Death of shame: As an advert which trivialises one-night stands is declared harmless, an appalled BEL MOONEY argues fearing society's disapproval is what keeps us civilised
01:20 GMT, 28 March 2012
Some may have been shocked by that now notorious Harvey Nichols advert showing ‘the walk of shame’ where unkempt girls tottered home in the morning from strange beds still wearing their clubbing clothes — but I can’t pretend that I was one of them.
On the contrary, it took me right back to about 1966 when I made journeys like that myself, wearing a mini-dress and feeling dishevelled and desperate to get back to my student bedsit after spending a night with somebody I didn’t really know, let alone love.
Sometimes it was enjoyable, usually not. But let’s not fool ourselves that there is anything new in girls behaving badly.
Memories: 'Some may have been shocked by that now notorious Harvey Nichols advert showing the walk of shame – but I can't pretend that I was one of them' says Bel Mooney
The advert for Harvey Nichols shows a string of women doing the 'walk of shame' after a one night stand was cleared by advertising bosses after complaints it was sexist
The offending ad was cleared by the Advertising Standards Authority, despite objections that it showed women in a bad light and seemed to legitimise one-night stands.
For example, the Family Education Trust called it ‘irresponsible’ for trivialising casual sexual encounters. And it was this comment by its director Norman Wells which caught my attention: ‘It is natural and healthy to feel a sense of shame when we have done something wrong.’
Shame Do people feel it any more Like most people I cringe to remember certain things — like misbehaving with young men aged 19 or 20.
But I doubt many young people today hear that word very often.
When MPs who fiddle their expenses or bed other men’s wives brazen it out, showing a shameless face to their constituents, why would the rest of us feel any shame at behaving badly
The lack of shame in modern society is inextricably linked to our reluctance to judge others —– or ourselves. There seems to be a universal inability to condemn any action as wrong.
Last week the chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw stated that schools are having to 'make up for wider failings' in a society where children 'lack proper family, cultural and community values'
Last week the chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw stated that schools are having to ‘make up for wider failings’ in a society where children ‘lack proper family, cultural and community values’. He said that schools had to be ‘unfashionable and counter-cultural’ in setting ‘good examples’.
But where are these values and good examples meant to be coming from
Nothing seems to be considered sinful any more. In fact I can’t remember the last time I heard the word ‘sin’ — and I say that as a church-goer.
The Seven Deadly Sins don’t even seem to count — when Lust reigns supreme in the heavily sexualised western world, when we are regularly appalled by the Greed of bankers and other super-rich, when Envy fuels poisonous spite on the internet, when obesity and drunkenness show Gluttony rules, arrogant celebrities make a cult of Pride, the benefits culture rewards Sloth, and you cannot watch a football match without seeing faces twisted into ugly shapes by uncontrolled Anger.
As for the Ten Commandments — well, people won’t tolerate being told what to do, will they To instruct somebody ‘thou shalt not’ is judging their actions as wrong — and being ‘judgmental’ is a far worse offence in the modern world than blasphemy. ‘Thou shalt not judge’ is the modern commandment which holds sway.
We are told that all ways of living are equally ‘valid’, and must therefore be approved. That’s led to a disgraceful tolerance of behaviour alien to this society but accepted within ethnic communities — forced marriage being just one — on the grounds that it is racist to pass judgment. Sometimes the bravest word is ‘No’, but we are abject cowards.
Our politicians, national and local, will jump on any fashionable bandwagon (wind turbines, for example) yet do not have the courage to stand up for the still timeless values which ought to be enshrined at the heart of this culture.
Issue: It's well known that people are happiest when they value themselves. Girls who behave like – and are therefore treated as – 'slappers' make themselves feel used, low and unhappy
I’m not talking about whether or not girls have one-night stands, because in the end, that’s their business. Or is it
It’s well known that people are happiest when they value themselves. Girls who behave like — and are therefore treated as — ‘slappers’ make themselves feel used, low and unhappy.
The pursuit of happiness is enshrined in the American Constitution and equally valued here — because it is known to be a national good.
