Thursday, 11 October 2012

Savile Row - Suits you, sir?

We have a problem. It  appears to involve attitudes to women and not just in the workplace. It appears to be `still widespread` but I'm not exactly sure how wide that spread actually is because I haven't studied it, but I know many have and they say it is.

Having started work as a sixteen year old in the late 60's (when teenagers really did work - ooh, another sweeping generalisation?) I found myself in a little agricultural unit where there was a disproportionate number of women working on a sort of production line where carrots were cleaned and bagged. I worked at the heavy humping end, or rather the beginning, of this line. Every now and again I would have to enter the place where the women were. I was warned about it. It wasn't so much a `forbidden zone` or even a `no-go` area, it was more a `go carefully or `be prepared` area. When I did have to enter the domain of the she-beasts I found it both highly amusing and strangely enjoyable, but then again I only had to be in there for a few minutes before re-joining the men's section where I toiled with another young guy and the occasional presence of the foreman. I even had my lunch separate from the ladies, although I suppose I could have joined them. I don't think anybody did though.

My memory of entering the ladies zone is now one of vague images of women whose ages I cannot be sure of and whose faces I can no longer conjure up with any accuracy. I can just recall the noisy banter that came my way, banter that included graphic, highly detailed physical activities involving me and random women from this little gang, activities that I had a vague idea about but absolutely no experience of. I think I made some jaunty, jovial reply that caused a few laughs and giggles. I never stayed there long enough to find out if this would have worn me down or made my life miserable, but a few years on I would occasionally think of them and wonder how I'd fare if I took some leave from my career and go back for a couple of weeks casual labour, just to see what might transpire now that I was armed with a little more experience. This remained a mere passing fantasy.

I heard some of this lady's speech on the BBC radio news this morning. Wow! She was firing on all cylinders. It was great stuff. The article put me in mind of  a great piece of writing by the author,  world circumnavigator by motorbike and journalist, Ted Simon, on his thoughts about the Australian leg of his 4 year journey as recounted in his best selling book "Jupiter's Travels". Here's an extract:

It was a continent I only knew as a caricature. perhaps because it was so far away, the only images that seemed to travel the distance were absurdly overblown. Australians were the ancient Gauls of the twentieth century, a good hearted people so untouched by the nicities of civilisation that with one sweep of their good intentions they could do more damage than an elephant in Harrods.
Australian women, I knew, were big and brazen and went about the streets dressed and made up for the stage in the belief that the right way to catch a man was to incite him to rape. The wounds sustained during this savage form of courtship were soothed by swimming two hundred lengths before breakfast.
Australian men were big and bronzed and wore shorts and singlets from which their muscled limbs extended like four strings of sausages. At the end of one of the upper strings was attached either a tennis raquet or a small bottle of beer called a `stubbie`. They ambled about in hot sunshine being disgustingly frank about their natural functions and waiting to be incited to rape. If one of these King Kong figures appeared over the skyline the thing to do was run for your life.

This was a remarkably perceptive piece of writing and, for me, pretty much captured the comic images as capitalised by the wonderfully erudite Barry Humphries and his most famous Australian alter egos Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Patterson. Of course Ted Simon was merely making a point on prejudice and the above passage was immediately clarified by the following:

I looked around me with the freshest eye I could imagine in the dusty December heat. I saw men ambling in singlets and shorts. Their muscles looked remarkably like sausages. I saw women who had apparently slipped offstage during the interval of a matinee performace of  Cabaret. They looked as though anything less than rape might be mistaken for indifference. I noticed that many men wore tailored shorts with cute little slits up the seams like cheongsams to show a little extra flash of thigh, and the obscene thought crossed my mind that maybe they were hoping to be raped as well. 
I saw some men, still in their youth, with the grossest beer bellies it was possible to imagine, cultivated at great expense, and I was overcome by the noise people made and the difficulty they had in showing each other affection.
Then one day I set out to photograph these things I had noticed. Not one revolting beer belly came my way; not one girl was dressed in such tasteless extravagance as to be worth recording. To my annoyance I saw men and women appearing to be softly and openly appreciative of each other. The truth bore in on me that I had been seeing only extremes in the crowd; the most flamboyant, the most threatening, the most crass, just as an Australian in London would see only Poms in pin-striped suits and bowler hats.

