It’s the last line of Some Like It Hot, a wonderfully silly clever film without a duff performance, a remark open to interpretation because the millionaire who utters it is carrying away into the future a man dressed as a woman. This is beginning to sound like a motif for our times… But the phrase is a major thought.
Not to go back into the manufactured confusion of whether addressing women as Mrs. diminished them but then, how could describing them as heroines rather than heroes apparently diminish them too (o journalism, what knots are committed in thy name !), no person of major standing is ever perfect. Whoever they are, whatever they do, no matter what sex, they are human. You could argue I suppose, superhuman, but what makes them admirable is where they fall short and continue, as well as where they move forward and accomplish.
Hero and heroic are words thrown around and I worry about that. Earlier in the week I read what I would call a whinge from a woman probably 30 years my junior about discovering that her earlier feminist goddesses (her description, my vintage) disappointed in the present instance. Perhaps it is worth pointing out that the woman who triggered this dissatisfaction is nothing if not an academic, and we don’t take tall bright women into the heart of our academic establishment unless they can bring something to the table, even if the dish they bring raises other questions. What was outstanding was not that she disagreed with what Greer said or the way she said it, but that she preferred to dismiss rather than debate. And she was not alone.
It is a mark of maturity and security, personal and public, to be able to agree to disagree. I can’t think of any single person dead or alive whose every act and utterance I agree with. And incidentally the first time I heard a famous feminist describe rape as “a trivial crime” was forty years ago, in a meeting under Chatham House rules, the personification of “off the record”, and in the presence of the Metropolitan Police commander (female) who had already done a great deal to revise her force’s primary response.
Apart from a visceral desire to shake the silly woman till her teeth rattled, I learned that day an early instance of informed debate. We talked about what she had said. Interpretation of law has to strike very particular balances, between what is said and what is done, what is meant and how that perceived and interpreted, by other humans and by law. Remember, the statue of justice is blind. Honourable mention here to the senior judge who told me on camera that there was nothing wrong with the existing laws around rape: what was at fault was how they were interpreted.
How we long for things to be clear – what we used to call black and white – how clear it is that very little is straight forward in that longed for way. Isn’t it a definition of slavery that our blacks are diluted with white ? And how many of our whites are mixed in with every other colour and creed including black ? Nobody’s perfect, right ? Exchange is risky, sometimes downright unpleasant, discomforting, but it opens up rather than closes down. You might not like it but you might learn something …
What most of us learn is how slow change is to come. Very few of us learn personal responsibility until it is thrust upon us. In the noise of the modern world, and especially the pubs and bars that spill out on to the street, I am not sure that anybody can hear what is happening, what they are agreeing or not agreeing to. They probably think they’ll send a text if it isn’t consensual. God forbid they should talk about it. Not cool. Cool is on my list right behind should as a concept about which I am deeply doubtful, perfect would be in the top ten most overused words of the last twenty years. God bless Billy Wilder, Jack Lemmon and Joe E.Brown – three men. Whaddya want ? Nobody’s perfect.