The new young, by which I mean those of the social media generations, seem to fear physical contact. They prefer not to sit close on the family sofa to watch TV: they’d rather watch in their rooms, on tablets, iphones, laptops, or failing all else their mobile. They would rather talk to electronic friends than real friends, graze amongst strangers or alone in a room than sit down at a family table. Breakfast is eaten standing up. The very young are off quickly to the safety of school, where nobody can physically touch them either to reprimand or comfort. (A mother cat socialising her young, boxing them unclawed, treats her kittens more kindly and naturally.) Their faces must be pixilated out in the local newspaper for fear they be recognised and pounced upon: a selfie is clearly much safer than the peril of other people. Fathers no longer take little daughters on their knees, are self-conscious at bathtimes – Esther Rantzen might be be watching. Mothers are reluctant to brush their children’s hair. To tug is to assault. A photo of a parent giving a piggyback to a child is viewed askance. Childhood itself becomes a thing of the past, so sexualised are the children of the untouchables.
Students resist actual lectures, where they might be expected to huddle close; they prefer e-mail contact or to sit in small classes at a distance from one another. To have sexual contact with one another it must be done formally: they must sign release forms. There can be no touching, no fondling, no groping, no sudden passionate rejoinder: no spontaneous kicking in the balls if required: no baby that can arrive unplanned. No wonder the birth rate falls. In this new selfie society of untouchables . one thing cannot lead to another. It’s a world where Mrs Grundy is back to rule us with her puritan strictures, and where the informal six-inch rule prevails – a minimum of six inches must be preserved between one young untouchable and another. And even that’s too close. Just ‘me’, really, and ‘myself’, is best.
To an older generation it’s madness. We are made to suffer for the customs of the past. Ageing husbands are disgraced, put away for years for what was once seen as normal male behaviour but is now seen as odious, criminal. The young are having their revenge on the old touchables. As a Private Eye cartoon had it – a newsboard proclaiming ‘Everyone Over 75 Arrested’. The groping of yesteryear is the full sexual assault of today.
Fifty years ago I lived in a world where a sharp jab of a stiletto heel was accepted as punishment enough. Most people knew the rules. There was a clear division between good girls and bad. Bad girls were popular with the boys, but they married the good girls. You could tell the difference between the two because good girls buttoned up to the neck and wrist; bad girls showed flesh. Girls were encouraged to be virgins, and warned not to lead men on. Minor petting was allowed but you must not unleash male energy because if you did there would be no stopping him. It was not his fault, men were just ‘like that’. They ‘couldn’t help it’ – and if you failed and it happened then the girl must take joint responsibility. It took two people to make a baby. Life was tolerable, a perpetual adventure, and rape – as it used to be defined – was rare. In the office men pinched your bottom behind the filing cabinets if you showed flesh but if you wanted to be left alone, you were. If they said ‘don’t you look pretty today’ you took it as a compliment and rejoiced, you didn’t sue for sexual harassment. If you got drunk, took your clothes off and got into bed with a man you’d be pretty sure what would happen next; and having released all that primitive male energy all kinds of things that weren’t welcome might happen, but you would take some share of responsibility. You would not take them to Court: you’d have been laughed out of it.
So, poor old Judy Finnagin, beginagin. She forgot that this is now and that was then, and the young untouchables rule.