Compared to the cataclysmic events unfolding in the Ukraine and throughout the Middle East, the two items that caught my eye in today’s papers may seem insignificant.
But, as the modern banality goes, less is more. Sometimes it’s tiny stories that tell a big one.
One such story involves a Buckinghamshire woman who was banned from breastfeeding her baby in public, by poolside to be exact.
The lifeguard who issued the ban did the right thing for a wrong reason: according to him, he was enforcing the rule banning consumption of food and drink at the pool.
Instead he should have said that such exhibitionistic displays are tasteless and vulgar – not that we have many lifeguards capable of saying, or indeed thinking, any such thing.
In her own words, the woman “was in too much shock to get angry – I just got really upset and started welling up.”
My sympathy goes to the lifeguard on the receiving end of the breastfeeder’s welly, partly because years ago I too found myself in a similar situation.
A colleague’s girlfriend brought her baby (I don’t think it was also his) into the office and started to breastfeed it in the conference room, where he and I were talking shop.
I made an innocent comment, to the effect that I myself was thirsty too – only to be accused of sexism, lewdness, discrimination, perversion, rudeness and antediluvian prejudices.
All probably true in general, but the reason for my callous remark was none of those. That was my way of hinting that, much as I admire the sight of a woman’s breast, the view should be enjoyed in private.
Presumably such unrestrained behaviour is supposed to communicate to the world that the woman is free of inhibitions (particularly those of the bourgeois kind), at one with nature, proud of her body, comfortable in her femininity, basking in the glory of motherhood, and all those wonderful things.
To me, this urge to let it all hang out (in that instance literally) betokens exhibitionism, which is indeed a perversion, and bad taste, which is worse.
As further proof that my aesthetic judgement of the Bucks woman is correct, she sports a nostril ring. This, along with tattoos, is yet another semiotic communication, that of being prole-cool.
A woman, dear, should wear rings in her ears or on her fingers – not in her nostrils, eyebrows, navel or, as seems to be fashionable in certain circles, clitoris. Choosing one or more of those unconventional cites brands you as vulgar and stupid, not cool.
Breasts in, nostril ring out would be my avuncular recommendation – especially since, judging by the woman’s flabby face, her breasts can’t be much to look at.
Shamelessness seen as a sign of progress represents a reversal to neo-pagan primitivism, which makes the young lady ideally qualified for a clerical career in the Church of England. Given the prevailing climate, she’d be fast-tracked to priesthood in no time, and then a bishopric could be just round the corner.
But I shouldn’t be offering career, or indeed grooming, advice to today’s lot. Judging by the woman’s reaction to the ban, she and her ilk would neither welcome nor understand it.
The other news item involves a Carmelite nun who was run out of her convent for having sex with a handyman… sorry, I misread the story.
It’s actually about Commander Sarah West, the first woman to take charge of a frontline ship in the Royal Navy. Commander West has just been relieved of her post, though mercifully not hanged off the yardarm, for having sex with an officer under her command.
In both US and British armed forces, officers are allowed to bonk up but not down. Having sex with a superior officer is fine, but not with one sporting one less stripe than the offender.
Thus the Lieutenant-Commander who enjoyed Sarah West’s favours was free of all blame, but she wasn’t.
My heart goes out to Sarah. Considering that every man on board the frigate she commanded was by definition her statutory inferior, her amorous options weren’t so much limited as non-existent.
Now, on the available evidence, Commander West is neither a Carmelite nun nor an active practitioner of brahmacharya, the Hindu art of sexual abstinence. She’s a young, fit, physically active woman with an aggressive temperament, all of which characteristics normally presuppose a healthy sexual appetite.
In her line of work she had to spend weeks, sometimes months, at a time sequestered in the company of sex-starved young men whose opportunities for fulfilment were almost as limited as hers.
Under such circumstances, expecting Commander West to adhere strictly to the naval regulations would be presuming too much on human nature. I’m not condoning sexual licence, but then neither do I welcome such denial of basic humanity.
Does having sex with fellow servicemen undermine the unit’s battle worthiness? Perhaps. Probably. In a combat situation, it would be hard for a man or a woman to treat a lover as any other comrade.
Others would cotton on, and certain resentments might arise. This would create additional tensions, which a fighting unit could do without. And the tensions would be even stronger if one of the lovers were in command.
It has been understood since time immemorial that sexual fault lines may fracture the cohesion of a unit, its morale and hence its battle-worthiness. However, there’s only one way of preventing such problems, and that’s not having women – or practising homosexuals – on active duty.
I realise that expressing such a view marks me out as a troglodyte, but in fact the Royal Navy only began to admit women to active duty in 1990, Italy and Spain still exclude women from military service, and only five Nato countries don’t exclude women from combat.
The two stories may be different, but they’re closely linked. They both testify to a collapse of common sense, traditional morality and time-honoured sense of propriety.
A young woman who whips her breast out in public, a man who relieves himself in a crowded street (such as London’s King’s Road, in my experience) or a Royal Navy that submits to militant feminism aren’t the problems in themselves.
They’re all symptoms of the disease that in shorthand could be described as modernity, with its urge to reverse, mock and often punish yesterday’s certitudes. The barbarians are no longer at the gate, they’re inside, and they’ve taken over.
Hilaire Belloc put it just right: “We are tickled by [the Barbarian’s] irreverence, his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creeds refreshes us; we laugh. But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond; and on these faces there is no smile.”
P.S. My new book, Democracy as a Neocon Trick, is coming out this autumn. You can pre-order from the publisher on roperpenberthy.co.com