There was a time it was strenuously ignored, denied even, that women had such as desires, sexual appetites, a normalcy of sexuality.
People, the Freuds, the Ibsens etc, had been battering at that wall a good while, before the gates were at last opened, the cat let out of the bag, and the whole roundedness of human behaviour allowed.
In the 1960s it became a duty to free oneself; for a woman especially the duty was a pressing matter: if one did not partake then one was still inhibited, still in the trap. If one did not particularly like or have an interest in everything one was supposed to in the sexual field, then the cloud was there, the doubt cast, the reputation and the cat-calls and names ready to be applied.
It was thought best for a younger woman to be liberated early to be entirely ‘free’; the age crept back and back: Goodmorning, Little Schoolgirl! Otherwise breaking out of the ‘strait-jacket’ of adulthood would be only so much more difficult, painful, even. So ran the thinking. The thinking always had a poor relationship with actuality.
There was always the proselytising: I remember Student meetings where self-styled demagogues would hold the stage and lay into the audience for half an hour or more for their being apathetic, that is, not doing what he thought they should be doing to support this strike, that sit-in, somewhere else’s something. The Underground Press became full of this, the International Times was taken over by a Red Faction who thought they held the key to everything, and people stopped reading.
For women and girls it became de rigeur to be someone’s ‘chick’, or ‘little lady’. I remember squirming at the time myself, young as I was, at this kind of talk and acting. And then there was all the compartmentalising of behaviour, expectation, circumscribed range of interests. Thank heavens for Women’s Lib, it lifted the lid on the circular thinking and self-interest.
There are always predators, the groomers and the defilers. And of yes some of them had long hair, fancy clothes.
Look back at some of the publications, the names that keep cropping up: the sheer egotism needed to drive oneself on, through the gaolings, leading demos, instigating happenings and actions – standing up above the crowd, speaking out, making oneself noticed, heard, listened to, engaged with, taken seriously. The egotistical belief in one’s sheer invincibility, importance – and along with that the belief the world was yours, its fruits were yours for the picking. And for some that included the young girls.
These were a few. Most had more scruples, saw scruples as necessary: the morality of freedom, it is a strange oxymoron, but it is a very potent mix. If anyone made a difference it was the ones with scruples.
This period did not last long – long enough for untold damage to be done to girls, though. No wonder women were so angry – all the ‘new society’ did was in many ways perpetuate the same abuse of women and girls that had been going on so long
The period that followed the sixties summer was one of involvement with self: to free the self first; but the circular, recursive trap caught many. Drugs took a greater hold. Where before had been a youth movement now everyone splintered into cliques, cults. And the reactions set in. Ugliness.
You wonder in retrospect whether the thinking came first, the spirit of thought, if you like, that was experienced in the coffee bars, the all-night talk sessions – or was the thinking just used to justify selfishness and indulgence of ego-appetites. Freedom as the ultimate in self indulgence.
It is now hard to imagine the commitment of the young before this period. Take, for instance, the Easter Marches, from 1958 to 1963, London to Aldermaston: 52 miles each way. Four days on the road. The March was also reversed, to end up in rallies in London, the seat of power.
The CND Rallies – it was very urgent, committed, and very moral. Scruples, again. There were the outside cliques, groupings, gangs: Teddy Boys with their knuckledusters, purple hearts and flick knives; bikers with their bike chains, knives; Beatniks with their reefers. But there was also a fragile idealism.
‘You are all being manipulated!’ – by The Man, no doubt. I remember parents and papers saying this. It was convenient: Security Services letting slip that CND leaders were closet Stalinists. Probably some were, and of course Moscow made it that it was their duty to recruit.
The vast majority of people, from all backgrounds, were caught up in the urgency only, they had a focus, and impact. Young people recognising themselves, that they were young together, full of hope for a different future, full of enthusiasm and life. Summers in St Ives, sleeping on the beach: English summers, sunshine slanting through window slats, in a modernist light, colours fresh and full. Because it may be your last. The Bomb, the Berlin Wall, the Iron Curtain. The Cuban Missile Crisis. There could be only the Now. Made doubly, trebly more potent.
What was the difference between those times and the violence of Mods and Rockers that followed? And later the Skinheads and increase in violence levels of the 1970s? How did these periods devolve; what was the dynamic behind it, what was the nature of the entropic movement?
Ask that kind of question and you require an answer on a similar basis, using similar phrasings and concepts. But what if the question itself was wrongly constructed, wrongly directed, wrongly weighted – what if its propositions should not be propositions at all but more multi-based, multi-faceted constructions? I have long doubted the veracity of the approach that broke down a question to its simplest forms, as though it were possible to disentangle it and still see it as a whole.
We cannot talk or think about generations – and there are no branches on the trees of genealogies: there is only foliage, leaves overlapping that make a whole cover – there are too many intermediary stages to make compartmentalism useful. I loved the Monkees – and Velvet Underground; I loved frothy pop, as well as early electronic music.
And I hated Star Trek – because it proposed a future of just the same mental attitudes and gender roles and self-righteous Westerner-think. And just the same limited range of solutions: bang-bang, thump and kill.