Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Finding young women attractive doesn't mean all men are predators

Men have taken a battering this week. As a general fan, I'd like to say a word in their favour. It's almost beyond doubt that Jimmy Savile was a predatory, exploitative man (this isn't the favourable bit).

There's also no question that a culture of protecting powerful men and disregarding vulnerable young women and children existed in various organisations in the past and still operates in some today.

However, the onslaught of newspaper articles, TV debates and online chat which has followed in the wake of the Savile story has skewed the picture dangerously. There must be young women out there wondering if any decent, respectful blokes existed in the Eighties, a decade currently characterised as a debauched Rabelaisian sex-circus run by powerful deviant males who rounded up young women and leered at them like sweaty, slavering dogs.

There were some horrible b******s who actually did behave like that. But for every under 35 now asking, did my dad/uncle/granpa do it too, the answer, in the overwhelming majority of cases, is no.

It's true, the office was a less politically sensitive place in the Eighties. As a teenage girl who worked every summer in offices with mostly male bosses, I remember the odd comment or wink which would be considered dodgy now. But most men were friendly, helpful chaps who didn't grope me, pinch my bum, offer perks for sexual favours, trap me in stationary cupboards or try to kiss me.

The picture of the Eighties as a sexual cesspool currently circulating is so persuasive I've even questioned my own memories, asking if I can be sure of my fairly pleasant experience as a not entirely ugly teenager then. But the truth is, it was OK for lots of us. Plenty of your dads and uncles treated us just fine.

We must also be honest, if that's possible right now, about young women being attractive. If I was a man, I doubt I'd feel comfortable writing that line this week, but it's the inconvenient truth. I often find myself sighing with envy and nostalgia when I see the undeniable beauty of blossoming female youth dancing and laughing along the street. Mother Nature hath made it so and there it is.

I've read more than once this week, among the plethora of articles about Radio 1, that 'even John Peel' was heard expressing an attraction for a young woman. He probably did. I worked with him for years, and he was also the most devoted family man I ever knew, and nothing but sweet, generous and rather shy around me.

It doesn't make a man bad to find a young woman alluring. What makes him bad is acting on it in an inappropriate way.

We're perilously close to vilifying men for being attracted to attractive people, and convincing them it's safer to lie about how they feel.

What happens when our sons find themselves lusting over all kinds of female bodies, as, unless they're gay, they unquestionably will? Should we teach them to feel immediately ashamed and shut up about it? How can we then teach them how to harness those feelings and treat women with respect?

Let's not make men scared to flirt, or take the cheekiness out of seduction, or make appreciative words sound sinister and predatory. Let's not turn the Inbetweeners, Friends or Cheers into disgraced examples of a past over-tolerance for gallivants, dandies and charmers. Even if they dare to fancy us, men can still be rather good fun you know.

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