I doubt if Lord Ashcroft’s allegations that David Cameron took part in some revolting act involving a dead pig is going to damage the PM’s reputation too much. If anything it might shed a sympathetic light on him, particularly since former girlfriend Catharine Snow has told the media ‘He was just completely straight – the straightest at Oxford. We used to give him hell’ It sounds as if he was actually a bit square and was roughed up a bit by the crowd as a result.
For anyone who has been through it, the process of joining in with boisterous, uncouth behaviour when you are just not made that way, can be exhausting. What happens when the ‘in crowd’ are all about, egging everyone on, having a whale of a time. Get up and walk away? It’s not always as easy as that. Go and hide in your room on your own and come across as a prude, or a kill joy? Then, if you do that, people think that you can’t ‘take it’. What’s wrong with you? The reality is that introverted students go through simple hell in September at the thought of being subjected to drunken antics, initiation ceremonies and even unwanted sexual attention.
Peer pressure to behave as other people do in the group is something that we all have to cope with at some time or other. In fact it is not the laughing matter, or Twitter titter, as we might make it out to be. Whether it is at school, or University, or indeed at work, failing to conform to the way most people conduct themselves can make you the target of very unpleasant bullying and social exclusion. It’s a no win situation.
So you join in to play along. Of course what happens then is that the bar is lifted. The first test of the group may be for example, drinking a few revolting concoctions. Then, once everyone has passed that test, its drinking and stripping. Next its drinking, stripping and performing for the webcam. And this is just the under-fourteens.
How do we deal with negative peer led behaviour? I get asked this all the time as Founder of Act Against Bullying. My advice to parents and students who didn’t want to be left out of the group has always been as to try and find something small which you can do to show you are part of the clique. The reason I give that was because it is all too easy to say to a child who is being bullied ‘Just don’t get involved’ or ‘find someone else to play with’.
The loneliness and seclusion of isolated students of all ages today is pitiful. The increase in incidents of bullying, cyber bullying, harassment, sexting, abuse and online safety means that more and young people are seeking comfort in real-life groups and not just sit it out at home. They are looking for friendship. Hence the pressure on usually reserved, mild mannered individuals to occasionally behave badly.
Bawdy behaviour everywhere has now become a major feminist issue since female students complaining about an increase in sexual abuse at University and the advent of the Everday Sexism project. But whether a return to modesty on behalf of both men and women today will have more effect today than it did when advocated by Mary Wollstonecraft in 1792 will be interesting to see. That will be up to positive peer pressure, which is, of course, completely possible.