Thursday, 10 May 2018

Nigel's Trousers

A year ago today my beloved brother died. My sadness was initially made a little easier because it was mixed, if only to a very small extent, by relief that he was finally free from the misery he had endured for a very long time.

As time has gone on though, I have grown to miss him more and more, as the pile of things I've wanted to share with him - mostly funny things that I knew would amuse him as much as they did me - has mounted up. A lot of those things I would have shared via this blog, which he encouraged me to write in the first place and which became for me another way of talking to him. That is why, since he hasn't been here to talk to any more, I haven't really posted all that much.

But today it occurs to me that I can continue talking to him here. All I have to do is to pretend that he is listening. If I can create for myself the illusion that our conversation continues, if rather one-sidedly, that will be a small comfort, (and will also help me get rid of that ever increasing pile of things I mentioned).

And instead of being sad today, I'm going to listen to a song that I know my brother would have laughed and laughed at. It is by John Finnemore, who my brother loved, and its choice is, I suppose, influenced by nostalgia, (as, one could argue, this whole post is): when my brother and I were children we used to make up imaginary characters and conduct increasingly complicated conversations between these fictional people on long car journeys; our favourites were Nigel and Daphne, and this sketch makes affectionate fun of the kind of person Nigel, my brother's alter ego in our game, would have grown up to become, (with acknowledgments to Country Life magazine, from whose article about red trousers the illustration comes):

Be Brave

There are circumstances when a woman is in danger on public transport - late at night, on unmanned trains, for example. I wish it wasn't so - and I regret the cost-cutting measures that led to conductors and other transport staff no longer being the reassuring presences they were in my youth, (and is there any Londoner who grew up in the 1960s who didn't secretly yearn for their own conductor's ticket dispenser, slung round the neck on a leather strap? But ooh look, you can have one, provided you have the money and your own strap).

Anyway, in the interests of the great god of ever-increasing-profits, we have lost so much, including in the case of public transport, a sense of safety, a source of employment and also some considerable convenience - travelling by train now, you cannot simply leave your luggage with the guard; you have to rush onto a train and shove your luggage into whatever racks are available, trying to get there before they all fill up, in a manner that contributes to making society a less civilised place where everyone is forced into the first-comes-first-served-elbowing scrum that is inevitable on any crowded route -  (plus, rather than trusting a guard, you then have to keep a worried eye on the luggage yourself at every stop, in case someone should, mistakenly or otherwise, hop off with your bags.)

But, back to women in particular - we are not always safe, (no more are men, but, at the risk of some kind of gender slur to someone or other, it has to be recognised that biology does give women a disadvantage; we do tend to be built less strongly than males and, for that and other reasons to do possibly with male testosterone, we are more likely to be the victims of violence and sexual assault). Nevertheless, in my experience, when we are relatively safe is when we are travelling on crowded trains in daylight - our safety at such times comes from having fellow passengers around us.

The makers of new advertisements being screened on British televisions profoundly disagree. They have identified an outrageous new area of danger threatening women who choose to take the Tube or bus to and from work - namely, sleazy men who rub themselves up agains unwitting females. The advertisements tell viewers that this behaviour is unacceptable - agreed - and encourage women to dob men in if they are the victims of such unpleasant activities.

Strangely enough the first advertisement I saw about this apparent social problem was one that was broadcast repeatedly in the breaks during an episode of an entertaining detective series called Vera.  The eponymous central character of that programme is an exceptionally capable woman who would take spirited action if anyone tried on any funny business on a bus with her.  Vera would never feel the need to whimper, as one of the voiceover women does in the promotional advertisement in question, "He put his hand on my leg", speaking in tones that suggest this was as bad as being raped; Vera - and most grown women - experiencing such an intrusion in a crowded carriage, would have quite enough gumption to tell the person in question where to get off.

Women are not violets. We are strong human beings. We are capable of giving birth, for heaven's sake. Don't turn us into pathetic weeds.

Sadly I cannot find that particular advertisement, which encourages women to report any hands on thighs or attempted frottage or whatever by running anguished women's voices in the background of  footage of a very ordinary looking businessman who has a pixellated face and is running an office meeting (and generally being horribly entitled and not recognising that a woman should always be in charge of such things), until police officers burst into the room and his face becomes unpixellated and he is arrested for feeling up people on public transport.

I did find this one though and it infuriates me almost equally.

How did feminism - which I understood to include the idea that women are capable and strong and perfectly able to turn round and shout, "Take your hands off me, you ghastly, sweaty pervert", possibly folowing up with a well-aimed knee to the groin - get twisted into this protectionist racket, where we are delicate and vulnerable and in need of special care? We aren't, and we mustn't be seduced by the idea that this kind of mollycoddling is good for us or gets us closer to a position where men and women might deal with each other with empathy, trust and above all respect.

I do acknowledge that women are often victims of male violence but that does not mean we should be encouraged to be afraid to use public transport, imagining every man within a four-foot radius is keen to rub himself up against us. And, in the very rare instance that a man does actually try such a thing, we should not be encouraged to collapse in a fainting fit and go running to the authorities for help. We are not babies. We are not pathetic. And we live in a society where, I hope, it is still possible to rely on the instinctive support of our neighbours and fellow public transport users, when we raise loud and vehement objections in such situations.

In short, we don't need to waste public money making films encouraging women to feel unsafe, nor do we need to put anyone who behaves like a foolish pest in jail. Just jeer at the idiots, in the very unlikely event that you actually encounter them, shout at them, shame them into behaving properly. For so long a blind eye was turned to the plight of truly vulnerable young women, (for examples, look at this and this and this and this); whipping up a panic about an almost non-existent problem on public transport seems to me to add insult to injury to those who were neglected for so long by the police and other responsible authorities in so many parts of the British Isles.