This is part of a series responding to issues that came up in comments on my post, David Bowie was wonderful. He was also an abuser. How do we handle that?. In this post, I’m going to explore the idea that as the 70s were a different time, we can’t judge what people did back then by today’s standards. Here are some of the things that commenters had to say:
You just can’t judge actions of the past on today’s standards. Lori Lightning and Sable Starr said they had the time of their lives … The media lapped them up, being this young and adored by older men was normalised and they adored older men which too was normalised. The ”baby groupies” as they were known as had a mission to get with as many rock stars as possible .., they were very young. Today, this would never happen, and that’s a good thing.
[T]hey were different times – the Summer of Love had happened 5 years previously, and young people world-wide were caught up in the aftermath of the late 60s struggles for sexual liberation & emancipation. It is unfair to judge the morality of 1973 by today’s standards.
[I]n the late 60s and 70s you had 17 year olds being sent to war so you know what? the times were different and kids were expected to grow up a lot faster than the sheltered protected kids we have today
People realise that it was a different time right? That people were doing things with 16 year olds and it was considered okay. I don’t think we should go back and judge people of a different time doing something that was normal in a different time. David Bowie would have never done anything with anyone against their will and even judging him is wrong.
You can’t judge the past by modern standards – something that, unfortunately, it takes Years and experience to learn. 40 years from now, someone might read your judgemental, sophomoric opinions and wonder why people in the 2010’s were so eager to blame, scandalize, and general be puckered up tighter than an asshole.
That last comment aside (oh, Paul..), I think that these are interesting points. Is morality constructed? Yes, all the time. Are some things normal at one time and unacceptable in another? Yes, of course. Does this mean that we can only judge actions at the same time as they are committed? I don’t think so. And here’s why:
The 1970s Were Just Like That. They were also like this.
I know a lot of women about the same age as Lori Maddox. Unlike Lori, though, they didn’t grow up in LA. They grew up here in Ireland. While Lori was sleeping with rock stars, girls in Ireland were being locked up. They’d be taken from their families- or sometimes sent there by relatives to save their families from shame and ostracism. Their crimes? Becoming pregnant out of wedlock. Going on dates with boys. Looking too pretty. Their punishment? Indefinite imprisonment. Forced labour for the profit of the Catholic Church. Physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Some got out- through a combination of ingenuity and happenstance. Many others didn’t.
The Magdalene laundries weren’t technically run by the state. However, the state did send girls to be locked up there. And escapees were frequently rounded up by police.
Getting sent to the Magdalene laundry wasn’t the only thing that women in 1970s Ireland had to worry about. You’d dodge that bullet once you got married, true. Good luck planning your family though- it was illegal to buy or import contraceptives until 1980 (and even then, it took till 1993 until they were freely available). And don’t even try avoiding sex. Marital rape wasn’t criminalised in the Republic until 1990.
All of these things were socially acceptable in 1970s Ireland, at the same time as rock stars were fucking underage girls in LA.
I don’t accept any of them. I judge a society that turned a blind eye- at best- to forced labour and the indefinite imprisonment of thousands of girls and women. Harshly. As harshly as I judge a society that refuses to bring the perpetrators of this modern-day slavery to justice.
Of course, in one way it’s ridiculous to compare one adult man having sex with a willing minor to what was happening in Ireland at the time. Unless your assertion is that the former is okay, because we can’t judge people if their actions were accepted at the time. That leads directly to accepting the latter, as well as anything people did in the past as long as it was widespread. That kind of relativism is incredibly dangerous.
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