Reasons To Be Tearful: One Two Three
I have a virus, a nasty beast of a thing that has cast its shadow over the last few days of our long-awaited ‘summer’ holiday, a brief trip to Essex and the landscape of my youth. David has also been ill, probably more ill than I am, but he is now ‘on the mend’, as they say, while I am, still growing worse. The thing is, though, that being unwell is apt to produce melancholia and, sure enough, we have arrived home in Cornwall, exhausted, discouraged and depressed.
We didn’t care for Essex much. We remembered why we left in the first place. Life is too fast and too surly and aggressive there. It is also too shallow and too slick. At the Holiday Inn, Brentwood, capital of TOWIE, when we switched on the television, the first thing we saw was this most Newmanesque of slogans: Life is good’.
The next day, in the High Street, we passed a youngish couple who were also on holiday: she was posing coquettishly in the doorway to ‘The Sugar Hut’ while he risked the morning traffic to get the right angle on the shot. More frightening for us, though, was the revelation that, just around the corner, sprawled across the rear wall of the building in big shiny letters, was inscribed yet another Essex legend: ‘Not just a club but a lifestyle’.
David and I looked at each other.
‘My life is good,’ we chorused.
‘But what does it mean?’ I said. ‘Is it all a out ‘getting and spending’?’
‘It always was,’ replied David. ‘Why do you think I left?’
Like Dustin Hoffman in ‘The Rain Man’, we found everything way too ‘shiny’: our over-priced room was shiny with glass; the the talking lift shone as it lifted us; the shop assistants sparkled like under-fed Christmas trees; the bistros and the coffee shops gleamed. In one of the great capitals of consumerism we struggled to make sense of anything. David showed me the house he used to live in: they had taken out his Georgian leaded window frames and replaced them weatherproof plastic ones. At the back of the house, the miniature garden had been turned into a concrete yard.
That life in Essex is dangerous was brought home to us even before our arrival. In the Dartford Tunnel, we became the helpless victims of an ‘under-taking’ manoeuvre that might have resulted, with heart-stopping ease, in a multi-vehicle pile-up. After that, every day, they continued to try to kill us: highly-polished cars with loud-speakers and personalised number plates relentlessly executed the kind of manoeuvre that might easily have brought about our deaths.
Meanwhile, we plodded about, we snuffled and we coughed; and, in the course of the three days we were there, we did what we came to do. We remembered how things used to be and saw how they were changing. We rescued a bear, named him Brentwood, and promised him a better life back home. (Incidentally, it offers a revealing insight into the soullessness of this whole area that its charity shops, though plentiful, are shabby and dull. Also, bears of character are extremely thin on the ground there. What hope can there be for a future dominated by consumerism if it produces a culture in which unwanted bears are not helped to find new and loving homes?)
The news media are we full of reports detailing the Savile furore. It is right and proper that we, the be general public, should be informed about developments but I cannot help but register the fact that the news machine loves a good story and there is, about some of the coverage, at least, a nasty whiff of salaciousness.
Also, there is some irony in the fact that, while the front page of a recent edition of ‘The Sun’ not only abhors child abuse but also vociferously condemns the possibility of a BBC ‘cover up’ – which, by implication at least, suggests some awareness of the way that patriarchy operates – the same journal’s page 3 carries an image of a very young woman who is included in the ‘news’ for no other reason than the generous proportions of her tits.
Now, I don’t buy ‘The Sun’ – since the events at Hillsborough, who would feel at liberty to do so? – but, evidently, for lots of people, and, perhaps, they are mainly men, even today it remains a daily ‘read’. Are we expected, then, to believe that such overtly sexualised images as appear in the press under in the pseudo-innocent guise of of ‘harmless fun’ and the recently-coined ‘eye-candy’ do not, in the long run, a) tend to encourage male predatory sexual behaviour and b) reinforce attitudes that are essentially misogynistic? Is it not true that such images imply that women in general are not to be taken seriously and that the value of any individual woman, if she has one at all, is likely to lie in some aspect of her sexual functioning? Either she is a means by which to breed or she is a sexual plaything. At any event, she is more a possession than a person in her own right.
As if this were not depressing enough, I was further disheartened when, on turning to my Facebook page for a little light relief, I noticed a comment, made yesterday and, heaven help us, by a woman, which wondered why the victims of Jimmy Savile’s abusive behaviour did not speak out sooner and then went on to regret that these allegations should have been made at a time when he is no longer in a position to be able to ‘defend himself’.
When I read that comment I was briefly a divided being, torn between hysterical laughter and outright despair. The very idea would be ludicrous, of course, were it not for the fact that it shows how, under the surface of things, very little has changed. It is possible, I suppose, that the person who made the comment did not stop to consider very carefully what it was that she was saying. People post some daft things on Facebook and I dare say I have done so myself. What is certain, though, is that she has no real notion of how abuse ‘works’. That’s lucky for her. She has never been a victim; if she had, she would know.
The victims of abuse do not speak out because of such attitudes and also because the inculcation of a sense of guilt and shame in the victim is part and parcel of the abuser’s strength and power. This last is likely to be true of any abuser, even the poorest and most humble. How much more true, then, is it likely to be in the case of an abuser like Savile: a celebrity, a man of some substance, of wealth, reputation and influence, and a man, most importantly, with powerful and near-sighted friends?
Those victims who do speak out to call their attackers to account, these people should be applauded for their courage and their strength. It does not follow, though, that they necessarily found this a comfortable experience; and it does not follow that, having done ‘the right thing’ and put their trust in ‘the system’, they find they are heard and protected and would make the same choice again.
The fact is that, for some victims, the consequences of reporting an abuser turn out to be just as traumatic as the original attack or attacks. To be dismissed as a fantasist or, even worse, actually blamed for inciting the incident leaves a second scar on the psyche as deep and as angry as the first.
How do I know this? I know because I carry those scars. I know what it is to be hurt in this way and then violated all over again by the words and actions of those in whom I was persuaded to put my trust. It was a terrible thing that happened to me and it robbed me of my childhood. More than that, however, it truly scarred me for life.
Now you might point out that I have survived, that I’m not a total mess. Obviously, you might suggest, as my life has not been a disaster, at some point, I must have ‘pulled myself together’ and ‘done alright’.
And you would be right. That is all fair comment – but only up to a point.
The whole truth is that you can never know that part of me that was broken forever by the events of more than forty years ago; and, what is even worse, from my point of view, is that I can never know what kind of woman I might have grown into if it had not happened at all.
A fourteen year-old girl has been shot in the head for saying that girls should be educated. What an example her courage sets to those who fear to speak out against injustice. It is tragic, though, isn’t it, that so many of our own young women attach little value or importance to what, to them, is so freely available? Where have we gone wrong in this? Is it us or them? I am someone who for many years believed passionately in her work in the classroom. I cannot help thinking that even here in Britain the time is not far away when a really good education will be something that is not available to all.
Reasons to be tearful, one, two, three.