In Search of the Other

It feels as though we’re in the middle of a witch hunt. Or witch hunts to be precise. Against anyone and everyone, whoever they are.

The most recent cause is the allegations against public schoolboys. I imagine it’s particularly about boys at those schools because they’re single sex and often boarding schools so you have rampant emotions (I’m saying that rather than hormones because we humans are more than the sum of our parts) in a confined space. A bit like lockdown really.

First, I need to do the disclaimer. Of course sexual harassment and abuse is unacceptable at any time. There is never any excuse for it.

And now we come to the “but” and it is a very big “but”.

Is it right that schoolboys who, if under the age of 18, are still regarded in law as children, should now be facing the same sort of stigma that the adult men from the #MeToo movement have, when convicted, rightly faced?

Head teachers, afraid of offending the strident social media brigade, are threatening to name and shame, suspend and do whatever it takes to keep their school’s reputation intact. And so we instantly lose the presumption of innocence principle, one of the key tenets of our law. And then what?

Well, that’s where the comparison with the witch hunts come into it. At that horrific, unjust time, women and girls were the victims, as they have been so often in history. Some might argue that it’s time the boys/men learned what it’s like to be a victim but surely it’s not okay to revert to a primitive and unlearned style of law just because we presently seem to be led by the witchfinder-generals of social media.

I’m wondering if the problem is connected with the “other”. That which we do not recognise – or wish to recognise – within ourselves, we put onto others.

The “other” carries the can for the qualities we disapprove of – we would never act inappropriately with a man/woman/girl/boy but the “other” would. It is a convenient way of forgetting that we all have a dark side and sometimes do things we would not like our loved ones to know about.

By joining in the baying of the crowd, we can disavow unwanted feelings within ourselves and push them into the “other”, distancing ourselves from our own darkness within.

This is not new; it is only human to want people to think the best of us.

What is new is the speed at which rumours and accusations circulate and quickly become accepted facts. Less than a month ago I had no idea such things were happening. In a month, unless I remember I’m a logical and rational adult, I will be taking these stories as fact.

I am concerned that we are so busy living in the parallel universe world that social media has become that we will begin to believe it is the real world. It is not.

Meanwhile, the young men and boys targeted will be at risk of being stigmatised as they go through life while the witch finders have moved on to another cause. How will that help us in our future society? I remember some years ago, a famous person was rightly chastised for saying: “All men are rapists”. Now, it seems to me at least, some groups in society are almost ready to accept this as true. Again, it is not. 

For society to work as well as it can, men and women need to find a way of getting on together. At a very basic level, we need each other in order to have children and bring up the next generation. Humans work best in a group and the first group we all know of is the family one. Fortunately, in our western world, many of us manage that but my fear is the virtual world is encroaching too much on our reality.   

Before this blog turns into despondency, I’d like to offer some positive thoughts. Perhaps parents could stop trying to be their children’s best friends and remember they are the responsible adults. They need to teach their boys to respect and like girls and women, acknowledging their differences and not seeing them solely as objects of desire or fantasy. I know that’s a big ask when it comes to teenagers but, hopefully, the inner cautions and considerations will remain in place.

As for the parents of girls, our society is very keen on women being compliant and feminine – think of the tough adjectives used to describe successful and uncompromising women and you’ll get my drift.

If we really want women to be strong and assertive, we need to respect and accept them as they are, not try to return them to the girlie mode with which we may feel more comfortable.

We need to allow and encourage our daughters to say “no” and to respect the girls when they do. We are sending out mixed messages all the time. We tell our girls they can be anything they like, they are equal to men. Great. That’s fine. But the problem is that we don’t like assertive women who we may be inclined to describe as “bossy” when it suits us. How can we expect them to say no with confidence and certainty that they will be respected if we don’t show them that same level of approval from a very early age?

Our children – both girls and boys – need to be taught to respect and appreciate the “other” from a very early age. And they need to know we have their backs.

By Lulu Sinclair

Photo 1: Hannah Troupe on Unsplash

Photo 2: Bilal Bozdemir on Unsplash

Photo 3: Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash