October 14, 2012

In the days since the news’ about Sir Jimmy Savile first broke I’ve been thinking about whether the fact that he got away with the alleged abuse for so long means our views have not changed as much as we might hope over the last few decades.

Since the mid-90s I was deeply suspicious of Savile, having read an interview with Professor Anthony Clare where he referred to a Lynn Barber interview in which she said journalists have often told me as a fact:”Jimmy Savile? Of course, you know he’s into little girls”. Clare’s own conclusion was equally disturbing:

“…his solitary, shifting life is but a manifestation of a profound psychological malaise with its roots in that materially deprived, emotionally somewhat indifferent childhood which he so flatly describes. There is something chilling about this twentieth-century saint’…”

When I first started work in the early 1980s it was still tolerable (just) for a male colleague to grope a female as part of the punchline to a joke. That sort of behaviour would be completely unacceptable now and much of the Savile coverage has focused on just how much has changed for the better since the 70s and 80s. The implication is that this sort of thing would come to light more readily now. On the other hand, take a look at the quotation below, taken from a recent (2010) political biography.

“It was like being in a girls’ school after serving a long stretch in a high security prison.”

The context here is everything. The author is talking about how a speech was expected to be tough but was turned into a great triumph. Why use this simile though? There are many better ways to express the idea of an unexpectedly soft audience and the sexual undertones in this seem clear to me. The author writing about school girls here is former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his execrable autobiography.

Perhaps sexual consciousness hasn’t changed as much as we might hope.


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