Sunday 21 December 2014

Rules are a girl's best friend both in life and on holiday

Behaving well is never 
a bad idea. It would have saved Magaluf Girl from humiliation, and herself.

Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 13/07/2014 | 02:30

What goes on in sleazy bars in places like Magaluf has been revealed in recent days
What goes on in sleazy bars in places like Magaluf has been revealed in recent days

There used to be a rule that what happens on holiday, stays on holiday. Now what happens on holiday is more likely to end up on the internet, being watched by millions of voyeurs with nothing better to do than join in the ritual humiliation of a young woman whilst they shake their heads disapprovingly. At the girl's behaviour, that is, not her public shaming.

Magaluf Girl, as she became known, is only the latest victim - and she definitely was a victim, even if performing sex acts on more than 20 men in a Spanish nightclub in return for a free drink is a monumentally stupid thing to do unless you're actively looking to court the wrong sort of fame. The mayor of the infamous Majorca town has already ordered a crackdown on bars and clubs in which young British and Irish tourists are encouraged to partake in sleazy games in return for party favours, not least since yet another video has since emerged of DJs urging young girls to actually have sex on the dancefloor because "this is what we do". Magaluf Girl was simply ensnared by the illusion of a good time.

It's one of those increasingly regular morality plays of our time, except that no one ever seems to learn the real lesson. Which has nothing to do with sex, ironically enough. "As a person you can do whatever you like, whenever you like, with your own body," insists former Apprentice star Luisa Zissman, rushing to Magaluf Girl's defence, and of course you can, as long as you're prepared to take the consequences. One of which now includes the possibility of worldwide internet exposure, should doing whatever you like with your own body happen to take place in full view of hundreds of complete strangers. There is no such thing as privacy in a public place. It's a contradiction in terms in an age of ubiquitous invasive technology. Cameras have no moral compass.

The same pointless arguments arise over bosses accessing potential employees' Facebook accounts before an interview to see if they're suitable candidates. We can all deplore the new culture of electronic twitching curtains, but, since the information is freely available to anyone who cares to look, it's a waste of breath to shriek that it's Not Fair. It's not as if those who are caught out by their own indiscretions aren't aware of the nature of the internet.

Singer Mary Coughlan last week described her own visit to Magaluf to bring home her teenage son whose money had been stolen and passport destroyed whilst he was on holiday. She described a scene akin to something from Lord Of The Flies, with out of control, semi-undressed young people wandering the streets consuming industrial quantities of cheap alcohol.

In fact, it's even worse than that. There were no girls on the island in Lord Of The Flies. Magaluf shows what would have happened if there had been. "There's a constant barrage of sex and violence," as she told Newstalk. "It's become normalised, the sexualisation of women at a very young age and the need to have more and more of everything." But she also made a crucial point: "They're all on Snapchat and Facebook all the time."

Exactly. If ever there was a generation which should be aware of the ubiquity of being observed at their worst, this is it, yet they're the ones falling into the trap. The one weapon they have is to temper their behaviour, yet this is the one weapon they seem most reluctant to add to their armoury.

That's why it's so silly that Tatler editor Kate Reardon is being criticised for insisting, in a speech to a girls' school in England, that good manners still matter. "I'm not talking about using the right spoon for soup or eating asparagus with your left hand," she said. "I'm talking about being polite and respectful and making people you interact with feel valued… It doesn't matter how many A-levels you have, what kind of a degree you have, if you have good manners people will like you."

Since class envy is now the last acceptable prejudice, much of the criticism of Reardon came from those eager to point out that her advice was all very well for a former pupil of Cheltenham Ladies College addressing the students of an equally exclusive boarding school, but was less use to children from an inner city comprehensive.

That sort of resentment dressed up as concern for the less privileged is to be expected. But it says something about the narrow-mindedness of modern feminism that her words were also interpreted in some quarters as an anti-feminist message, as if Reardon was telling girls to pipe down and know their place.

On the contrary, it's the ultimate feminist message. Feminism, if it means anything, should be about finding what works for women and then doing it. Reardon was telling those girls what works; also, explicitly, what they need to do to be "happy." It's pretty obvious that young women today are often far from content with their lot. The aggressive laddette culture in which they have been raised, and which encourages them to throw decorum to the wind and raunch it up at every opportunity, has failed them at every level. It leaves them feeling exploited, confused, commodified.

Worse, it exposes them to staggering hypocrisy about sex when they cross the line. Again, we can and should deplore the doublethink which judges a girl more harshly than a boy when she misbehaves, but words are not going to be much use to her when she's on the receiving end of it. We'd be better off showing her how to protect herself against it, otherwise we're just sending them out like human shields into a war that they didn't start.

It may seem like a big leap from public copulation in Magaluf to advising young ladies in fee-paying schools in the leafy English shires on how best to get on in life, but it's about rules. Young women are growing up isolated behind their smartphones and simply don't know how to behave, or communicate effectively, in a range of situations.

They need rules. The strong will always thrive, even in a brutal 'survival of the fittest'-style free for all such as Magaluf in high summer. The vulnerable are less fortunate, and young women, whether we want to admit it or not, are nowhere near as robust as they might like to believe. Rules even out the playing field. They have a civilising effect. Rules would have protected that girl in Magaluf - from hypocrisy; from exploitation; but also from her own confused and misled self. If the creeping eye of technology forces other young women to learn that lesson, it may be no bad thing.

"Respect for ourselves guides our morals," as Tristram Shandy author Laurence Sterne put it. "Respect for others guides our manners." More to the point, there's no downside to either.For men or women.

Sunday Independent

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