Independent on Sunday, 30 January 2012
I can’t remember when I’ve ended a year so angry. Goodbye 2012 and good riddance. In this country, a “much-loved” entertainer with a warm relationship with a former prime minister was exposed as possibly the UK’s most prolific sexual predator. The most nauseating document released from national archives under the 30-year rule was a letter from Jimmy Savile to Margaret Thatcher, as she then was, thanking her for lunch in 1980 and telling her that “my girl patients” pretended to be “madly jealous”. Savile dropped a heavy hint that he’d like a knighthood – Thatcher duly gave him one – and went on to spend 11 consecutive new year’s eves with her.
As the tally of Savile’s alleged victims rose above 400 in the autumn, half-forgotten “celebrities” queued up to cast doubt on his accusers. It was all different in the Sixties, they insisted, as though sex with under-age girls wasn’t a criminal offence in those far-off days. What sounded to me like sexual assault was recast as “a kiss and a cuddle”, and it was suggested that famous men couldn’t be expected to know the age of girls they’d met in studios and dressing-rooms.
It was also the year in which politicians gave us the benefit of their “wisdom” on the subject of rape, with a Republican Congressman explaining that victims rarely get pregnant because the female body has mysterious ways of shutting down. I have to give a special mention here to George Galloway, who gifted us the priceless notion that “not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion”. Galloway is a keen supporter of hacker Julian Assange, who is resisting extradition to Sweden where police wish to interview him over sexual assault allegations. He’s just spent the first of what I hope will be many Christmases in the Ecuadorian embassy, so it hasn’t all been bad news.
In Pakistan, a teenager who campaigned for girls’ education was shot in the head. In India, the death was announced yesterday of a 23-year-old student who was left with brain damage after a gang rape in Delhi. In the UK, new campaigns burst into life on the internet, targeting everyday sexual harassment and demanding an end to Page 3.
Meanwhile the first female head of the TUC and the president of the Girls’ Schools Association highlighted sexist attitudes in business and education. Frances O’Grady argued that quotas are needed to deal with the entrenched sexism of boardrooms, while Hilary French said that girls are still expected to be homemakers and believe that raising children is more important than their own ambitions.
A “royal source” chose this moment to reveal that the Duchess of Cambridge, a woman who has never had a proper job, is likely to take time off from her royal “duties” in 2013 as a result of her pregnancy. Once again, the royal family sets the worst sort of example for women. I don’t know whether to laugh or howl with rage. Happy new year from one very cross columnist.