Dispatches From The North

Tania Kindersley lives in the North East of Scotland with two amiable lab collie crosses and one very grumpy Gloucester Old Spot pig. She co-wrote Backwards In High Heels: The Impossible Art of Being Female, with Sarah Vine.

Not Safe In Taxis

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 22 January 2014
Juxtaposition is a curious thing. I went this morning into the Scottish fields. I looked at the sheep who have been brought into the long meadow and thought about how soon they would start to lamb. I thought of last year, when we were two foot deep in snow, and the farmers were starting to panic. Now we just have mud and rain to contend with, and the ewes look sanguine.

I did the horse. I stroked her dear furry face, all woolly from the good winter coat she has grown to protect herself from the Scottish elements, and she softened her eye and dropped her head and let her ears fall into their donkey position. I thought again of all the Derby winners from whom she is descended, and laughed.

And then I went and had breakfast with my mother and we talked about groping.

Tania-Jan22-landscape

So that was a bit of a hand-brake turn. It was because the front-page news was that Mrs Clegg is very cross with Mr Clegg over the business of Lord Renard. It is unclear what he did or did not do, and he denies all allegations against him. But what interests me is not the proclivities of one Liberal Democrat peer, it is the reaction to it. Some people are shocked, shocked that there is gambling going on in this club. That is the Peter Lorre school. Then there is the genuine outrage school, and then there is the oh come along school. This last has seemed to infect a curious number of commentators. The burden of their song is: move along, nothing to see here. It’s just what men do.

This argument is a much wider one. It seems to go: boys will be boys, and the ladies should not make a fuss about it. Of course a fellow will grab a feel if he has the chance, it’s in the nature of things, and it’s not the end of the world. It’s all a bit of a joke, really. It’s more Benny Hill than anything else.

In my mother’s day, they even had a comedy name to go with these kind of gentlemen. They were called Not Safe In Taxis, or NSIT for short. (I had a tremendous tutor at university, who once told me, with a twinkle in his eye: ‘The thing you must remember about Louis XV is that he was, as the debs of 1920 would have said, Not Safe in Taxis.’)

‘Did you have some of those?’ I asked my mother.
‘Oh yes,’ she said, with a sort of quizzical melancholy. ‘The worst thing was wondering what you did with the hand, when it went on your bosom.’
‘What did you do?’ I asked.
‘Well,’ she said. ‘I would take it off and then we would speak of other things.’

Tania-Jan22-valley

Pretty much every woman has had to work out a strategy for what to do in this situation. I remember being groped on the tube at the age of eighteen, being chased round a kitchen by a randy film producer in my early twenties, and once, horribly, being pressed up against a wall by an otherwise perfectly well-brought up young man. He said: ‘You want it, you know you want it, you know I can give it to you.
I said: ‘I don’t want it, I know I don’t want it, and you can’t give it to me.’
He looked absolutely astonished, as if I had told him gravity did not exist.

It is so commonplace, this kind of behaviour, that it has gone into a kind of joking folklore. Women, mostly, do not make a fuss, despite what the cross commentators say. But if you think about it for a moment, it is profoundly odd. It’s not just the sense of entitlement, it’s the invasion of personal space. It’s like someone walking up to you in a restaurant and eating your food. If that happened, there would be an uproar. But if a fellow grabs your bottom, that is just the price of doing business.

The modern career women of the 21st century have come a long way from the debs of 1920, but the taxis are still not safe, and weirdly, that is considered normal. The gropers and the rubbers and the leerers still don’t see that there is anything particularly curious about their behaviour. It’s not just that I think it is wrong, I think it is absolutely bizarre. And the strangest thing about it is that this extraordinary behaviour is taken entirely for granted. Even those who judge it don’t remark on its utter peculiarity. Which, in a sense, is almost more offensive to men than to women. And that’s my little conundrum of the day.
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