There are panics and panics

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The story was about a woman who had been scammed by a meth hunter (a person who checks your house for traces of methamphetamine from a nearby drug lab). She was told her home registered levels so high that she should not return to it and should destroy all her belongings. She was understandably extremely concerned about her health and the health of her unborn child. The presenter described her as being in a state of moral panic.

 I considered that and decided that the woman’s panic was not of the moral variety but of the common-or-garden variety. Being a bit hazy myself about what constitutes moral panic I did some research. It seems that it was a term coined by a South African psychologist in relation to the disturbances caused by mods and rockers in Britain in the 1960s.

 Moral panic is a pervasive fear in society at large, often whipped up by politicians and the media, which is out of all proportion to the actual threat. The situation with the mods and rockers has been mirrored by the recent attempts to stir up fear of ethnic gangs in Victoria. 

 The next story I read was about the TV program Bad Mothers. One of the mothers was in a panic about remaining single all her life and not being able to find a partner because of the ‘man drought’. She was described as being in a gender panic.

 Again this is not right. Gender panic is a pervasive unease in society created when gender norms are threatened by the realisation that there are shades of gender grey, that gender is more fluid than we have allowed in the past. This is often heightened by some change in government policy which seems to be embracing the LGBTI spectrum.

 Both these terms are trendy, but it would be as well to be clear about what they mean.

MisuseSue ButlerComment