Friday 26 February 2010

Generation Y, gender and ethics: shortest post evAr.

This is my contribution to the Guardian ethics series, which is out today. 'Talk about ethics and young people in 250 words' was the brief. I'm reproducing it here because it's only appearing in - *shudder* - hard copy.


British notions of morality used to be founded on rigidly gendered Judeo-Christian notions of social decency. Even for non-believers, living a worthy and decent life until very recently meant performing your public and private gender role to the best of your ability - especially for women, whose morality and ethics were expressly predicated on sexual control. The dismantling of this antiquated ethical system is extremely welcome, but the lack of any coherent effort to replace those received ethical codes has done a great deal of damage to young people.

The notion that being a good person is more important than being a good man or a good woman still lacks currency, whilst traditional gendered avenues of gaining a sense of moral worth are rapidly disintegrating. Young people desperately want to be good, but for many young women, being good still means being passive, conventionally attractive and sexually submissive. Young men are anxious to be modern, but are still expected to grow up to be tough, patriarchal breadwinners, business owners and fighters, even though such roles are practically defunct.

The forms of gendered social control that remain tend to be exaggerated in a desperate, almost pantomimic way from the playground onwards, whether that be aggression, gang membership and misogynist sexual posturing or self-objectification, sexual self-policing and obsessive personal grooming. A new ethical conversation is vital if we are to prevent a return to the painfully rigid gender norms of an older, more brutal age.


  1. Slugs, sudden loud noises, professional failure and heart disease. In that order.

  2. Laurie, I'm going to be brutally honest. I find you extremely sexually attractive. Please don't take this the wrong way. It's a complement. You always do yourself down in your articles, but I happen to find strong-willed, opinionated, principled women a real turn-on. I hope you don't see this comment as vulgar. I just thought you should know that there are probably lots of men who find you attractive, not just for your looks but for your personality.

  3. This is wonderfully well put. Thank you. :-)

  4. Interesting tie-in of 'obessive self-grooming'. I'm not sure I entirely understand your point, but admittedly, 250 words is really not enough get across exactly what you want to, I'm sure.

  5. Interesting tie-in of 'obessive self-grooming'. I'm not sure I entirely understand your point, but admittedly, 250 words is really not enough get across exactly what you want to, I'm sure.

  6. ... doesn't HBK's post sound like someone saying "I like a girl with spirit"...

    Though in any case it seems people are willing to be guided either by their sexual wills or religious dogma in pretty much the same fashion. Though something fresh such as the ability not to conform to either in teh debate would be nice.

  7. HBK: lol. I feel I ought to be in some way offended. But I'm not. Ta.

  8. What strikes me as very unfortunate, is that we live in a culture where things that should be very normal, such as a guy complimenting a girl, are approached with caution by both said guy and girl! It reminds me of what you said in your Standard article, about how we are made to deny or reject very normal impulses over love, sex, food and so on. The irony is, that after being told our feelings are wrong, we are bombarded with ways of going off the deep end in the other direction: I'll guarantee there was at least one poor young soul who read your article, and suffers from over-eating, who didn't think they could go just a little bit down the road you've been down.

    Anyway, yeah, I'm glad you're not offended. It's so hard to even just tell others how you feel these days. All the best with your writing career, it looks like you're deservedly about to hit the big time. This one's for you, Penny Red:

  9. Yes, this really is a fantastic piece. Lots of food for thought, have to say.

    Penny Red,

    Could it not be the case that the left have got this, and everything for that matter, very, very wrong? I think that none would disagree with the statement that a cheeky snuggle with a loved one is worth more than a bit more over-the-top consumer goodage. What matters are ruddy social structures, not the money in our pockets.
    Seems simple to me.


    Control is necessary if we are to have equality. Just as rewards from the free market tend to benefit the few, increasing the gaps between the haves and nothaves, the free society benefits some and leads to the ruin of intelligent, but not quite intelligent enough types who trap themselves in fulfilling their own sexual appetites.
    I think that the big losers of the permissive society - the cold and lonely old, the young, the foolish, the sadly, abjectly uneducated are exactly the same people our leftist friends claim to wish to protect.

    And of course we have to have rules about sexuality. How could we not?

  10. @Mark

    And of course we have to have rules about sexuality. How could we not?

    What do you mean by this? Are you saying that we *have* to have special guidelines on who we fuck and how (beyond the whole consenting adult thing)? Because that seems a little silly to me. Or that "girls should be girls and boys should be boys" which is a whole heap of worms that really isn't going to be solved by more socially constructed ideas of what is and isn't "acceptable".

    Additionally, what is a ruddy social structures beyond a red-brick library?

  11. Yeah, I think maybe we do have to have special guidelines on who we fuck, how and why, mainly because humans are rarely raised in boxes.
    Who we want to fuck is determined at least partially by the society in which we live and that societies rules. The idea of the human at one with nature, doing whatever they want without the intrusion of social controls doesn't make any sense, unless your vision of the future is dead eyed autistic types raping whoever happens to catch their fancy.

    I'd also say, as above, that if we decide equality is desirable, then equality of human relationships is a far more important goal than equality of x box games.
    In order to achieve equality of relationships we are going to have to have some social (if not legal) rules governing them.

    Really, if we have any opinion about the kind of society which we want to build, sexuality (as an important part of life) is going to have to be included in that.

    As for "ruddy" social structures - much the same as bloody ones, though a little higher class.
    In actuality, a sadly failed attempt to include a code in my comment.


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