Sunday, October 21, 2012

Can a Grope Ever Be Just a Grope?


When does a hug become a grope? 

Is a grope ever acceptable? 

Is it more acceptable for a woman to grope a man? 

Does groping a person in a more powerful position than yourself let you off the hook in terms of unacceptable behaviour? 

Can you be a gropee and a groper?
   
These, and any questions like them, have been occupying me in recent weeks as the furore (quite rightly) over the late Jimmy Savile’s abuse of young people has hit the headlines. Suddenly, however, it is not just a sexual abuser who is under the microscope, but media men in general, the latest being the historian Adam Hart-Davis, who, it is reported, was admonished by the BBC for “inappropriately” hugging a woman, who complained about his behaviour. He said his actions were misinterpreted.
   
In my younger days, I confess to having groped men in what, by today’s standards, would be considered inappropriate places. Some of those men worked for the BBC, many did not; interestingly (and this is only an observation), every man I ever groped received promotion shortly afterwards, a sign not, I believe, of my ability to influence, but my good taste in my choice of gropees (you know who you are).
   
I groped one prominent politician at a very senior BBC executive’s Christmas party. The man had that week been named as one of the sexiest politicians in Britain, so, in a bit of fun and in full view of everyone, including his wife, I grabbed him and made light of the survey. The following year, he arrived at the party and, out of view of other guests, put his hand up my skirt and groped me with some vigour. The executive wrote me a letter of apology, explaining that much as he tried to control his guests, he was not having much luck (a senior BBC female presenter had also tipped a glass of wine over someone’s head).
  
I confess to having been surprised at the nature of the grope, although I fully accept responsibility for it – what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander and all that. But whereas my groping was always done in full view of everyone (it became a sort of fringe to the fringe at the annual Edinburgh TV festival), the politician had targeted me away from the crowd and, yes, it felt more invasive.
   
I cannot remember when I conducted my first unsolicited grope. I was not a promiscuous teenager – in fact, when my first boyfriend took me to Porthcawl fairground, my screams when his hand ventured near my top could be heard far above those of the people on the Helter Skelter; it was, perhaps, the strictness with which I was brought up about sex that led to a curiosity for and fascination with, exactly what it was that lurked so sinisterly in men’s trousers.
   
My first grope – definitely unsolicited – was with a schoolteacher, and that, maybe, is where it all began. I had no idea what my hand was being led towards, much less what I should do once it reached its destination, but the thrill of the unknown was perhaps what stayed with me.
   
Did I, the victim of a groper, become the gropee in the way that the abused often turn abusers in later life? Was I just having a laugh and, for the most part, not receiving a negative reaction to my behaviour (well, for the most part – Kevin Whately was a very unwilling victim), carry on because it was just a good way of breaking the ice with men?
   
Who knows. But the world has changed. My groping days – at least, in public places – are over; I am too old for such displays of affection, and also, today, I would probably be behind bars.
   
I am glad to have lived in the era of the innocent groper, though; and while I would not in any way condone anyone who abuses their position to gain any sexual favours, we have to remember that there was a time when sinister motives did not lie behind every overt (or covert) sexual expression.
   
Sometimes, a grope is just a grope.
  
  
  
   

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