Conventional disapproval and the sound of silence

A few days before the so-called Pestminster scandal began to bubble up, a picture of a famous piece of embroidery appeared on Sarah’s Facebook account. It had woven into it the phrase ‘Boys will be Boys’, with the second ‘boys’ crossed out and replaced with “will be accountable for their f*****g actions”.

On the face of it, there was nothing very remarkable about the sentiment – people should be held accountable, after all. But I found the cheering underneath, from a number of women, a little unnerving. As I’m sure it would be for others, who are – as we are – the parents of two loving and gentle boys ourselves.

I’m not saying, it should not need saying, that I think anyone – boys or girls – shouldn’t be held accountable. I am saying that the attitude behind the embroidery implies an intolerance that feels inhumane. In short, I don’t want my sons to grow up into a world which will watch them with a special kind of puritanical ferocity just because they are boys.

These are difficult issues to write about because there has emerged a climate of silence about them from all sides. There are ritual opinions one is expected to have, and if you don’t subscribe entirely – on either side – it may be safer to stay quiet. That is not a healthy situation, especially as a Welsh minister is now dead as a result. Both he and those who were accusing him, we have to assume, suffered in different ways from the same silence, mixed with approved disapproval. There is more than one kind of silence, after all.

It goes without saying that we should expect elected politicians to have high standards of behaviour. But we need to consciously shape a more tolerant world for the next generation and you can’t help feeling, as the atmosphere of mutual destruction mounts, that there are forces in the wings manipulating events – authoritarian forces of intense puritanism who stand against much of what we value about a liberal and tolerant nation.

Men take part in this debate at their peril. But I don’t want my children faced with a more puritanical world, full of conventional disapproval – given that the generation before me bust the last puritanism apart. I don’t want my own children to have to bear the brunt of doing it all over again.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.


  1. nigel hunter says

    we seem to becoming a hate filled vengeance is mine sort of society. If our intolerance to others on all sorts of topics continues we will go the way of being a closed fascist society and the world will pass us by.

  2. Alex Macfie says

    There is a difference between the moral strictures of olden times and the new focus on holding (mainly male) sexual predators to account. This difference can be summarised in one word: “consent”. Traditional Mary Whitehouse morality was all about conformity to a conservative social norm, and it was mainly women who were held accountable for their actions, as well as for those of men. Thus rape victims were “asking for it”, for example. The 1960s saw a beginning of relaxed sexual attitudes, but this was not accompanied by the proper concern for consent — which is how the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Jimmy Savile were able to operate with impunity, and is also why campaigns to legalise paedophilia gained some (fortunately not much) traction in certain “progressive” circles (e.g. the National Council for Civil Liberties, now Liberty). Thankfully this is long behind us now.
    The modern feminist morality is not concerned with what consenting adults do in private; however, it does concern itself with this consent being freely given. This is modern western society tends to accept loving homosexual relationships, but is much less tolerant of sexual violence and paedophilia than previous generations.

  3. Penelope Newsome says

    I just wish thes women who object to e.g “groping” could just stop and consider the terrible abuse and oppression meted out to women in many other ethnic patriarchal communities and get a sense of proportion. These women should stop this Me Too business and star campaigning against ‘honour’ killing and all the other punishments for women who dare to stand up for themselves in too many world wide communities.

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