Let's have lessself-deceiving prissiness please

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The Independent Online

The news of George Lord's disgrace has frankly come as something of a shock. A few weeks ago, he was featured on the sports pages of the local paper as the well-known hypnotist who had deployed his powers to help Gislingham Football Club win two important end-of-season games.

My idea was to get in touch with Mr Lord and ask him to help my own team. Next month, they will be travelling to Norfolk for a big match against the Winfarthing Fighting Cocks, the equivalent, at our level, of a major international. We have been having a few on-pitch psychological problems recently - heads go down, a couple of midfielders stop playing to discuss possible future film projects - and I thought a spot of mind-mending would help us.

Unfortunately, George Lord last week made the unwelcome journey from the back half of the Diss Express to its front page. Under the headline "HYPNOTIST'S JAIL SHAME", a report revealed that in 1998 Lord had groped two women on stage in a pub near Peterborough, having put them into a trance, and was later sent down on two counts of indecent assault. One of Gislingham FC's sponsors commented that he was "totally disgusted" and added: "It's a worry to have had someone like that in the village."

It occurred to me that, in the context of the other rural crimes that we hear so much about, this reaction to the groping hypnotist was a bit hysterical, and yet entirely in keeping with the mood of the moment.

Suddenly and unexpectedly, gropers have become big news. Early last week, a senior officer in the US army, Major-General Larry Smith, was forced into early retirement after Lieutenant-General Claudia Kennedy complained that, in 1996, he had "touched her in a sexually inappropriate manner and tried to kiss her". A few days later, the chief executive of the New Look fashion retailer, Jim Hodkinson, was similarly dumped following "inappropriate behaviour" at some grim trade knees-up at the Grosvenor Hotel. In the early hours of the morning, he had touched one woman's behind and commented that she had a "nice arse" and later, while dancing with another woman, had said: "Let's make mad, passionate love."

The excitement about this seems rather peculiar. Anyone who has worked in an office will know that proximity and boredom tend to crank up the libido. At sales conferences, Christmas parties and trade functions, many employees go slightly bonkers, like battery chickens suddenly releasedinto the sunlight. Slurred innuendo, fantasy flirting and wandering hands are an essential part of the occasion. They are not expressions of power, or quasi-rape, but a slightly sad recognition of the state of frustration in which many people spend their days. They are above gender (I have been goosed a couple of times and I expect you have too), and age is immaterial.

The idea that groping is an important new cause for concern is entirely about attitudes to the middle-aged male. If you are young and inappropriate, you are a bit high-spirited. If you are a mature woman and inappropriate, you are a sporty, feisty lover of life. If you are a mature man and inappropriate, the world recoils in disgust. This may be an aesthetic reaction - the randy middle-aged male is not one of God's lovelier creatures - but it is also profoundly anti-feminist, suggesting, as it does, that an adult woman is so frail and defenceless that a stray hand or naff remark can offend her sensibilities.

Perhaps a little less self-deceiving prissiness is needed in this area. The sinister gropers who misuse their position (doctors, generals and, I suppose, mind-benders) deserve to pay the price, but the boozers and late-night flirters are perhaps just trying, in their blundering way, to show the world, and themselves, that they are not slaves to appropriateness. It's time to lighten up.

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