Sex in the (19)70s
Over the last year or so, there has been a lot of stuff talked (in the context of Jimmy Savile et al) about how different the sexual culture was in the 1970s from now. And what that might mean for how we "judge" it all. It sure was different; but not exactly in the ways that are usually bandied about. I have no doubt that a lot of people had, and have, conflicting views about how it "really" used to be .. but, in a bit of a nutshell (too short, too simple) here are mine, clouded with false memory no doubt. I was between age 15 and 25 in the 70s.
First, let's be clear, no bits of mainstream popular youth culture were advocating sex with children. It's true that in my recollection there was a debate about where the "age of consent" should be set (13, 14, 15 16...?)...but 10 years old (lets say) was never in the frame. The idea, as some reports are insinuating, that child sex was all part of part of "hippy culture" (a culture that most of us did not anyway see much of) is bonkers.
But bonkers also is the idea that the conventional, traditional rules of sexuality somehow hadn't been invented then. Of course they had been.... The point is that youth culture was gunning for them, and trying to overthrow them.
Most of that gunning was done -- as always -- in our heads, with no practical experience attached (let's be honest). But all the same we were gunning. We were part we thought (or I thought) of a revolution.
That's fairly clear -- or the strange paradoxes are -- with ideas of marriage. Let me say here and now (before I get the emails) that I am totally in favour of gay marriage; if people want to be part of the institution let them be, and I can see why. But when I was a kid, marriage was an institution of oppression that we actually wanted to tear down... not open up to groups lucky enough (as we would have seen it then) to be excluded from it. So the present campaigns have made me rethink...but also to wrily historicize.
As for sex itself, we thought in the 70s that we were radicalising it, democratising and spreading it (with thanks to the first generation of reliable contraception). Yes, that meant the idea of sex with unlikely people, in unlikely places (the office, the library, the park, the train...), across all kinds of "barriers" (age, gender and otherwise). As I have said for most of us it was an IDEA and no more, but it still meant something. (This sense of radical sex in the head is brilliantly captured if you're interested by Robert Irwin's brilliant memoir)
In retrospect, I can see that we were both right and wrong. We did free things up that made sex better (or less policed, or less guilt ridden) for people. We were also naive in imagining (as is now being made clear to us) that somehow our own ideas of sexual freedom, of zipless fucks, or whatever, could transcend all the usual institutions of power, hierarchy and sexual control. We thought we could do that, and it was a nice try... but we couldn't and didn't.
So if there was a culture in the 1970, in the BBC or anywhere (and the BBC can only have been one place... try universities for another), of sexual "freedom", some of it was clearly criminally wrong (and it always was), some of it we can now see was exploitative, and some of it was trying to make a difference...I think we can all recognise the first; it's a bit harder( to be honest) to agree quite so unequivocally about what distinguishes the second and third categories.
But that's what we need to think carefully about before making a judgement EITHER way.