This Caroline Flack news has really made me think about how we treat people as a society, but women in particular. I wasn’t a fan, she was just someone that hung around in the periphery of my world understanding, but the news did affect me.
About the same time that the news broke about her relationship with Harry Styles, I was living with my then partner who was 10 years younger than me. Most of my partners have been younger, for no other reason than that is just who I have fallen in love with. Before the Flack/Styles news no one had been that bothered, I’d always had the odd comment; nothing major, but I remember getting a few more digs then normal around that time. But nothing compared to what I read that she was dealing with, people shouting ‘Paedo’ at her in the street and the media stoking the fire of general disgust and horror. Even supposed intelligent people who understood the double standards between it being ok for a man to date younger than him, but disgusting for a woman, revelled in the ‘cougar’ moniker. Just think about that…’cougar’ has connotations of danger, pouncing on you against your will and hurting. I wouldn’t hurt a fly, but I do date younger men. So what?
We teach young people who are bombarded with media images all the time, they scroll through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook etc and see things which aren’t always true but presented as either true or normal. It’s become increasingly difficult for them to navigate truth and fake.
One of the scariest things for me is how for the younger generation, there has become a focus on just two ends of the scale, perfection or imperfection. They see perfection held up as the norm that should be aspired to, and often those who are flawed or imperfect are vilified. There is rarely a middle ground where people are allowed to make mistakes. This isn’t the fault of our young people, it is how society and media has made them feel that they should be thinking. Listen to how young people speak about celebrity, it’s always interesting. But what is also interesting, is that it they are very aware that there should be a middle ground between perfection and imperfection, they shouldn’t have to aspire to be perfect to be successful, because young people aren’t stupid.
I’ve watched my own children, who are now in their 20s, navigate this ‘perfection based’ society; my daughter has found it harder than my son. For a young girl there are mixed messages about having to be both sexy, but demure, confident but humble and that showing flaws is failure. But our flaws are what make us who we are, people don’t love us for being perfect, they love us flaws and all.
But we all get swept up in this idea of ‘perfection’. My daughter on a few occasions has said, ‘how can you expect me to love myself despite my imperfections, when you don’t’. And sometimes I don’t, I see my failures more than my successes…but I’m learning. I’m learning that my successes outnumber my failures, quite significantly.
I went to see the author Matt Haig talk recently, and he discussed an experiment where a group of young people had photos taken by the photographer Rankin. They were then asked to make them ‘social media’ ready. Some of the teens photoshopped themselves almost beyond all recognition. It is an interesting experiment to discuss with young people and ask if it is ok to always expect perfection.
Caroline Flack wasn’t perfect, I’m sure there were truths in the court case, whether or not it should have been taken to court is another matter. However, no one deserves to be vilified for making a mistake. As a society we need to stop and think and realise that sometimes the things that we do that are less than perfect might be because we need help. We need someone to listen. Telling us that we are bad for doing them just adds to the sense of failure. Making judgements about each other without listening is dangerous.
But let’s also think about how we treat women in society. You know, it’s ok to have partners that are younger than us, it’s ok to not settle down and want marriage and kids, it’s ok to go to the shops without make-up on. Caroline Flack needs to be remembered for two things, obviously the horrific effect that vilifying someone in the media can have…and yes we contribute to that because we read it. We forget that they are real people. But secondly, she built herself a pretty good career, she was clever and savvy and worked to create the career that she wanted. And that’s more than ok.
I texted my daughter yesterday who was at work, her reply made me proud. Her reply made me realise that the best thing we can do for young people is to allow them to think about their reactions, to teach them that we can always be the better person, that we can change, we can do better for each other.
The quote at the top is one that Caroline Flack herself shared on her Instagram recently. I’ve shared it a lot too and I have it on a T-shirt. Because despite the ‘corny’ image of quote sharing, some, like that one, matter. There have been times where one person, doing one kind thing has mattered to me more than anything. Kindness has made me do things that I never thought I could do, kindness has made me wake with a smile, kindness has allowed me to be me, flaws and all. We need more kindness in society, we need to be more understanding and accepting. Maybe that’s one thing we can all pledge.
I do think things are changing. I recently travelled by train to Manchester and had to change at Leeds. When I got to Leeds the station was packed, no trains were leaving towards Manchester as there had been a suicide. Train station employees were shouting across the concourse that there would be a two hour wait for trains. What I found most interesting though was that no one complained, people just stood and waited for news. There were conversations going on about how awful life must have been for the victim, how much people felt for their family, and the train driver, how people wished they could have got the help they needed. It warmed my heart.
We can’t like The Sun attempt to delete everything unkind we have ever said, but we can show that it is better to never say it in the first place, to not give it air time, to just treat people with the kindness that we want to be treated with ourselves…small things can make a big change.