Feeling left behind? … Don’t read this over breakfast!

Jul 02




Helen Whitten

Posted In


Feeling left behind? … Don’t read this over breakfast!

Do you know what Hazing is?  I certainly didn’t until very recently and am horrified to discover that it is happening in this country, at our universities.  For those of you who don’t know, it involves initiation practices that have come over here from the States, I believe.  It includes revolting, humiliating and sometimes painful rituals to initiate new students into a group, rugby club, university or college.  I have heard about people having a chilli put up their rectum, a young girl blindfolded and taken into the countryside and left in a wood to find her way home, apple bobbing to fish dead rats from buckets with their mouths, people being forced to drink excessive quantities of alcohol.  It is a dangerous horrible practice and it seems that it is happening at a university near you without us oldies realizing it.  Do we want this for our grandchildren?

It made me aware of how many dubious behaviours are occurring here without me knowing.  It makes me feel left behind, out of touch and anxious to spread awareness, as surely we should be fighting to stop any kind of humiliating ritual, whatever its cultural provenance, from happening here.  Isn’t this contrary to any kind of human dignity or protection of human rights?

But the only way I really hear about what’s happening is via younger people, whether they be nephews or nieces, sons or daughters, so I suspect that many people are blissfully unaware of some of the practices that I consider abhorrent and would like to challenge.  Here are a few examples, as well as the Hazing examples I gave above…

Breast ironing.  This is only just coming to light but social workers and doctors must have known about this practice for some time without publicising it.  The British Medical Journal, 4 May 2019, carried an article reporting that some 1000 women and girls in the UK may have been subjected to what can only be described as abuse.  For those of you who have not heard of this practice it is breast flattening, where a young girl’s breasts are ironed, massaged, flattened, or pounded down to reduce their size, supposedly to protect girls from sexual attention and delay sexual development.  It is common to some parts of Africa and the Cameroon.  This is described by the UN as gender-based violence and causes significant harm.  No perpetrators have yet been prosecuted in the UK and it seems that there is general ignorance of a repugnant practice that amounts to child abuse.  How can we prevent it if we don’t know about it?

Female Genital Mutilation.  We do now have more information and awareness of this practice and yet there has only been one prosecution.  As with other practices there seems to be a veil of silence being held by people who must surely know where it is happening and who is perpetrating it?

Boys and porn.  It seems that people take it for granted that young boys will have access to porn these days but how have we allowed this to be so easily available?  As with the above behaviours, it introduces expectations of young girls to perform and live up to the habits of porn stars.  One of these is to shave off all their pubic hair, which is apparently now commonly done by teenage girls in this country.  Why?  It seems to suggest that girls are being infantalised for the pleasure of boys and men.  It suggests that the ability to take pride in being a natural woman is being removed from them.

Young wives being used to produce children and then divorced and deprived of seeing their children.  This is hideously cruel but apparently is carried out by British husband who send their wives away to Pakistan and other countries once they have produced children.  This practice was reported as long ago by 2012 by the BBC but is still happening.  Does this require education, or a legal change to protect mothers and ensure they can see their children after divorce?

The Black Web.  I hear about this but I haven’t a clue what it really is or how on earth to access it (not that I would wish to).  It’s a bit like a black hole – it exists but doesn’t exist for most of us and heaven knows what unpleasant things are being shared on it but is there no way to stop people accessing it, if it is showing illegal material?

Cutting and self-harming.  This didn’t really seem to exist in my school days, certainly not in the numbers that are now being reported.  How sad.  But we must remember that teenagers are groupies, they do what other members of their friendship group do and so it is a practice that becomes infectious, as does anxiety.  And in some ways the more we publicise it the more we fan the fire, don’t we?  It is excellent that we understand that it is happening, certainly, as we can then support those who are undertaking this harmful practice and understand what is leading them to do so.  However, it strikes me that the more the media blow it up the more likely it is for a young girl to feel the odd one out if she isn’t self-harming or suffering from anxiety these days.  My experience is that we were all anxious as teenagers – there is so much ahead that is uncertain – but we accepted that it was just part of life, a stage we had to go through until we gained a little more control.  Of course we must support those who are mentally sick but perhaps not over-pathologise those who are experiencing the usual teenage angst?  But perhaps if I was subjected to some of the changes above I might have become equally anxious.

Social media versus newspapers.  Yes, we all know about it but what I didn’t know until recently was that young people are getting all their news from Instagram or Twitter.  They aren’t reading newspapers.  And this means that they aren’t reading comment or analysis, they are just reading headlines and getting snapshots of information rather than any kind of broad or in-depth information with which to make decisions or form informed opinions.  And then they vote and have our future in their hands.

I remember Sundays as the most boring day in the week in my childhood home as my parents tucked themselves behind The Times, Observer, Telegraph and read them from cover to cover.  Whilst I was bored it nonetheless gave me a role model that this was something adults enjoyed doing – getting information about the world, discussing it, debating views, etc.  And so we children of our era learnt that newspapers were interesting things to read and have around.  I have followed suit and always had newspapers and journals strewn around the house so my sons have probably experienced equal boredom to my own.

The thing with physical papers is that one sees more than one ever does on line – the odd little paragraph in a corner of a page, an article one might not have considered to be interesting but proves fascinating.  I find that online one misses a lot as much of it is reliant on one’s searching for articles rather than that randomness of glancing across a page or two and seeing something that catches the eye.  And then of course papers like the Standard are even shedding the experienced critics who inform us of their opinion of books, theatre, film, etc. so that one gets the views of any old Tom, Dick, Harry or Henrietta who may or may not have any real knowledge of the subject at all.

And so here I am feeling left behind, as I am sure most older people have done in every generation, as all kinds of new habits and practices infiltrate one’s life and society.  But some of these behaviours seem thoroughly disrespectful to humanity, and to women and girls in particular, so surely we need to know about them in order to challenge them?  What do you think, I wonder?


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