Thomas Sutcliffe: Do these bigots think their daughters are tarts, or just other people's?

Sunday 23 October 2011 04:12

In my house, we are divided over the cervical cancer jab. All things considered (and there are things to consider) my wife and I think it is probably a good thing that our daughter will have increased protection against a horrible disease.

My daughter, now 12 and thus likely to be bringing home from school a letter about the vaccination programme some time soon, is a bit worried about whether it's going to hurt. So, we are in favour while she, I imagine, would be perfectly happy if the whole thing went away for a while.

Before making any final decision I imagine that her mother and I will fret a little over some newspaper reports of adverse reactions and wonder whether the pharmaceutical company which manufactures the drug has been over-promoting its virtues for commercial ends. But I am pretty confident that at least one anxiety will not trouble us. We will not be sitting there worrying that her vaccination will be taken as the green light for unbridled sexual experimentation.

Apparently, not all parents share this confidence, or certainly not all adults. I do not know, for example, whether Dr Majid Katme, of the Islamic Medical Association, was extrapolating from his own domestic circumstances when he said of the vaccine: "My humble message to my Muslim community? Stick to your own religious moral code – you don't need the vaccine. There are a lot of young girls who will say, 'Oh, we're protected, I have vaccine, I can go now and pick up these boys and sleep around'."

Was he libelling his own daughters here or just those of fellow Muslims? And when Stephen Green, of the Christian Voice group, issued a press release saying of people who administer the vaccine, "they will be treating these girls, to put it bluntly, like tarts, saying they are sexually incontinent, lacking in self-respect and the basic morality required to keep their virginity", was it his own children he held in such low esteem – or only those of other people?

It is very interesting that use of the word "tart" – the misogyny and contempt and fear it contains – not to mention the implication that female sexuality captures his own contempt for young women, the conviction that the only thing that lies between our daughters (he's talking about yours and mine here) and a life of splay-legged promiscuity is the fear of fatal disease. Take that away, his logic runs, and there'll be no holding the harlots back. The wages of sin should be death.

It is contemptible and – in common with the promotion of abstinence programmes over honest sex education – based on the fantastical notion that straight facts and clinical realities have some seductive, corrupting power over the young that nature and their own hormones will not.

I trust my own daughter's sense –and her sense of right and wrong – a good deal more than that, and a lot more than the religious conservatives who view her only as a sin waiting to take place.

Rourke's adrift in Venice

As susceptible to a comeback story as anyone, I was touched to see Mickey Rourke enjoying a bit of adulation at the Venice Film Festival this week, after Darren Aronofsky's film, The Wrestler, won the Golden Lion award. But the pictures accompanying the story were puzzling, since they appeared to show someone who bore no resemblance at all to that cocky scrapper who appeared in Rumble Fish and Nine-And-A-Half Weeks. I know people talk about a lived-in face but Rourke's looks as if it has been used as a night shelter for 20 years and remodelled by apprentice brickies. With talk of an Oscar nomination, I think the academy should ask for DNA proof it really is still him, and not some canny chancer hoping for an underdog boost to the voting.

A poetry ban without rhyme or reason

The Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, the largest examinations board in England, has been mocked for its decision to remove a poetry anthology from the English curriculum because it contained a poem by Carol Ann Duffy, written in the voice of a murderous sociopath. It was the wrong decision – a capitulation to small-minded literalists who have not grasped that poems are not social education posters but acts of imagination. I did feel a bit of sympathy for the AQA, though – who must have unwillingly exercised their imaginations when the first complaint came in and seen banner headlines – condemning their "irresponsibility" in the light of our "knife crime epidemic". Newspapers can be small-minded literalists too, and often aren't much interested in nuance or dramatic irony or the subtleties of a liberal education. So imagine The Daily Mail out for your job before you feel too superior.

* Dr Rajendra Pachauri suggests we eat less meat to counter global warming – a proposition that seems sensible, if something of a long shot. I'd suggest another way of tackling Britain's carbon footprint; a tax on business trips, hypothecated to fund research into green energy. Ninety per cent of such trips are an expensive folly perpetuated by businessmen and women who, while grumbling noisily about the ordeal of their jet-setting life, secretly love earning the air miles and getting away from home. As video-conferencing improves, this gets less rational by the day – and if the tax won't persuade executives to give up the foreign trips, you could always make Club Class meals vegetarian only.

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