The Power

Last month, while away, I read ‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman, winner of the 2017 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.

This is an imagined world in which the tables are turned when teenage girls develop an ability that puts them in the position of becoming the more powerful gender. It is a fast-paced thriller with many twists and turns and is both gripping and thought-provoking. The real shame is that it will only get read by those who understand and believe the message it conveys.

The press is awash with current revelations of sexual harassment and worse, brought about by abuse of power. It set me to recalling incidents in my life that made me feel, at best uncomfortable; at worst degraded and humiliated.

Having grown up in an era that was supposed to have been sexually enlightened and having embraced the hippy values of ‘free love’ at an early age did nothing to alleviate the feelings of shame and misery after I’d unwisely and naively believed a man who’d claimed he was a photographer and wanted some ‘head and shoulder’ shots of me during one long, summer vacation from college.

Then there was the young man who kindly offered to give me a lift home from a party and expected much more than thanks when we arrived at my door. His outrage at my refusal was astonishing, even then.

At school my clarinet teacher felt it was his right to touch and grope. So frightened was I that I got my friend to walk down the corridor and wait outside the door every week. I was also scared to tell my father I didn’t want to learn clarinet, because as he constantly told me, he’d invested so much money in the lessons and the instrument. I was never tempted by musical instruments again.

It’s good that incidents of abuse are getting an airing. Nobody should underestimate the terrible feelings of victims. In recent times I’ve heard casual remarks from intelligent, educated males about the Savile era abuse, remarks such as ‘the young girls must have liked to have been paid the attention by the DJs’. This type of comment shocks me. How would anyone who has not experienced such abuse know how they felt?

In the comments section of the Guardian website, in response to an article about the recent Harvey Weinstein abuse there is a sewer full of outraged, invective laden protest from men who feel their entitlement is threatened.

I’m older now and more confident to tell someone when they are out of order, like a neighbour who persisted in saying to me ‘Give me a nice smile’; although I still seek to avoid contact with him since his manner is no less creepy.

Yes-I know that men can also suffer hideous treatment-this is not in contention. But I’m weary of waiting for gender equality to arrive. However compelling ‘The Power’ may be it will only be preaching to the converted.

 

Advertisements

Nudity Laid Bare

                In the developed world the cult of worship of lean, youthful, beautiful bodies continues. The evidence is everywhere-on posters, adverts, TV, internet and on the street. Here in France there is a move to ban child beauty pageants, a move all our countries should be making. We should not be soaking our children in the idea that looks are the most valuable, the most important quality they can possess, neither should we be ‘hyper-sexualising’ them [to quote the French minister responsible for the action].

                Yet here in France, nudity is not only acceptable, but positively celebrated. I’d like to say that on the many naturist beaches, camp sites and resorts that exist in France the nudity is natural, innocent and innocuous, but when we’ve encountered them, traversing them during bike rides or walks [it is difficult not to in some areas], you cannot help but suspect there is an element of ‘display’ to the exposure. It is tricky, as a clothed person, not to look, when crossing a beach where everyone is unclothed. This is no discreet sunbathing amongst the sand dunes. Many [men especially] stand in the sea or at a vantage point, as much to be seen as to see.

                I was a teenager of the sixties and a young woman of the seventies, when hippie-dom, flower power and ‘free love’ were the mantra we all followed. In this era of what our elders termed the permissive society we became unleashed from the previous generation’s prudish attitudes. At music festivals kids frolicked naked in the mud, made love not war; anything went. There was an innocence to this behaviour. Then there was AIDS, conservatism, an end to free university education and ultimately the big recession.

                It is always said that in an era of boom hemlines rise, then plunge when times are tight. Nudity these days is not the innocent muddy frolicking of the early seventies, but a cynical exploitation seen in music videos or advertising. Outside of the media there has been a return, even on UK beaches, to the wearing of clothes, no ‘topless’ sunbathing, longer swimming shorts, more of what my mother, who was constantly shocked by the notion of ‘free love’ and all that accompanied it,  would have termed ‘modesty’. In the USA there has always been a more conservative approach to beach wear, ‘topless’ in my experience of US beaches, being against the law.

                Years ago I accompanied two friends on a 48 hour trip to Dieppe, the idea being to have a look round and collect some spoils from the supermarché. It was a warm day. We sat on the pebbly beach with ice creams. A large group of mixed middle aged singles and couples appeared and trudged down to the water’s edge, where they stripped off without the need for towels for concealment and donned swimwear. This was all undertaken without a scrap of self consciousness or awareness of anyone’s eyes. They then plunged into the sea as if no one else was there, simply to enjoy the swim; refreshing in more ways than one…