‘Faint heart never won fair lady.’ Remember the old-fashioned saying? Literally or figuratively, it expounds that timidity will prevent you from achieving your objective, be it throwing yourself with gusto at a job interview or with similar gusto at the man or lady of your dreams. It goes hand in hand with its twin saying, ‘fortune favours the brave.’ It now looks as though the first of the two, if taken literally, may well become buried in a time capsule along with the forgotten ghetto blasters and shell suits. Why? Because the more reflective of us are, these days, walking on egg shells as we negotiate levels of acceptable flirting. Codes of appropriate behaviour are being re-drawn faster than Hollywood executives are being checked into rehab units. Now, I’m not denying that there are oodles of sleazeballs (and worse) out there, piled dung-heap high and they are due nothing better than a good knee to the goolies. But it is not the out and out abusers and predators who are those currently under the microscope and whom I’m focusing on. It those following the ‘faint heart never won fair lady’ maxim that I’m wondering about.
Grande dame of the screen, Catherine Deneuve, has waded into the battlefield, referring, it seems, to this particular set. She has made the front pages by saying that men should be allowed to hit on women. Well, that’s how the headlines read; dig below, read the detail, and you’ll discover her position is a lot more complex than that. ‘Hitting on’ may be a poor choice of phrase – or a poor choice of translation from the French ‘la drague’ – but I think I understand what she’s getting at. So let’s use the gentler form of being ‘chatted up’, chancing one’s arm in the time honoured tradition of cheesy compliments and little meteor showers of attention. Trying one’s hand, even clumsily, at seduction is in a totally different category from the tsunami of power misuse and the culture of harassment and chauvinism that we are hearing about, or may have experienced. However, there is a big difference between inappropriate attention and unwanted attention and lately the waters are becoming muddied with people claiming they cannot distinguish between the two. The former (inappropriate attention) is not acceptable; it crosses a line, is harmful and distressing – it’s when you are maltreated, intimidated and powerless to change the dynamic. The latter (unwanted attention) is quite different; it’s part of life, a bit like a tax return; not something you relish dealing with but the longer it goes unattended to, the worse it becomes to sort it out. Since when was it inappropriate to give it a whirl and see if that girl you really fancy might like you back? That a man who is not attractive, in your book, has just made a pass at you does not put you in the #metoo camp. It belittles the campaign even to think for a moment that it does. It puts you in the ‘nip-it-in-the-bud’ camp. A camp I daresay everyone has been in. But we mustn’t confuse the two. Besides, how are people ever going to learn to deal with unwanted attention if everything is deemed inappropriate?
The bottom line is, we all know what constitutes decent behaviour and what doesn’t and we always have done. Right now the searchlights are on and shining with such a wide reach and glare that they could be in danger of shining on the cheesy chat-up lines, and surely that’s the wrong place to be directing the beam?