‘Unwelcome attention’ has received a lot of attention in the past few years. Starting with #MeToo, focus has been on what is correctly called sexual predation. This has led to some confusion for those who are simultaneously being taught that closer attention to empathetic handling of others is a prerequisite to good management and relations. Where does attention end and innuendo begin? How are we all to relate to each other decently without Victorian prudery? Do we have to return to an age when piano supports wore clothes because they were ‘legs’?
As someone who went through school years at the start of the paedophile adventure I can attest that unwelcome attention of a sexual sort was definitely off the wishlist. It seemed unnatural and, to a child, threatening. It therefore engendered guilt. MInd you, the educational establishments of the time – mainly religious, some secular – were deeply into engendering guilt anyway. From ‘original sin’ onwards life was an accumulation of reasons for being the cause of trouble.
Less so today those early indoctrinations. But we now have a situation in which it is illegal to cuddle a sorrowing child and threatening to touch the hand of someone of the opposite sex who is facing a crisis. Even a glance of sympathy can be mistaken for a ‘pass’ (if the expression is still au courant). We know where the Brexit red lines are but are not so sure about where the Broaching red lines begin. Some claim both parties know if an advance is sexually based. I doubt that.
Would it were so. Relationships between men and women are almost always somewhat, even if ever so slightly, sexual. It can also be argued that relationships between people of the same sex are, as well. This may be the case but what is certain is that the majority of communications between people are for purposes other than sex. Life is also about survival, personal growth and pleasures that are not fundamentally sexual. How shall these be conducted properly when almost any move may be interpreted as a predatory advance?
Now turn the picture round and see multitudes shut away in small corners, earphones attached, screen full attention for hours a day. In the rush to improve communication we have succeeded in breeding isolation on a scale never before imagined. And that is to say nothing of those who take their sexual pleasures vicariously through porn sites. Apart from the racket and dysfunction of repeated shootings, noise and grotesque animation, the prison cell, as is well known, creates its own phobias, brings its own tragedies.
Violence is, in any case, partly sexual. Penetration of bullet, tearing away of personal protection and destruction of individuality all constitute major invasions of privacy. Coping with aggression is a primary lesson in physical relationships. The lonely game-player seems unlikely to develop a rounded, socially acceptable demeanour with which to enjoy the company of others.
Attention, affection, predation. This escalator of relationship is clear about the first and the last, less clear about affection. To deny the giving and receiving of affection on the grounds of possibly improper motives is to limit the development of what in the end is our sustaining characteristic as a species. Destroy platonic affection and we become wholly transactional. Robots already do better transactions of that sort than humans. If we insist, it will be good-bye Sense and Sensibility.
What do those who find themselves in these situations want? What shall we do to help them?
Rule One must be to assess the needs of the other person ahead of one’s own needs. That is easier said than done. It requires creative reading of voids, aspirations and drivers. The law, in this situation, is capable only of giving suggestions. Its interpretation must be for the individual to weigh up with the rarely-today-mentioned conscience. Actions are seldom pure but intentions can be.
The pendulum of relationships swings as with all human behaviour.
Let’s hope, on this subject not too far.