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.