Crime or culture

The stories pouring out about sexual exploitation and inappropriate behaviour among politicians in the UK, Hollywood directors and in the ordinary experience of women leaves lots of us stunned but not surprised.

The UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon resigned a week ago, admitting his behaviour had “fallen short” of the standards expected of him. At least forty other MPs are suspected of (unnamed) offences. And then across the Atlantic there is the sleaze of young actresses touched, insulted or assaulted by older men with the power to give or withhold a big break.

So little changes. Power leads to a warped sense of entitlement and wrong sexual behaviour towards women, girls and boys.

Some of it is crude and pathetic – a hangover of some 1970s sexist stand-up comedy routine. It used to be excused – ‘boys will be boys’, ‘can’t you take a joke?’, ‘she’s frigid’.

But the #metoo deluge of stories show how commonplace it is for women to be demeaned, patronised and propositioned.

I must admit that I am reluctant to bring up these issues too often because some people roll their eyes – feminists making a fuss again.

And maybe that’s because the instances of tawdry stupidity have been rolled in with much more serious abuse and it leaves some good people feeling confused. Media treatment favours shock exposé over facts and that does not help either.

But if our hearts feel wearied by daily revelations of immoral or criminal sexism, we still need to talk about the need for change. Statistics about the abuse of women and girls have never seemed so plausible – the stories keep coming because the abuse is around us at work, at college, at home and in the church.

Will the media outrage just fade away until the next crisis? Like the furore that surrounded Donald Trump’s boast a year about grabbing “pussy”?

Inevitably, Weinstein’s villainy will become old news, but we must learn some ways of making our girls safer and stronger.

Criminal activity cannot be ignored by the police or bosses. Victims stay silent because they know their stories will be ignored or their veracity brought into question. We need to protect and affirm people who are brave enough to speak up.

Organisations need to have clear guidelines about conduct – not so that a bit of lewd joking becomes criminal but so that it’s clear that such behaviour cannot always be patiently smiled away.

Parents need to keep talking to their sons and daughters about healthy respect for each other and talk about the risks of a Tinder view of life  – which reduces relationships to a pick up line.

We need some sensitivity – we cannot on the left hand use moral anger to blame all men, or on the right hand, tell women they just need to toughen up.

And maybe we need to mention the M word – morality. Behaviour that exploits or demeans is unacceptable. Not because we live in 2017 and are better people that our grandparents who laughed at Benny Hill (we are clearly not!), but because exploitation breaks healthy and the honest relationships between men and women that God intends.





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