To say that I was pleased to hear about the court decision in the Cosby case is something of an understatement: it has been too long in coming and there are too many others who escape justice, either because of their perceived position in society, or because those they have attacked are too scared to come forward. And it makes no difference to me how old the criminal is – and we should be sure that he is a criminal, and there is no other title he needs to carry any more – justice must be done, and must be seen to be done. Sadly there are many others still out there who have evaded justice, bought silence, threatened those they attacked or, in some cases which I simply fail to understand, been forced to marry their attacker, their rapist, and can no longer give evidence against them. There is so much that needs to be changed, not only on the legislative side of our world, but also – and perhaps mainly – on our perceptive side: rape should never be acceptable; rapists should never have an excuse to fall back on; society must change to allow those who have been so violently attacked to seek and find justice without feel for their lives or those of their family. Whether Cosby will ever see the inside of a jail cell remains to be seen, but it would be wrong if he did not, if he was allowed to continue with his life in the outside world, or merely had to pay financial restitution.
This whole affair, and many others, is being repeated and questioned around the civilised world. It is good that we are finally addressing the inequality of society and striving to make amends. This week I have been following, and supporting, a doctor on Twitter who has now started campaigning that all those in a similar position to her should put their doctor title on their handle, on their letterhead, on their visiting cards, and insist on it being used in formal proceedings, in the academic and business worlds. She has, of course, and what else would you expect, immediately been attacked as being immodest, arrogant, flying above her station; something that a male with the same academic title would never have to go through. For men who claim their doctor title, there is no comment. It is accepted immediately as if it is a god-given right. Women, on the other hand, who have probably had to work considerably harder to gain their title, then have to fight for just recognition, and are subjected to abuse as a result. In this case Dr Fern Riddell has taken a stand, and been verbally abused as a result, and now many women who have earned the recognition are adding their academic titles to the Twitter handles and elsewhere. It makes me ashamed for my gender that people have to go through all this: it should not be so and we should be better than this. However, no matter how often someone says: this is not what we are, it is what we are and it is the way other people perceive us. And that applies as much to gender equality, to academia, as it does to politics and business. But I fear that someone will issue a pardon for Cosby at some stage, as wrong as it would be, and that will be the end of the matter.
These double standards are also present in Germany in another form. In the news here this week has been the censorship – and I cannot see it as anything else – of a woman photographer’s work by the Church. She was invited to take part in an exhibition of her work, along with other artists, and then told that some of her depictions need to be pixelled out because of the sensibilities of her prospective audience. The background to this is that in the parish of St Anschar there was a case of child abuse involving a member of the clergy. The guilty man was never brought to justice, the Church managed to cover it up through various means over the last fifty years. Now, as they claim to be working through this experience and learning lessons from it, although not the lesson that a guilty party should be prosecuted, they use the events of fifty years ago to impede others. The photographer was informed that, before some of her works could be exhibited, she had to hide naked flesh. That is, for a mother stilling her child, she had to cover the partially seen naked breast with pixels so that the idea could be understood – a mother feeding her baby – but not clearly seen. She, naturally enough, followed the demands of the Church, but changed the title of her works to reflect the censorship which, for some strange reason, upset the Church fathers, and they withdrew her invitation to exhibit, citing the child abuse case which was never followed through as it should have been.
This troubles me in so many ways. I mean, a mother stilling her baby is a thing of necessity as well as of beauty. My own daughter has no problems stilling my granddaughter in public, and is very forthright and open about it, despite the occasional objection. I recalled, as I heard this news item from St Anschar, that there are many, many depictions of the Virgin Mary stilling Jesus. I recall also that a naked man clad only in a loincloth hangs in many churches right above the altar. If these classical depictions of naked flesh, of semi-naked people, of a mother stilling her child are acceptable to the Church, why not every other depiction? The double standards smack you right between the eyes. And as to working through the consequences of a multiple child abuse case which occurred fifty years ago: they are not doing this at all, merely continuing the cover-up and trying to maintain their high moral standing through ignoring the truth, and demanding that everyone else ignore it too.
Which doesn’t make it go away, these actions merely enhance the view of many that there is much more hidden beneath the surface which needs to be investigated and brought to the light, and public scrutiny. Elsewhere we are making strides towards a better society, a more equal society, but these questions, these revelations will never go away; there is simply too much which has been hidden or termed acceptable, and which is now woven into the very fabric of society.
What pleases me immensely at the moment is the number of women who are entering politics, standing for election against the old patriarchal system, and taking seats away from those who have failed to represent them, who have brought their own prejudices – and the ingrained prejudices of their party over and above the good of the country – with them. It is difficult to change things from the inside, but impossible to bring justice and equality when standing outside looking in.
