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26 October 2012

We've stopped condoning sexual harrassment, but hardcore porn poses a new threat

Sexual harrassment

“This Jimmy Savile inquiry is getting absurd now, wrote the actress and writer Fidelis Morgan recently. "There was a culture of unacceptable and inappropriate behaviour at the BBC. Well I have a surprise for those twits doing the inquiry who weren't around then – there was a culture of unacceptable and inappropriate behaviour throughout the UK, perhaps the world, in the late 1960s/early 70s.”

She’s dead right that we should get real about this. While the abuse of children was as wrong then as it is now, there’s no point in investigators widening their remit to investigate sexual harassment. Fidelis spelled out what she and her contemporaries remember as the norm. “If you accepted a lift from a man, that meant a grope or snog was on the cards. If you went into a man's room or accepted dinner (i.e. let him pay) it was understood that that meant you had agreed to have sex, and if you then demurred you were a prick-teaser and things got pretty rough. Mothers (including mine) warned you not to do these things or you'd have to face the music, and then if trouble arose, we were warned not to be afraid to knee the man in the balls. All my friends were regularly groped by doctors, parents' friends, any male really. Once puberty set in you were seen as fair game. And it was NOT the BBC. It was everywhere.”

Much of that behaviour was a result of male ignorance of what women wanted. The assumption that we were all gagging for it and would therefore be grateful to be leapt upon led to the dispiriting assumption that those who didn’t respond were lesbians or frigid. As for the women, like most of my contemporaries, we had no idea how to deal with sexual aggression. I didn’t just not complain to authority about such typical happenings as the academic supervisor who chased me round the tutorial room or the teaching colleague who assaulted me in the stationery cupboard. Since they had perfected the male technique that if you didn’t say it was happening, it wasn’t happening, I didn’t even complain to them, just avoided being alone with them in future.

That era came to an end as society became more open about sex, and in mixed schools, universities and workplaces, men and women learned how to be friends and to talk to each other frankly. Young men who watched Sex and the City with female friends and listened to their commentary were in no doubt about what they found gross or repellent. But this happy state is threatened by the ubiquitousness of hardcore porn, which is now becoming the sex educator of a new generation.

I hope young men are settling in to watch the new HBO hit show, Girls, which is addressing such issues as how to deal with the sexual requirements of a generation of porn watchers. All too many male teenagers and twenty-somethings have been conditioned into thinking that hardcore porn shows sex as it should be; their female partners feel they should pretend to like it. As the impressive Cindy Gallop, creator of the makelovenotporn website points out, this kind of porn is financed, made by and targeted towards men, and if the issue isn’t addressed firmly, sex will be ruined for many young people.

And that certainly isn’t the fault of the BBC.

Ruth Dudley Edwards


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