Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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You can have the sexual revolution or common decency – but not both


IF the Russell Brand scandal tells us anything – sleazeball promoted by mainstream media and then taken down (and now directly targeted by the Government) when he became politically inconvenient – it is that better never means better for everyone. Take the sexual revolution. For some this led to happiness, for some to ‘progress’, for others to more pressure and without doubt, for society overall, to more irresponsibility. For all the genuine sexual liberation, few came through unscathed. Younger women and girls were particularly vulnerable to sexual demands they no longer had an excuse to reject, losing their virginity too soon, acquiring STDs. Too bad. That was just hard luck.

But was it so wonderful for boys and young men? While the lotharios amongst them made hay, the rest felt pressured and wretched. The sexual revolution ‘bonanza’ was indeed for the  scumbags, predators and sex pests who existed long before the names of Harvey Weinstein and Russell Brand and all the rest were known, exposed (some unjustly hounded) by #MeToo. What began as a revolution that celebrated free love and liberation came to evolve into something much darker; debauchery, exploitation and outright rape, aided by women (some naive or knowing), not just behind the closed doors of the rich and protected – of celebrities, moguls, politicians and princes – but via Asian grooming gangs’ taxi services across the most deprived cities.

The former of these is why #MeToo was inevitable. Now I have had my issues with #MeToo. I dislike its lack of due process; I’m uncomfortable with vague and ever-changing standards of what counts as wrongdoing and what doesn’t. But the movement was inevitable simply because the granddaughters of the sexual revolution spent a little time in the legacy enabled by their boomer feminist grannies, and thought, ‘Thanks but no thanks. I’m not putting up with this.’ (Never mind if I have put myself out there, I am defining the terms of ‘consent’ – not though arguing for a return to traditional sexual mores). 

The ‘liberated’ recast themselves as victims. The very same television channels and newspapers that once titillated audiences with stories of drugs, booze and sex instead began to feature distraught tales of women being destroyed by an inappropriate remark or an unwanted look. Women went from being sexual objects to being sexually equalto being sexual victims.

But if the sexual revolution changed the default position from not having sex before marriage to anything goes, the #MeToo revolution made the decent man too scared to comment on a woman’s looks, let alone touch her arm. (Women meanwhile are free to abuse men at will).

So where are we? Now you will tell me plenty of people way back had sex before marriage and I am sure that is right. But that wasn’t the default position. Getting to the sex part took some persuading.  Girls weren’t badgered for sex from the get-go nor had sex thrust down their throats on social media and at school. Nearly 50 years later, the ‘all of the sex, sex all of the time’ is the default position, and the only limitation is consent. It’s one where women are much more likely than men to have first had sex at 16 (21 per cent vs 13 per cent), of mothers without husbands and daughters without fathers looking for comfort and relationships only to find sex instead. 

So much for #MeToo.

This has meant boom time for the likes of Russell Brand, and constant pressure on young women, exposed to explicit early sex education, to come up with a good reason why they don’t want to have sex at first sight. Consent has turned out to be a very poor restriction on sexual behaviour.

This is why you get allegations not only of outright criminal wrongdoing such as rape (sex without consent), but also that Brand ‘made people feel uncomfortable’ (I heard this on Radio 4). Or that there was ‘sexual misconduct’. Or he ‘made me feel used’. What this means is that the individual sex act was consented to, but it was regretted later and the entire episode was grim, humiliating and not one of such excitement that the feminists said was guaranteed.

A good example of this is where the Dispatches documentary mentions young women calling up Channel 4 producers to complain about Brand having sex with them and then not calling them after. Until recently who but the old conservative prude would complain that this was bad form, let alone criminal wrongdoing?

The media and feminists of the 1970s, 80s and 90s told us that the ladies were just as up for the ‘all the sex all the time’ approach as the men were. I was there, I remember. Now they want to put the genie back in the bottle, and usher in a new era of decency and good manners. I’m up for that one, I’ll support you on that, but good luck. Are we going to have an etiquette book too? Are we returning to sex only after marriage? 

What I’m saying is that the feminists cannot have their cake and eat it. If I want to have it off with someone in the toilet of a club how dare you judge me, and demand a return to decency at the same time? And how do the other progressive ideas – early contraception and the morning-after pills to name two – marry with protecting those same children from exploitation? Having consent as your only limiting principle will not. This is why you have alleged victims of Russell Brand saying that as she was so young (her 16 to his 30) she was ‘groomed’ into having consensual sex. ‘Although Alice was over the age of consent in the UK, she and a family member who has also spoken to the Sunday Times to corroborate her story both describe Brand’s behaviour as “grooming”.’ 

What I sense this means, reading between the lines, is that this girl did consent to the sex at the time, and she was over 16 so Brand did not commit a criminal offence in this instance. But, given the age difference and power difference, it was ‘bad form’. He was ‘taking advantage of her’. However Brand, post sexual revolution, is entitled to do this, legally. It still makes him a dirtbag, but on this account at least, it doesn’t make him a rapist. This is what I mean when I say, better never means better for everyone. Alice took the hit in this case, so that others could enjoy our current sexual liberation.

Consent in an era of establishment-endorsed sexual freedom was not enough to protect the likes of Alice from predators such as Brand. This is why there are calls for there to be some kind of law limiting men of a certain age having sex with young girls. We used to have customs and not laws against that kind of thing – it was called common decency.

According to the Sunday Times, ‘Alice has decided to speak out because she now believes that she was too young to be able to consent to a relationship with an adult man, and that the law should be changed to protect those under 18. “My mum still feels like she failed me in some way in allowing this to happen, but she had no recourse at all,” she says. “It shouldn’t be legal for a 16-year-old to have a relationship with a man in their thirties. There should be something in place to protect children.’

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