The Flippant Jokes about Sexual Harassment – Partly Due to Public School Education?

Earlier this week, Mike put up a post commenting on this week’s cover of Private Eye and an off-colour joke about sexual harassment by Michael Gove and a letter Labour’s Dawn Butler had written to Theresa May, condemning not only the culture that turns a blind eye to the sexual harassment of female staff at best, and at worst actively condones it, but also finds the whole subject hilariously funny.

Private Eye’s cover is a joke about the venue for the next meeting of the Tory party: it’s a sex shop. And Gove’s joke was about how an interview on the radio was like entering Harvey Weinstein’s bedroom. In both cases you weren’t likely to emerge with your dignity.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/11/01/why-are-people-turning-the-tory-sexual-harassment-allegations-into-a-joke/

Last night, the BBC news comedy show, Have I Got News For You, made the same joke as the Eye, with the same picture. This week’s host, Jo Brand, got an enthusiastic round of applause, however, when she rightly pointed out that to the women, who had suffered such harassment, it wasn’t a joke but a very unpleasant experience.

So why turn it into a joke? Why dismiss it so flippantly? I’m aware that some of it probably goes back to the old double standard, where men are expected to be sexually active and predatory, while women are condemned as whores if they behave the same way. I’m also aware that attitudes may be better or worse towards it amongst different societies. For example, a book I read on Japan in the 1990s said that the Japanese didn’t take the issue seriously at all. There was even a nightclub in Tokyo called Seku Hara, or something like that, which is the Japanese for ‘sexual harassment’. And in parts of the Islamic world, it’s also regarded with amusement as ‘Eve teasing’.

I’m also very much aware that people will make jokes about all kinds of things, no matter how dark or tasteless, such as sexual abuse, disability, murder, rape, and so on. In these instances sexual abuse is just another subject amongst these to make tasteless jokes about.

I am also very much aware that there is, or there was until very recently, an attitude that those subjected to such abuse should just grow a thick skin and endure it. I can remember reading one piece by a female journo in one of the right-wing papers, possibly the Mail, back in the 1990s. She said that when she started working in journalism, female hacks regularly had to deal with lewd comments and jokes, and wandering hands. Women just had to endure it and get used to it. It was even beneficial in that it spurred them on to become better journalists.

You can see there the ‘macho management’ attitude that was common in the Thatcherite ’80s. I’ve heard tales of how the hacks working in various papers were called into the office every morning by their editors to be insulted and belittled on the grounds that this would make them better journalists. I think it was abandoned long ago in the 1990s. Though the attitude just seems to have shifted to the unemployed, who are insulted and belittled at Jobcentre interviews, while their ‘job coaches’ ring them up at odd hours to insult them further, all on the spurious grounds that they are ‘motivating’ them.

But I also wonder how much of this attitude goes back to the public schools. I’ve blogged before about how bullying, and sexual abuse including rape, was common amongst the feral children of the rich. A number of readers commented on this piece, and wrote about the stories they’d heard from their friends of horrific abuse in the schools for the British elite. You can read some of these tales in Danny Danziger’s book, Eton Voices, reviewed in Private Eye when it came out in the 1980s, and reprinted in Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion, edited by Francis Wheen. Punch also reviewed the book shortly before it folded, commenting that the abuse described was so horrific that if Eton had been an ordinary state school, it would have been very loudly denounced by the Tories as part of a failing and brutally neglectful state school system.

The younger boys in public schools were subjected to all manner of physical and sexual abuse by the older boys. But the public school ethos seems to be that they were expected to take it, and not blub. They were to ‘play up, and play the game’. Now this is part of the ‘rules of the schoolyard’, as Homer Simpson put it in an episode of the cartoon comedy back in the 1990s. Bullying goes on, but you don’t break ranks and tell the teacher, or else you’re a sneak. But it is slightly different in British state schools over here. Bullying goes on, but it is not supposed to be tolerated. Whether it is in fact depends very much on the individual head master/mistress/principal. I’ve known headmasters, who were very definitely strongly against it. Others much less so.

Public schools are supposed to be the same, but the attitude revealed in Danzier’s book suggested that Eton, and presumably the others, in fact tolerated it. The reviews almost gave the impression that despite the disgust by many of the interviewees about how they had been mistreated, the dominant attitude was almost that it was just jolly schoolboy japes. Nothing more. Don’t worry, they’ll get over it. One ex-public schoolboy told me that the attitude is that after you’ve been bullied, you go on to bully the younger boys in your turn as you go up the school.

And power is very much involved. I’ve also been told by those, who have gone through the system that the elite send their children to the public schools not because they necessarily give them a better education – and indeed, stats show that actually state school kids do better at Uni than public schoolchildren – but because it gives them access to the same kind of people, who can help their careers.

It’s about the old boy’s club, and the old school tie.

Which, together with the abuse, means that the boys preyed upon are expected to take it, because one day their abuser will be able to do something for them in turn, in politics, finance, business, whatever.

Which sounds exactly like the mindset behind the abuse here. Powerful men, who tell those they’re preying on that they’ll help them out if they just submit to their advances. But if they don’t, they’ll never work again.

Private Eye, in itself, isn’t a radical magazine. it’s founders – Peter Cook, Willie Rushton, Richard Ingrams and co. were all solidly middle class, ex-public schoolboys. As is Ian Hislop. With a few possible exceptions, the Tory cabinet is solidly aristo and upper-middle class, as is the senior management at the Beeb.

Which probably explains why the Eye and Have I Got News For You yesterday night decided to treat the subject of sexual harassment as a joke, even if Jo Brand, as a feminist comedian, made it very clear that to many women it wasn’t funny.

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

One Response to “The Flippant Jokes about Sexual Harassment – Partly Due to Public School Education?”

  1. katythenightowl Says:

    Reblogged this on The Night Owl and commented:
    None of this surprises me very much, and it makes a lot of sense to me. I have often wondered if it was this abuse as children, that led to a Tory Party that is run by those who closed down any feelings of compassion at a very early age? 😦

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: