I am neither racist, misogynist nor homophobe. But (and I am aware that a but after any of those statements, let alone all three never portends well) like a lot of people (though we never admit it to ourselves) I have to work at it. We need the so-called ‘PC brigade’ to keep us all in check, as we are still occasionally surprised by what is offensive to others. A little more than we would like to admit.
Let me clarify slightly, I am not saying we are all inherently awful, or that I secretly want to put on a bedsheet and burn crosses. But, I am a product of a very different Great Britain than the one we live in now. I was born in the 70s, and was brought up in an era (and in the westcountry, before you london types tell me I’m wrong) when it was perfectly ordinary to nip into the paki-shop to buy some beers on your way to pick up a chinky for dinner. I apologise unreservedly for using those terms, but back then nobody ever batted an eyelid, except for the ‘right-on’ trendy comedians, who I eventually learned were right. At primary school all the best jokes were about Ethiopians, Jews and the N-word (even I’m not typing that one now, but it was thrown around everywhere back in the 80s, and even the early 90s, and right up until Hip Hop records decided to claim it back, so maybe that worked, however distasteful I still find it). And we all collected Robinsons Golliwogs, which are a fond memory, but really shouldn’t be, even the Golly my grandmother knitted for me leaves something of a bad taste now.
And it wasn’t just the casual racism that was rife, we still all tell people they throw like a girl, or say a throwaway ‘gaaaay’ at them if they do something we consider feminine. I would like to say that I didn’t do this, but it is such ingrained behaviour that it is difficult to stop, however much I hate myself whenever I catch me doing it. I even find myself using the ‘some of my best friends are gay’ line to defend it, but it is no defence. Even though those aforementioned friends also do it, one of them once told me ‘I may be gay Dave, but you’re a raving poof in that hat.’ That’s how ingrained it is, and it was an awesome hat, so perhaps he was referring to the stereotype of the homosexual as snappy dresser.
Women are still getting the rough end of the stick as well (ooer missus, etc. etc.) The ‘gaaaaay’ insult is not used merely as a distaste for homosexuality, it is aimed at men who act in a feminine manner. You can tell, because nobody ever said it to a tomboy did they? Feminine behaviour in men is deemed bad, and denigrated by using homosexuality as an insult (to fall back on a lazy stereotype, often by young men who use a great deal of hair product) I fail to see how either of those things can be acceptable in an equal, caring society like the one we supposedly live in.
Then there’s the language we use for women. Upon seeing an attractive girl, the first thing many of us think (and say in a lot of cases) is something along the lines of ‘I would ruin that’, or ‘I would do awful things to her,’ which at least removes the indefinite article from the equation. I know ‘I would very much like to enjoy some consensual acts of mutual affection with that strong, confident woman’, doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but it would definitely be better, wouldn’t it? Objectifying women is never a good thing, and describing the sexual act as a bad thing is even worse.
When we see a new female musical act or comedian, or even a newsreader, our first reaction is to judge their appearance(read this excellent piece by Public Service Broadcasting’s J. Willgoose if you don’t believe me). Not a single online conversation about any female in the public eye goes without somebody saying something along the lines of ‘and she’s not bad to look at either,’ or ‘yeah but you wouldn’t would you?’ This simply does not happen when discussing men. The recent Diane Abbott/Jeremy Corbyn scandal evoked this reaction, thousands of blokes expressing how unattractive they found Diane Abbott (a plus sized black lady) and yet no women screaming about the very idea of having sex with a skinny old pensioner (yes I know it was back in the 70s when they were both young and thus conventionally and acceptably attractive, and don’t even get me started on the idea that two single people having a consensual relationship is meant to be a scandal). It got even worse when #piggatebroke (if you don’t know what I mean then I don’t know how you are reading this online, I don’t think the pig consented though). With inevitable comparisons between Diane Abbott and a dead pig. Well done internet.
The Charlotte Proudman incident brought even more weirdness to light. Both women and men weighing in on the wrong side and saying ‘it was just a compliment, why can’t she take a compliment?’ which sounds fine. But if every other message from a phone number on the side of a plumbers van was to tell him how attractive they thought the photo of his arse crack on the back was, he’d get pretty tired of it quite soon. And then he might get it.
I know words are just words, and sticks and stones and all that, but no. Even the ironic, post-modern use of old tired stereotypes now seems to just be a way of allowing people to say dreadful things, and possibly still mean them. It is, as always, not what we say, but the way that we say it. Often, the ‘can’t you take a joke?’ attitude, is hiding a more prevailing one of ‘I am much better than you simply because I am a straight white man.’ I know that saying all this makes me sound like a whiny little bitch (spot the irony) but I have to point this stuff out to myself all the time, I am saying, and thinking, and doing awful things every day because I cannot be bothered to fight the status quo. So are you, we all need to pick ourselves up a bit, and change the prevailing attitude so that the next generation look back on us with the same distaste we have for our slave owning, genocidal forebears (yes, I do enjoy hyperbole).
What is excellent in this brave new world we live in, is that we now find the paki shop and the chinky unacceptable. Maybe not all of us, but most, and making holocaust jokes is no longer all the rage. We look back at things from 20 or 30 years ago in shock at the dreadful attitudes on show. Sadly, rape humour is still rife, and using gay as an insult is still perfectly normal. To take offence at such is just ‘PC gone mad’ or suchlike. People said the same thing about wilful Racism back when I was a kid, and that has changed now (when did somebody last call you jewish for being a bit tight with your cash?) I hope that misogyny and homophobia go the same way in the next generation, but we need to work at it. These things have been hardwired into us by our parents’ generation, and we need to kick against it. The same as we did thirty years ago as we realised that people of different ethnic origins were really no different to us (I have both black and asian friends who are far more stereotypically english middle class than I am, and white friends who are now so entrenched in black culture that they may as well go full minstrel, can I say full minstrel still? Well, I’ve done it now) and began the long road to accepting homosexuals. It’s a shame that women seem to be the last bit of the jigsaw to be genuinely allowed equal respect, even from each other in a lot of cases.
I am a product of my upbringing, we all are. I don’t say we should use this as an excuse, I say we should recognise it, realise our faults because of it, and work as hard as we can to overcome them, and create a better world, however unpopular it makes us.