Was reading a piece in The Guardian today outlining just how wide the recent sex abuse scandals have been. This is a very difficult area to write about as one can neither diminish any abuse victim’s own suffering, nor accept that work-based prejudice or sexist comments and the fumbled approaches of someone like Lord Rennard are equivalent to the abuse perpetrated by someone like Jimmy Saville, or suffered by countless young people at the hands of the Catholic Church.
However, the point that I think the article makes is that abuse of all kinds tends to reoccur where it is able to be kept in the dark. So while it’s terrible to think of the pain of those having to relive experiences by bringing them into the light, the fact that so much is being brought into the light is, in some ways encouraging: it hopefully means that our culture is changing.
I’ve been reading Irvin Yalom’s classic text on psychotherapy Love’s Executioner, and was struck by a chapter last night concern a patient who tells him, horrifyingly, that ‘yeah, well, if rape was legal then I’d certainly be out there on a regular basis…’
The form of the book is Yalom presenting the reader with stories of patients in trouble in various ways (and boy, is this patient in trouble), and how he goes about unscrambling their damaged patterns of thought and behaviour.
In this case the breakthrough only comes when Yalom insists that the patient follows through and explores the implications of this hypothetical universe where rape was legal – would he want his daughter to live in a world like that? The patient, having been very ‘nudge nudge’, and a bit of a ‘jock’ about his sexual behaviour, is suddenly confronted with his own grotesque hypocrisy. Of course he would hate the daughter he loves to suffer that. The world that he has fantasised would be totally abhorrent to him. Realising this, the mismatch between his thinking in one area and desires in another, became the key to the patient changing – and by the end of his life (he was dying of cancer at the time of therapy) he had become a very different person.
It is the same shaming of the fantasy worlds by exposing their abhorrent hypocrisy that I hope we are beginning to see going on now within the often dark and secret corridors of Westminster, the BBC and the Catholic Church – to name just a few. As Suzanne Moore writes in the article:
I am still sickened by the refusal of so many to challenge the culture in which harassment and abuse thrives. Men have to do this, as there are too few women. Do nice men want their daughters touched up by creeps?
Would Lord Rennard want to see members of his own family treated this way? Of course not. But it is only when organisations proactively change the culture within which they function that ‘creeps’ will stop being protected. It is only when light is shone into the still-male-dominated culture of Westminster that the hypocrisy of our law-making body passively tolerating men who denigrate women on a regular basis will be exposed – and thus shamed into change. It is only when the Catholic Church faces its own shadows and is prepared to talk openly about what went wrong and why – and surely this all-male enclave electing a new Pope is part of the problem – that things will genuinely improve.
The struggle towards equality – in any sphere – is always going to be tough, and it has always taken courageous people to open the shutters and let light and air into dark and painful places. I can’t imagine the pain for them in doing that – but I’m deeply grateful for those who do, because it’s only with these things brought to the surface that our culture will really change.
I touch on some of this in the forthcoming After Magic. Power and religion both risk creating worlds with fantastical dimensions. They are places of dark corridors and secret alcoves, of ancient rituals and behaviours that have grown up over a long period of time in closed, male environments. This means that those involved in these organisations often see themselves as ‘super-human’ – above the rules of the normal humanity that they preside over in some way. But this move into super-nature ends up, almost in every case, diminishing their humanity. As I explain in the book, this leads to a fragmentation of the psyche, and demonisation of ‘the other.’
The move ‘beyond super-nature’ is thus an attempt to get past these tragic consequences. When we see it occur in literature and film it is always accompanied by a move into sacrificial love and deep empathy. It is about the re-fulfilment of humanity.
How this plays out in these spheres of power and religion is where the book concludes. Sadly, given the toxic environment of religion and politics at the moment, it seems that it is a timely book. But I’m really excited about the moves it presents, and the freedom that they can bring.