Thursday, October 18, 2012

The culture of t'80s

Yeah I know I'm a bit behind the time (by a couple of days at least) here but...I just watched Julia Gillard’s (Australian PM) recent speech on sexism.  Powerful stuff and well worth a look -

There was a bit in the speech referring to a poster saying ‘Ditch the witch’.  The phrase 'ditch the bitch' also came up.  This reminded me of something from way back in the 80s.  These days it’s easy to assume that people on the left of politics are natural allies of feminism and anti-sexism.  But it ain’t necessarily so, certainly not back then.  Thing is that at the same time that young Tories were wearing their ‘Hang Nelson Mandela’ badges, the Socialist Workers (I'm fairly sure it was them) came up with the anti Margaret Thatcher ‘Ditch the Bitch’ badge.  And blimey, did they get into trouble for it!?  Er, yes!  I like to represent this as the public (i.e. private!) schoolboys of the Socialist Workers Student’s Society being put straight by the feminists, though I’m not sure if that’s exactly how it happened.  I guess the lads were shocked to find that not all forms of attack (even on Margaret Thatcher) were acceptable.  I’m pretty sure that those particular badges disappeared quite quickly.

But this also illustrates something about the ‘culture of the 70s and 80s’ as discussed in relation to Jimmy Savile.  That culture of acceptance / connivance that's been talked about in relation to bad behaviour toward women wasn't like that where I was (perhaps because I wasn’t a celebrity back then!)  There was more an atmosphere that to be a heterosexual man was generally to be a bit suspect, a threat to be contained, warned off, told the limits of acceptable behaviour. 

When I first came to Leeds one of the first things I remember was it seeming odd that there were no ‘magazines for men’ in the paper shop at the University (not that I was looking for them of course...)  I guess I was crossing from one culture to another.  In this case small town to university campus.  Nowadays I have no idea where the pendulum is on that subject by the way - with what I see as ‘old fashioned’ sex roles with regards to various things such as children’s toys once again rigidly enforced with very little objection for example. 

But where I was in the 80s there were campaigns for a curfew on men, calls for widespread castration, separate living space for men and women (ironic given the campaign against apartheid going on at the same time) and a general feeling that it was OK to castigate (that’s definitely castigate by the way) an individual man for all the ills of the world for which men (and solely men) were to blame.  Men, in the view of some women, still had one (biological) role but the stuff could be frozen until such time as men could be dispensed with completely.  Less radically, I followed the advice for men about walking home at night so as not to intimidate women and accepted the women’s only minibus which meant if you were a lad your girlfriend got a free lift home and you had to walk on your own – though I think men were sneaked in on occasion (there was also a row I think when men offered to actually drive the bus - I don't think they were allowed as their presence could be intimidating). 

My problem was with the advice being seen as instructions that must be adhered to if a man was to be considered safe enough to be allowed out.  I hated all that 'potential rapist' label and still do.  Feminists were right, of course, in most of the things they were trying to change - but they were a right pain in the arse at the same time - hectoring, judgemental and humourless too much of the time as I recall.

So not only is the past another country but there were different countries within it.  Anyway...I have to go now, I've just been distracted - will you look at the arse on that!

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