Therefore, it follows that if increasing numbers of young people behave in ways guaranteed to make them unhappy in the long term, it’s ultimately damaging the health of the nation.
So don’t do it.
Is it moralistic to say that That dreaded word is on a par with ‘judgmental’ in the hate lexicon of the liberal-Left — a group with which, incidentally, I still often identify.
'Look at the effect of the widespread availability and tolerance of pornography on the sexual expectations of teenage boys, says Bel Mooney
To be moralistic is to be seen as holier than thou, and full of self-righteous pomposity.
But I’d hardly be confessing to my own youthful wildness, or admit that I still drink too much on occasions, if I were guilty of self-righteousness.
On the contrary, because I can identify with the sinner, it makes me worry even more about our lazy tolerance of the sin.
I couldn’t write this paper’s Saturday advice column without understanding human failings.
That’s why I know it’s kind as well as moral to say to a young woman who’s let herself be used: ‘Don’t behave like that — because it will make you hate yourself and therefore it’s wrong for you.’
To express disapproval is a duty of care.
These days we hate talking about duty.
But surely everyone must accept that making a distinction between right and wrong in personal behaviour — acknowledging that the rights of others are as important as our own and no freedoms are absolute (not even freedom of speech) — is an essential part of citizenship
I believe we’re living in a deeply unhappy and divided nation because, in a culture of self-indulgence, we’ve lost sight of sober truths which require selflessness, effort and restraint.
And if it is thought moralistic to make such a judgment, then I plead guilty to the charge.
Look at the effect of the widespread availability and tolerance of pornography on the sexual expectations of teenage boys.
Yet the great and the good still defend freedom of expression in print and image as if it were engraved on a tablet of stone.
Charles Darwin wrote that a man feels shame when he gratifies his own desires at the expense of others, who show their disapproval: ‘He will then feel remorse, repentance, regret or shame; this latter feeling . . . relates almost exclusively to the judgment of others.’
The result ‘He will consequently resolve more or less firmly to act differently in the future.’
But that outcome depends on shared values.
The judgment of a peer group brought up to believe in right and wrong.
Wise words: Charles Darwin wrote that a man feels shame when he gratifies his own desires at the expense of others, who show their disapproval
We all have to accept that virtue and vice are not interchangeable on a sliding scale of ‘anything goes’ — but clear choices in the way we live our lives.
That a healthy culture owes its wellbeing to the ancient golden rule of ‘do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others’.
It’s the only way to live — but in order for that to happen people have to accept rules of behaviour which are enacted (or enforced, if you like) by everyone from the new parent to the Prime Minister.
Throughout the world, religious texts and folk tales alike have always told people how to live.
There’s no relativism in fairy tales — maybe that’s why modern parents and schools don’t like them any more. They tell children that if you want that happy ending you will have to work for it. If you’re nasty and vengeful you’ll meet a horrible end.
The Fairy Godmother won’t come along to help the one who is ugly in spirit. If you do stop to help the old lady, or if you’re soft-hearted enough to kiss the ugly frog, then you’ll find yourself rewarded.
If you do right by other people and keep your word, why, your wishes might come true.
Similarly, great literature deals with actions and consequences. Ideas of right and wrong have been held as universally true throughout history, so why are we so afraid of making moral judgements today
People sneer at what they dismiss as moral panic but sometimes I feel the real outrage is in the lack of moral panic in those who shape opinion.
When those who are most privileged ignore their duty of care for the wellbeing (on every level, including moral) of those who are less fortunate, then there is real cause for shame.
The prosperity of a country is judged by standards of living. But the economy isn’t everything. We cling to standards of living in the shape of flatscreen TVs, mobile phones, decent furniture and a ready supply of cheap clothes —without reflecting too much on the real values which measure the health, happiness and spiritual wellbeing of a nation.
The standards of living which really matter are those that govern the way we behave to each other and to ourselves.
We should be brave enough to defend them — even when they instruct: ‘Thou shalt not.’