And so here were are, once again, being treated to the debate about male sexual predators. I have seen them in the workplace. I have even evidenced examples of it and brought my concerns to the attention of senior managers through formal and established policy and procedures. In the case I flagged up, nothing was done and I believe that others suffered from this failure of senior `management` to act. I admire anyone who stands their ground and where necessary blows the whistle. I despise those who fail them when they do. The current celebrity case that has become headline news does not surprise me in the least. I once met the individual and if ever someone had `something of the night` about them then, in my opinion, this one did.

But I do hate to hear the `all men are rapists`crowd who use these cases to claim quod erat demonstrandum. They are out there among us, that is true. The really clever ones are often those you might consider the least likely. Some end up in court - and some get knighted.


Tadanori said...

History continues to be re-written because its inconvenient and the accused cannot defend him or herself.

Should we take down the statues and paintings of Oscar Wilde because he was a sexual predator of those under lawful age and vulnerable? At least he had a criminal trial yet is remembered mostly for his literary excellence.

On the assumption Savile's accusers are telling the truth, what Savile is alleged to have done is terrible. But he was, till now, remembered for his philanthropy - charity fundraising and giving his own time to those good causes.

He can't defend himself yet his tombstone has been removed and other potential punitive measure proposed?

It seems to me that there are double standards at work here.

This is not to minimise the trauma suffered by those alleging abuse but why bring it to the public domain now? Is it a cathartic action or perhaps an attempt to claim on his estate?

I do not understand why this issue is so high profile after his death with swift knee jerk reactions.

Hogdayafternoon said...

Tadanori: I can see your points but...
I met a lot of victims during 32 years in the police, but what I thought I knew about the plight of victims of this nature was embarrassingly small compared to what I learnt in 18 months working for Victim Support. Perhaps those in the Savile fiasco, like others I've known in similar situations, feel they want to be set free as best they can and have chosen the path that they feel they can bear - the line of least resistance. A victim similar to the one I alluded to in my post told me everything, but refused to make a formal statement saying that suicide would be preferable to facing the enquiry, court case, aftermath.

As for dear Oscar, I'm not sure he masqueraded as anything other than what he was, whereas the current bete noire in the media....

Trobairitz said...

Hey, I have Jupiter's Travels at home right now, next on my list to read. I know, I'm behind the times.

I've worked for a criminal defense attorney for the last 12 years and I tell you it has been an eye opener. We have seen a lot in that time. From the mean predator types of males to the men who have fallen prey to the promiscuous 15 year old siren lying about her age to see how many she could put in jail.

I think there are three sides to every story and the tale isn't usually a pleasant one.

BillB said...

On Australians and perceptions - I was down under during the time Crocodile Dundee was the rage, or as the Australians say, "Flavour of the month"

Walked into Melbourne's most prestigious dept store, George's, started giving my best Paul Hogan imitation to this rather matronly sales woman. (eg, "She'll be right mate, What do you reckon, etc, etc)

She looks at me silently for about 5 seconds then says, "Look, we don't talk like that here"

On men and propensity to rape - just before going into the Army 40 years ago (last month it would seem) a Lt told me about the "10% rule"

Take any population sample and I don't care what the issue is 10% "eff" it up for the other 90%.

I would imagine as a former policeman you saw this rule many times and up close.

There are, I'm sure, women who have been tormented by this the rest of their lives, women who falsely accuse men for their own reasons, and men who are both justly and unjustly accused.

It's a screwed up world out there.

Quartermaster said...

Do you realize that you did not mention motorcycles once in this post?

Hogdayafternoon said...

Troub': I only read it recently. Sex, violence(well rough stuff), and the last of the leaky Trumpets! Cant ask for more:-)

QM: Oh yes I did;-)

Hogdayafternoon said...

Troub': I only read it recently. Sex, violence(well rough stuff), and the last of the leaky Trumpets! Cant ask for more:-)

QM: Oh yes I did;-)

Quartermaster said...

OK. You said Motorbike, which in the former colonies has a different meaning. Since you are in the old country, I guess I can let you slide :-)

JuliaM said...

"On the assumption Savile's accusers are telling the truth..."

When did we switch from the accused having the presumption of innocence, to the accusers having the assumption of pure motives?

Hogdayafternoon said...

Juliam. I hope his victims get what they need. He' s dead, I say ' so what?'

QM: :O Pedantic I ain't. ;-)

Hogdayafternoon said...

Sorry re the duplicate comments comments. Typping on a smutphone that thangs I nud hep.

Tadanori said...

