The new morality patrol

Oct 31, 2017 by

by Melanie Phillips:

The Harvey Weinstein scandal punched open the dam. Now virtually every day brings a new slew of allegations in Britain about male sexual misbehaviour – in the theatre, in Parliament, in the media. This has all got seriously out of hand.

There’s no question but that some of these allegations are extremely serious and that the men involved need to be held to account. But sexual attacks or harassment are being conflated with minor incidents of lewd and crass behaviour.

All of this is reprehensible, but the reaction is out of all proportion. A man placing his hand on a woman’s knee is being denounced in the same breath as rape. The atmosphere – in what the Mail’s Quentin Letts has termed the “Piety Olympics” – suggests the kind of authoritarian instincts in the name of virtue associated with the French Revolution’s Committee of Public Safety, the theocratic enforcement courts of 17th century Puritans or the Islamic world’s feared modesty patrols.

Why, though, has all this erupted now? It is said that powerful men have always sexually abused women but only now do these victims have the language and confidence to talk about it. This explanation is implausible and inadequate. I think we are seeing the explosive confluence of two deep social trends: the lifestyle free-for-all of the past half century and the culture of victimhood claimed by certain permitted groups.

Obviously, there’s nothing new about men employing sexually inappropriate behaviour, from crude remarks through unwanted approaches and harassment all the way to assaults and rape. I do believe, though, that this is happening today on a far wider scale than in earlier times for this simple reason: that the rules of sexual behaviour which once existed have been shredded. And it was women who tore them up.

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