Gaby Hinsliff,

Abusers prey on the sense of shame many women feel. Lady Trump­ing­ton has glo­ri­ously ditched hers

The Guardian - - NEWS | WEINSTEIN ALLEGATIONS - Gaby Hinsliff

When Lady Trump­ing­ton was a young woman fresh out of fin­ish­ing school, she worked for a while as a sec­ond world war land girl on a farm be­long­ing to David Lloyd Ge­orge. It was a rather odd set-up, to say the least. The for­mer prime min­is­ter kept his mis­tress in a bun­ga­low near the main house while his fam­ily were res­i­dent, mov­ing her back in when they de­parted; the young Jean Camp­bell-Har­ris, as she was then, was sta­bled with the mis­tress. She de­scribes in her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy how Lloyd Ge­orge would make her stand against a wall while he mea­sured her with a tape, which she thought was prob­a­bly the “near­est to flesh he could get” with a watch­ful mis­tress around. Not quite Har­vey We­in­stein ter­ri­tory, but creepy nonethe­less.

Trumpers, as she was known, re­tired this week from the House of Lords at the age of 95, af­ter a glo­ri­ously event­ful ca­reer that took her from work­ing as a trans­la­tor in the Bletch­ley Park code­break­ing huts to be­com­ing one of only a hand­ful of se­nior fe­male min­is­ters un­der Mar­garet Thatcher.

But she will be im­mor­talised for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions by that film clip of her cheer­fully stick­ing two fin­gers up at her old friend, and a for­mer min­is­ter, Lord King. (He re­ferred un­gal­lantly to her age; she for­got there were cam­eras around.) Which is quite as it should be – for ev­ery young woman should have a Trumpers in her life: an in­domitable great aunt fig­ure, unashamedly en­joy­ing the lux­ury of be­ing old enough not to worry all the time about what oth­ers – men, es­pe­cially – think.

No won­der older women were once feared as witches, given the dev­il­ish dif­fi­culty of con­trol­ling them oth­er­wise. The com­pen­sa­tion of old age, once the male gaze moves on, is the free­dom not to care.

And who wouldn’t se­cretly thrill to the idea of ad­dress­ing dis­agree­able ar­gu­ments over lunch (as Trumpers re­port­edly did) by putting down one’s gin and shout­ing “Balls!”? Never mind wear­ing pur­ple when we are old, as the Jenny Joseph poem has it, with a red hat that doesn’t go. How tame that seems in com­par­i­son with wear­ing er­mine, flick­ing Vs, and ef­fort­lessly em­bar­rass­ing young co­me­di­ans on Have I Got News For You by mak­ing fruity jokes, as Lady Trump­ing­ton did at the age of 90.

What ex­tra­or­di­nary strength of char­ac­ter they must have had, that pre-war gen­er­a­tion of women raised and ed­u­cated only for mar­riage, who over­came con­sid­er­able ob­sta­cles to make some­thing ex­cit­ing of their lives.

And yet it’s not a gen­er­a­tion to be viewed through rose-tinted glasses, still less used to re­buke younger women. If they were tough, it’s be­cause they had no choice, and pre­cious few chances to com­plain. In her 90s, Lady Trump­ing­ton could com­fort­ably tell the Lloyd Ge­orge story to the world. The young Jean pre­sum­ably didn’t dare. Some things never change, and yet they could.

The Trumpers fig­ure in my own life was quite lit­er­ally a great aunt, whose war years were spent as an army nurse in Africa be­fore driv­ing home over­land across Europe with a dash­ing look­ing young of­fi­cer, whose role in this ad­ven­ture was only ever vaguely ex­plained. If it was a wartime af­fair, it can’t have sur­vived the peace, but at any rate this road trip fur­nished her with some tremen­dous sto­ries.

By the time I knew her, she was thrillingly im­mune to dis­ap­proval of any kind and at fam­ily par­ties would swear with im­pres­sive cre­ativ­ity, flu­ency and dis­re­gard for the pres­ence of chil­dren. (Small ones clearly rather bored her, at least un­til old enough to be in­tro­duced to the Tele­graph cross­word.)

The older I get, the bet­ter I wish I’d known her. But it was from her I learned the story of another rel­a­tive, a sweet old lady whose sole in­tro­duc­tion to the facts of life had been a warn­ing on her wed­ding day from her mother that her hus­band would want to do some­thing beastly to her, that must be en­dured in or­der to get a baby. “But what no­body told me,” this woman con­fided to my great aunt, “was that it would be such fun!” Old ladies are so much less shock­able than the young think.

We pa­tro­n­ise them at our peril, that gen­er­a­tion whose lives were so rich in hid­den depths and so fraught with dan­gers. They dared not get too close to men – shame lurked at ev­ery cor­ner, and preg­nancy spelled un­mit­i­gated dis­as­ter in a time be­fore freely avail­able con­tra­cep­tion or abor­tion – yet risked des­ti­tu­tion with­out them.

A bad mar­riage was to be en­dured not ended, and op­por­tu­ni­ties for work were still heav­ily cir­cum­scribed by class. At Bletch­ley they chiefly re­cruited daugh­ters of the landed gen­try, on the grounds that posh girls were thought less likely to gos­sip. A less well-con­nected woman might con­ceiv­ably have strug­gled to achieve Trump­ing­ton’s im­pres­sive late life ca­reer in pol­i­tics too, which she en­tered via a life peer­age.

Nostal­gia for that era is, then, mis­placed. It is a far, far bet­ter time to be a young woman now, as Hol­ly­wood’s preda­tors face days of reck­on­ing and old bar­ri­ers are start­ing to be dis­man­tled. But there are lessons to learn from the Trump­ing­ton gen­er­a­tion all the same.

There has been much talk about courage in the We­in­stein case, of how vic­tims must be brave to come for­ward. But per­haps it is more use­ful to talk about the ab­sence of shame, the emo­tion on which We­in­stein’s modus operandi re­lied.

Why do women still feel so mor­ti­fied when this hap­pens to us, so em­bar­rassed about dis­cussing it pub­licly, when it’s ob­vi­ous we weren’t the ones do­ing wrong? Yet still we worry that some­how we might have been; that we sent the wrong sig­nals, or should have made more fuss, or else are fuss­ing about noth­ing. At least it wasn’t rape. Maybe we mis­un­der­stood.

There’s al­ways some­thing to apol­o­gise for. It’s strik­ing how many vic­tims de­scribe We­in­stein telling them, be­fore lung­ing, that they needed to lose weight if they wanted to get bet­ter roles. They were primed from the start to feel there was some­thing wrong with them, rather than him.

And that’s why the one vi­tal les­son younger women can take from older ones is not that they should be tougher or more coura­geous. It’s that life is vastly im­proved by no longer be­ing made to feel shame for things that are not ra­tio­nally shame­ful. Con­trive some­how to care less about what oth­ers think of our bod­ies or our be­hav­iour, get rid of that use­less anx­i­ety – and liv­ing wouldn’t re­quire half so much courage.

It’s strik­ing how many vic­tims de­scribe We­in­stein telling them that they needed to lose weight


Trump­ing­ton’s ‘im­mor­tal’ ges­ture to Lord King

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