By Margaret McIntosh, former headteacher

THOSE of us of a certain age might be forgiven for feeling weary when we read of the crass, sexist behavior of leading figures in politics and elsewhere. Has nothing really changed? All that work we did in education the 1970s and 1880s – was it all for nothing? Do those men – and they are mostly men – still think that their behaviour is fairly harmless?

It is to be hoped that the current furore will have the effect of putting a stop to the most blatant of these abuses. Clowns who grope and clutch and leer will learn that they can’t do it any longer, even if they don’t really get why it’s wrong. Perhaps most of them were at single sex schools where awareness–raising never took place. Or they never learned how to relate to the opposite sex and found themselves in positions of power before they understood the subtleties of respectful communication between the sexes.

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My concern is that such blatant abuses will distract attention

from the more pervasive and undermining sexist behaviour

which most women have to deal

with on a daily basis.

It is hard to describe what this is like but most women will recognise it and most men won’t because it does not affect them.

It shows itself in things like jokes, language, patronising behaviour, references to women’s appearance, small put-downs, newspaper reports which unnecessarily mention women’s age, background – “25-year-old single mother” – and attitudes to women’s interests. Just think of the attention given to women’s sport,

for example, compared to the pages and pages written about men’s football.

I had really thought that we had moved on, that women no longer had to fight this fight, that a new breed of men had grown up who understood the basic premise of, “Respect for all”. And perhaps we have. It may not be quite so bad as it was 20 or 30 years ago. But it is almost as if,

the moment women let their

guard down, the same old stuff reappears.

It is not helped by the behaviour of some women, either. Edwina Currie trying to suggest on TV to Harriet Harman that it’s a fuss about very little and that women can easily bat away unwanted attention, came across as a dinosaur, completely out of touch with the lives of ordinary, feisty women who just want to get on with their lives and careers. Pouting, preening women, apparently happy to be seen with male celebrity figures as a sort of ornament, are not good role models.

What is to be done? Don’t give up the struggle. It is too important. Parents, grandparents, teachers must continue to – or begin to, if they have not thought of it – teach both boys and girls about mutual respect, respect for themselves as well as respect for those of the opposite sex.

“Political correctness” quite quickly became a term of mockery, a tool to demean sensible and practical action. But it is not “political“ correctness. It is just “Correctness”. It is about acceptable behaviour in both men and women.

The current wave of revulsion against those in power who have been misusing their positions is an opportunity to look at these issues with fresh eyes.

Look under the surface of the banter, assumptions, “accepted norms” and attitudes of, “Where’s your sense of humour?”. Decide to challenge what is not acceptable. That does not have to be aggressive or rude, just firm and clear.

Children will always struggle to find their roles and to become autonomous, self-respecting adults. They need guidance and good role models and adults of both sexes must provide that.