JulianM. We didn't switch. That's part of my point.

Quartermaster said...

"...thangs I nud hep."

Is that ethnic slang. Never seed that afore :-)

Fingers too large for that smartphone "keyboard?" :-P

JuliaM said...

Heh! Sometimes those things don't really live up to the name 'smartphone', do they? ;)

Hogdayafternoon said...

Darn thang's smarter'n me :(

soubriquet said...

Back in the nineteen-sixties, I was in a children's hospital for three years. Jimmy Savile used to visit. He arranged entertainments for us, and, I was given to understand, was instrumental in getting us radios and then televisions in our wards.
The hospital contained girls and boys to the age of sixteen. I never heard anything whatsoever, from children or staff, that was negative. And believe me, we kids were expert at eavesdropping the nurses, we were desperate for all and any stories from the outside world. We knew the bad nurses, the ones to avoid. We didn't take our troubles to the adults, there was no point, you'd only be called a liar or attention seeker, and get some sort of punishment. But, as I said, I heard nothing from anyone, negative about Jimmy Savile.

It may be that he did the things that people are now coming forward to claim.

But for me? I always wanted to thank him, and never actually did, though I would quite often see him, in Dunny's cafe, by the riverside in Otley, where he'd sit quietly enjoying a mug of tea, in a non-flamboyant tracksuit, with a hat pulled down disguising his long blonde hair. Only really given away by the heavy rings on his fingers. Sometimes we'd exchange a few words, about the weather, or something inconsequential. I never felt it was the right time to speak up and thank him for bringing a little fun and diversion into the place we kids called 'Stalag Luft III'.

So. Monster or saint? Who can say? If he did evil, then also he did more good in his life than a hundred ordinary people. Who decides where the balance will rest? I don't believe in god or an afterlife, myself, so I'd say he's dead. That's the end of it. Nothing said or done now can change or undo what has passed.

And if I was religious? I'd say he's now in the hands of the one who knows all our secrets, and will face a judgement that none of us are qualified to make.

soubriquet said...

Then, on another note entirely...
My father was in management in a weaving company, and often I'd work my school and college holidays in some menial task in the mills.
The women there were scary. No delicate roses at all. As a young lad always ready to blush, I dreaded running the gauntlet of the weaving shed, or the mending department. But I had some protection, that limited their actions, in that I was the son of one of the bosses, and my dad was widely liked and respected as a fair man.
Last week, however, at one of the mills, I met a man who'd started work there in the sixties, and he told me about the 'initiations' yound apprentices had to endure. He was lucky. On his first day, he was sent to work for the mill's boilerhouse, a mostly male environment, where there was a bit of horseplay that included him being immersed in a tank of stinking water, and having his hair gelled with black grease.
His pal, however, was sent to work in the weaving shed. And was groped every time he passed through. At the morning break, a mob of women surrounded him, grabbed him, and pulled his trousers down. they dragged him, kicking and yelling, and crying in humiliation, to their break room, where they held him down, and one of the younger women cut his pubic hair with a giant set of cropping-shears, then lathered his groin with soap, and shaved him. She....
Well, I'll leave out the details, but she aroused the virginal, terrified boy to an erection, at which point one of the older women, the ringleader, hooked a milk-bottle out of hot, almost boiling water, wiped soap around the opening, and slipped it over his erection. Then they stripped the rest of his clothes off, and pushed him out of the door into the mill yard, to roars of laughter, and no sympathy. The cooling milk-bottle was impossible to remove, as suction and swelling combined, and nobody was willing to break it, so he had to be taken, wrapped in a blanket, to the hospital's emergency department, and more humiliation. The young boy had burst blood-vessels in a very private part, and never returned to work at that mill. His friend, who told me this, said he never recovered fully, and was always afraid to be in any place with groups of women. He left the town a month or so later, and joined the navy, where, I suppose, he thought he'd never have to face a factory-full of women again.
The man who told me this said the women threatened to 'get' him too, but he clambered up into the beams and steampipes above, and scuttled about all day in the roofspace, having things thrown at him, and people yelling, "you have to come down some time!".
He was rescued by his boss, and the women were told that any person who continued to taunt him would be walking out of the gate, without a job and without pay.
Still women would look at him and mutter "You're dead, kid."

Abuse is not solely a male crime.

Hogdayafternoon said...

I've had many a brew in Dunny's. Drove right past it not 2 days ago en rt up north for t weekend.