There was a time when I wanted to do nothing other than travel, and that by any means possible. An impossible dream, of course, but one which many attempt and, surprisingly, some manage very effectively. The traveller has always had a bad name, though, as outsider, as outcast, as someone who lives off the fat of the land or the goodwill of other people without bringing any benefits to society, without paying their just due. There was a time when gypsies, Roma, Sinti, travellers or whatever you care to call them were physically attacked and murdered. I recently read of cases – admittedly going back to the twelfth and thirteen centuries – where towns and cities issued ordnances allowing travellers without a clear means of income to be hunted down and killed. Times have changed a little since then, but the prejudices against travellers remain, especially when these people survive on welfare or do not appear to have any stable means of income. Today they are often lumped in with the homeless, with those who have lost everything, for whatever reason, and are forced out of society even further by the actions of the high and mighty. Immigrants and itinerants, they are called, regardless of where they come from, regardless of what they do. In my youth a person could easily travel across the United Kingdom, across Europe, and work on farms, picking up labour during the harvest seasons and moving on when the season changed. I remember students taking a year off from their studies, or right before beginning university, who would pack their seven possessions (as the Germans call all our material wealth) into a backpack, and then just setting off to explore the known world. The Grand Tour was an English tradition for the upper classes in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, where promising young man finished his studies at fifteen or sixteen, and then travelled across the continent with letters of recommendation, often at the expense of other people – including his hosts – and explored, studied further, learned more about the world. But put someone into a caravan today, unless they stick to the campsites on a pre-ordained tourist route, and they will be subjected to abuse and vilification. That said, where does the term white trash come from? It is used as a derogatory term for many who live in trailer parks, whether by choice or otherwise.
And, yes, you are quite correct, travelling as a woman alone is still exceptionally dangerous. Even travelling in small groups has problems in some areas, or in the eyes of some people. Gone are the days of the open road where no borders hinder your advances; if you don’t check into a hotel or a respectable camping area, you’re in a dangerous and sometimes forbidding, even forbidden, world. I am grateful for the advantages of my gender, my size and strength, but greatly regret that they are a necessity for those who wish to explore our beautiful world in safety.
I cannot, unfortunately, compare Costa Rico and Belize, as I have no knowledge of the former. I suspect, though, that they are very different: Belize has strong British influences, having been a colony into the mid-Eighties, and Costa Rico was, I think, either Spanish or Portuguese. But Belize, when I was there, was an inspiration for me. Life appeared to be much simpler in so many ways, certainly not easier, but simpler. Perhaps this idea of it being simpler is founded upon my understanding and experiences in the United Kingdom and Europe with all of their traditions, customs and the different standard of living. The idea that a main road between or through towns and cities would not be paved, for example, and still counted as a good road struck me as strange. But then, I have also experienced life in East Germany, leading up to and immediately following the fall of the Berlin Wall, and know that even modern(ish) western societies do not have all the standards and facilities which we take for granted. I can say, though, that life in Belize appeared to be very relaxed, and people concentrated – in the area I lived – on making enough to live by without thoughts of great profit. Everyone would, of course, have liked a little more, a better place to live, a higher standard, but did not demand it as happens in so many western societies.
And here I also saw other major differences to the western mentality, to what was considered safe and what was friendly. I spent all my free time in the former slave quarters in the city, which were marked as out-of-bounds or dangerous for the military. Among other things, soldiers were told that there were gangs, or marauding hordes of locals with machetes, just looking for a chance to catch a white person, lop off their extremities and disappear into the darkness with their wallet. In the city I didn’t see a single machete, let along the hordes of lawless bandits. I also didn’t see the cowering white people hurrying from one street corner to another in fear for their lives, but many people going about their business and their pleasure and enjoying life. I’ve seen more danger and destitution in western cities than I have ever found in these backward lands, and would be hard put personally to call them backward: the people there often have what they need, despite shortages, and tend to be more sociable than here. I got to know my neighbours very quickly indeed, and we went out to party in a local illicit booze garage of an evening: in my modern, civilised surroundings I do not know, apart from my original introduction and welcome, most of my neighbours at all, and wouldn’t consider a social evening with them. Which is sad, of course, but the way that our society has evolved over time. We spend more on being concerned with our own needs and a desire to improve ourselves financially and materially above and beyond what is necessary to enjoy a good life, and create our own stress by worrying where the next flat screen television is going to come from and how to park our second car on a street designed for one car in front of each house, than we do on enjoying that which we have.
I was once accused of being a communist sympathiser – even a direct communist – because of my strong belief that life would be much simpler if we didn’t all power in to the next great pseudo innovation, or hoard luxury items simply because everyone else appeared to have them. I’ve never been one for the commercial side of society, the over-rated consume as much as possible side. Also, though, not a communist, even if I do believe that people should be paid according to what they are worth, and that many, many trades are of a higher importance to society than the wages paid suggest. Reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged reminds me of what society could become if we stopped working for the benefit of all and concentrate exclusively on our own perceived needs to the detriment of everything else, and it is certainly not a pretty picture. In fact I tend more towards the idea of social democracy and a greater level of equality in rights rather than material wealth, although it is very hard to explain to those around me who, influenced by what they selectively read in the news, have a completely different idea of what social democracy is and stands for, and refuse to accept any interpretation but their own. But it is better not to discuss personal beliefs or political thoughts with other people, especially those who know better and are determined to prove a person wrong and convert them. Each to their own, so long as no one else is harmed in the process.
We shall see what the future holds
is your closing sentence, and one worthy of holding true to. We create our own future by the actions of today, by our interactions with other people, but are not and never will truly be masters of that future. There are so many different threads which come together, many of which we simply do not see, that it is impossible to say whether something we have planned will work out or not. That does not mean we should abandon our dreams, our hopes and our plans, but keep them and work toward them, and remember that we are not alone and cannot influence everything, as much as we would wish to. We should be prepared to adapt and change those dreams subtly according to circumstance, and take the best possible option when it presents itself, rather than give up and count our plans as a failure, as something unattainable. The ideal, such as your desire to travel in a caravan, is not necessarily something which reality allows, but that needn’t stop it being our ideal, being that thing we would love to do. And if we have to adapt and travel across country by some other means, at least we have come close, at least we can still do that thing we had set our mind on.