Consent

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The Monty Python Team

In Australia there are loud calls for schools to add Sexual Consent to the lengthening list of subjects that they are supposed to teach.  When I first heard of this I thought it was a joke that had been rejected as too silly for an episode of Monty Python.  But it is a sincere response to a growing number of accusations of sexual assault and harassment perpetrated by young males against young females.

Some people blame the ready accessibility of online pornography, which gives boys unhealthy ideas about both the physical and the emotional aspects of sex. Some blame a cultural shift towards disrespect and a sense of male entitlement. Such a shift may be fed by exposure to pornography, of course. It may also be an unwanted side-effect of growing gender equality and the consequent erosion of men’s role as protectors.

I reflect on my own adolescence and the social environment at the time.  Women were unashamedly classified as “the weaker sex” and few of the mothers I knew were in the workforce.  I was brought up to regard women as slightly inferior versions of men, albeit highly desirable to have and to hold.  I was taught to raise my hat to women, offer my seat to them, and generally behave in a way that seemed deferential but was in fact a show of paternalism. Later I realised that this behaviour had its roots in a social imperative that affects every tribe: the protection of its capacity to reproduce.

There is another imperative too: to manage sexual relationships in such a way that a) paternity is not in doubt, b) rights and responsibilities are unambiguously assigned, and c) lust and jealousy do not tear apart the social fabric.  In the western democracies we’ve pretty much given up on this one.

At school we had no lessons that were overtly about sex – unless you count the antics of amoebae.  However, we were deeply immersed in history and literature. Together with American films, sitcoms and the lyrics of pop songs, these told us all we needed to know. Thus did we learn, for example:

  • You shouldn’t behead your wives without a very good reason.
  • Having sex at 14 is fine, provided that both families disapprove.
  • Beating your wife is unmanly, but spanking her may be necessary from time to time and she will love you all the more afterwards.
  • If a woman despises you in the first reel you will end up married to her.
  • Only when a woman slaps your face can you be sure that you’ve overstepped an invisible line.
  • However, if it’s a token slap she means “It wouldn’t be ladylike to let that go unpunished, but I quite liked it.”
  • The first time a woman says “No” she means “Try harder.” The second time she means “Maybe.”
  • Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.

I would like to end with a neat conclusion, an explanation of how we can allow unrestrained individual freedom and at the same time protect people from their own and other’s weaknesses.  But I can’t.  Sorry.

Postscript:  Only after writing this did I learn that schools in my home state of South Australia have been obliged to teach sexual consent for years!

Hitler is History

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A story in today’s Sydney Morning Herald made me really, really stroppy. A private school in the Northern Territory of Australia encouraged pupils to dress up as literary characters in celebration of Book Week. One pupil chose to dress up as Adolf Hitler. It so happened that a group of exchange students from a Jewish school in Melbourne were present and found this representation of the man who attempted to annihilate their race in Europe confronting.

hitler

Now everyone is falling over themselves apologising and counselling one another and promising it will never happen again.

So why am I stroppy?

First, the presence or otherwise of Jewish children should have no bearing on the case. Hitler was an enemy of mankind and victimised Slavs, Gypsies, homosexuals, the handicapped, Catholic priests… please add to this list as you see fit.

Second, airbrushing events and individuals out of our cultural landscape, and therefore out of the knowledge that we pass down to our children, is a pretty good way of ensuring that the mistakes of the past are repeated in the future.

And third, dressing up as someone does not have to imply endorsement of their character, their politics or their actions. Prince Harry was castigated a few years ago – unfairly to my mind – for going to a fancy dress party as Hitler. Nobody has suggested that he did so because he wanted a revival of Nazism.

If one goes along with the mock-shock-horror and handwringing that followed an innocent child’s efforts to get into the spirit of Book Week, one should ask oneself which other historical figures should be off-limits. Genghis Khan? Henry VIII?

ghengiskhan henryviii

What about some biblical figures who had a pretty shady reputation when it came to human rights? Moses and Joshua come to mind. How would a descendant of the Canaanites feel if they saw someone dressed as one of those two genocidal criminals? And what about some other unsavoury characters who are still alive and at large?

moses joshua netenyahu

PS   If you think this post is gross, I would point out that it is my 144th.