So Mary Magdalene got an ill informed and very unfair mention. But keeping away from loose women was a theme .
Possibly the most useful and worrying things he ever said when discussing how to approach the subject of a relationship with the opposite sex was “ think of your sister .” One or two of the boys from more privileged backgrounds looked as if previous generations had taken that a little too literally . I know what he meant but the choice of words wasn’t helpful.
Given that our exposure to women was confined to the School Secretary, Matron and the occasional teacher the opportunity to explore the feelings thoughts ambitions and god help us , desires , of these wonderful but alien creatures was very limited .
We had a dance once a year with our sister school. Ever seen music played to an entirely empty dance floor ?
Given the frequent beatings and Ophelias, it was a minor miracle that most of us didn’t end up as gay devotees of the Maquis de Sade, ( please if you are, take no offence, it is a turn of phrase ) yet some of my year even went on to beget with actual women .
Sex education was restricted pretty much to the underground passing on of dog eared magazines.
I think I can summarise the total take away of relationships and sex education as follows :-
- Women are goddesses to be put on pedestals and admired from afar – they may tolerate sex but probably won’t enjoy it .
- If astonishingly, you do have the prospect of “ begatting” activity yet do not wish to “ beget “ then you need to go to the barber’s, have your haircut and use the secret passwords “ I need something for the weekend .” ( Even if it was Tuesday)
- Avoid loose women
- Excessive self pleasure will damage your rugby performance
And the key advice on sustaining a relationship with a woman which every man should know
- Always walk on the outside of the pavement to protect her dress from getting splashed by a passing carriage
Irritatingly but to the total amusement of my wife , I am utterly incapable 50 years on of walking on the inside part of the pavement with any women I am with . It is like someone has hardwired me to behave like a performing dog. However I have been married for 40 years I have begotten and now have a granddaughter so not everything has gone wrong .
I am given to believe that schools these days may have improved slightly in this area but men in their 60s are not encouraged to sit in on teenager’s sex education classes, I can’t think why.
But now time to get serious
If you have read my stuff before you may note that I use humour to deal with difficult subjects.
This week we have possibly the most difficult subject to approach, the murder of a lovely young woman full of life and promise by a sexual predator.
I take a leaf out of Jacinda Ardern’s book I will never mention the name of the alleged offender but I will always remember and celebrate the name and life of Sarah Everard.
So I am using humour to illustrate a point not to detract from that tragedy .
The circumstances of my upbringing are extreme in comparison with today , but actually not so long ago .
Like every man should, in the light of Me Too I have looked back at my relationships with women with an eye to what I might have done differently . I don’t consider I come out badly from that analysis but I still think that is important for every man to look not just at themselves but at others and to challenge behaviour that is inappropriate .
But the responses to this current appalling act of violence worry me .
The offence reflects behaviour that is so utterly extreme that it barely registers in a fraction of a fraction of a percentage point of crimes but the the press response , which is understandable, will now negatively affect and bring fear in to the lives of millions of women. We know that, we have seen studies from the impact of other such tragedies.
It is only the police that are speaking right now of keeping this in proportion and for reasons that are obvious they are not well placed to make the point.
There is also a real concern this offence will be focussed on to explain other less lethal but unacceptable behaviour by some men towards women .
With this will come standpoints. You will hear some firm views and some of those will reflect the deeply held positions of interests groups, I don’t blame them making their points but there needs to be balance .
I guarantee that there will be a swathe of ludicrous proposals on how we can better ensure the safety of women some from a feminist perspective some from misogynistic perspectives.
I detest and abhor those who say that provocative dress is a part of this. For starters what is provocative? There is zero evidence of that in this case and you demean her memory by even bringing the statement into the equation . But also we have reached a point in evolution where the right to wear what she wants, conservatively or other wise is a part of women’s emancipation . For way too long how she should dress has been a tool in women’s subjugation and as men we should challenge that at every opportunity .
The flip side is the generalisation that what has happened , what “always happens when men assault or behave inappropriately towards women “ is a function of “ maleness.”
To generalise like that actually demeans the women who are offended against because it makes generalisation of an individual and personal experience .
We will hear people offering solutions that involve controlling men’s behaviour much of which is nuts and counter productive. One, and I dignify the phrase with the description “proposal”, is that men should have a 6pm curfew so that women can walk safely at night . Truly. We will have more, they will be equally absurd and they will drive more fear into women’s minds by driving the genders further apart.
I met my wife in a telephone box . Well not entirely, I had spoken with her once in a queue but then I saw her distressed in a telephone box, some unhappy news, so although I was unknown to her I went to ask if she as ok . Would I do that now?
I started with Shakespeare, so I’ll use him again
“ Romeo Romeo where are thou Romeo “
Well if that answer is walking on the other side of the road to avoid offence that is not intended then the play comes to a rather premature end.
Whenever things like this happen people come up with well intentioned simplistic solutions which usually are wrong .
There is a phrase isn’t there “ in the absence of being able to affect that which we cannot change it is best to focus on that which we can .” I may have made something up out of another quote if I am honest .
We cannot affect the behaviours of sexual predators by applying blanket restrictions to the whole of men kind. So what can we do to improve women’s position in this?
If we want to deal with the issue of inappropriate behaviour and offences against women we need to think differently.We need new ideas.
The most balanced and sensible I have heard thus far is from a proponent of women’s rights who said something along the line of “ Men should examine their behaviour, fathers should educate their boys about respecting women but we also need to have a dialogue between the genders.”
A brave statement but listen more closely, she isn’t saying it is women’s responsibility, it is clearly men’s to address their behaviours but it also says that we do that by more, not less connection between the genders.
She was reflecting the notion that probably nothing that we could do could stop an offence like this because predators do not behave to societal norms. Society can’t control that extraordinary behaviour at best we can react to it and punish it.
What we can do is address the experience of women in relationships with men and vice versa by enabling discussion debate and give both sides learning opportunities to understand the other better. Laws need to be clear on what consent means, boys need to understand that better than they do and there are no excuses. But we don’t change society by laws, we change it through evolution and by understanding and the acceptance of personal responsibility .
When I say men and women I mean young men and young women interfacing at a time in their lives when the experience and learning will be with them through their lives .
I have two worries.
One is that we have a government in Westminster who are the champions of knee jerk. The other is that many of them come from a background and are of an age that is not far from the experiences that I gave you earlier on .
Do you trust Jacob Rees-Mogg to understand the nuances of gender politics in the last century let alone this one ?
I rest my case