It’s Harder To Crack A Prejudice Than An Atom

For a long time I’ve been of the belief that racism and sexism and other such ignorant attitudes were in some sort of cretaceous period and that the dinosaurs that held them were on their way out, claiming all the pensions ready to lay down in the mud and become fossils for future generations to find and be confused by (‘this bone definitely suggests that Mailus Readerum thought all Muslims were terrorists’) while we, the younger generation, forged ahead with our togetherness and understanding, to live in a happy world of rainbows and unicorns.

Well, ok, maybe I’m not that naive but, apparently I’m much more gullible than I thought I was.  I thought that ignorance and prejudice was a once in a blue moon thing and that our generation – the one currently producing world leaders and great thinkers and billions of people with useless degrees – had got over, you know, the being massive twats bit.

Earlier this year, Unilad, a site aimed at young men attending universities (ie: boys with an ounce of brain) put ‘banter’ under the spotlight with its statement ‘85% of rape cases go unreported.  That seems to be fairly good odds.’  It was, shockingly, supported by a stream of braniacs claiming ‘nobody minds a bit of rape banter’.

The whole thing made me somewhat furious and ranty.  But (naive, remember?) I assumed it to be a one off, the product of silly little boys making silly little jokes then skulking away with their limp little peepees between their legs when they were found out and told off.

Then this happened:

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I shan’t give too much space to this story as I’ve no doubt you’ve heard more than enough about it already.  But suffice to say I was most definitely like WTF when I saw it.

The more I think about it, the more this ‘banter’ culture is spreading like a particularly virulent VD.  Topman, for example, have come under fire for their wholly inappropriate tshirts bearing slogans such as ‘nice new girlfriend, what breed is she?’  while my own personal nemesis (he doesn’t know about our feud but it most certainly exists) Jeremy Flamin’ Clarkson continues to be paid the big license payer bucks to behave as the Lord and Master of the Banter Crew, chortling his way through jokes about women, suicide and 1.2 litre engines.  It’s infuriating when women, having worked so hard for something approaching equality and now bearing the strain of not only working the same jobs as men but (more often than not) running homes and raising children too, are still belittled by men under the guise of this so-called ‘banter’.

The problem is, perhaps, that we become de-sensitised too easily.  Take for example my favourite topic, good ol’ mental health.  As I’ve mentioned several times before I’ve lost a job because of a lack of understanding of my condition.  My husband has been forced out of his workplace by people using my condition as a stick to beat him with.  It’s fast become something that I just accept.

This morning for example, a fellow blogger Tweeted ‘this weather is bipolar’.  I thought nothing of it, in fact it’s the sort of thing I might well pipe up with myself having become quite used to making lame jokes about my illness to make it easier for myself and other people to deal with (it’s much simpler to make a face and tell someone ‘I’m basically completely insane’ than to be serious and say ‘some days I can’t face my life and I generally assume that you hate me’), I’ve reached the point at which I don’t even see these comments as inappropriate.  But my pal, uber-blogger and one woman crusade, Sian was as fuming as one can be in 140 characters and what she said made sense:

@hoola well you shouldn’t have to get used to it. Just the same as my children shouldn’t have to get used to being called chinky. It’s wrong  

She’s absolutely right of course, all those times that people have said to me ‘oh isn’t everybody bipolar these days?’ (you’d be surprised how many times I’ve heard that) or laughed at my inability to do everyday things and my bizarre phobias I shouldn’t have just ignored it, I should have stood up for myself and for the thousands of other people like me who are being treated as the butt of another inappropriate joke.

And..woah there Lesleymy mate’s kids have been called chinky?  This was a new one on me.  And the more I thought about it the more I realised that kind of casual racism still exists. Not just in the older generations but amongst people of my own age and now, as Betty – for the record, a kid who one would never imagine starting a fight or inciting someone’s fury but a gorgeous, friendly and caring girl who my own four year old son is in love with – has experienced amongst folk who’ve not even reached double digits yet.

Betty’s dad, Yan, wrote a post too.  Tears people, actual tears.

The fact that people younger than me; impressionable teenage boys,  primary school age girls, are casually tossing around racist and sexist terms, that they’re being raised by people who have no more sympathy or understanding of mental illness than your average 40s-born retiree…well, it’s just hugely depressing isn’t it?  I wonder if we’ll ever be at a stage at which the colour of your skin doesn’t matter, the reproductive organs you’re rocking isn’t an issue and depressive illnesses aren’t casually joked about or considered made up excuses for the lazy or bywords for ‘different’.

Somehow the fact that these isms are now dressed up as comedy or hidden behind ‘I’m not racist but…’ lines or cloaked in common sense political statements (I’m sure we’ve all heard rants about the influx of Polish workers, as if we, the British, have more claim to this particular few acres just because we were born on them or we hold a piece of paper that says we’re citizens*) makes them all the more poisonous.

Maybe we need to do more of this. Without the police brutality obvs.

I don’t think I’m the only one who can be called naive.  I think a lot of us have been merrily focusing on ourselves ignoring what’s right there under our noses.  Really, didn’t we all believe we were more open minded than our parents?  Perhaps we ought to be more aware.  Perhaps we should put up more of a fight against prejudice.  Perhaps we’ve all been too busy thinking about ourselves, worrying about getting a great degree, finding a fantastic job, getting on the property ladder, meeting ‘the one’, having a baby.  Perhaps we need to spend more time thinking about what’s important.  Perhaps we should remember what the people before us – Emmeline Pankhurst, Martin Luther King, Kate Fraser – did and continue their work in our own small ways, wherever we can.

Or perhaps I’m just naive in thinking that things will ever change.

*yes, I know it’s more complex than that.

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15 responses

  1. I wrote a while back about rape being suddenly seen as a joke- Amazon were selling offensive t-shirts and the guy responsible made it worse by being sexist on twitter when I called him out on it.

    It all seems to be the norm, and my daughter’s school don’t seem to know how to deal with issues either- a girl in her class (they are 4) told her the reason she couldn’t be my daughter’s friend is because she (the child) is brown and my daughter is white. That could only come from home, I’d imagine, but when I reported it to her teacher, she kind of said kids will be kids. They obviously need to teach the kids that that is a silly belief to hold, that colour of skin isn’t important.

    The rape thing makes me so cross- if girls grow up thinking rape is a joke, no wonder so many teen girls are being abused by the boyfriends (figures from this week said it was on a sharp rise). My friend was gang raped, and gave up her anonymity to try and raise awareness of the horror of what happens more and more. She came in for horrendous abuse- including women saying she deserved it- but she has now set up a support network for rape victims and their families. We both couldn’t understand why Facebook allowed groups to banter about rape yet wont allow pictures of breastfeeding.

    Schools need to desperately improve PSHE to cover casual racism, sexism, rape and depression, I think its been outdated for years. And teachers need to be taught how to deal with these issues too- how to spot it, how to deal with, how to teach the kids to understand it all better.

    • Thank you for reading. I’m so sorry that your daughter has had to face prejudices ALREADY, it makes me so sad – my kids are 4 and 6 and already the eldest is seeing these sort of things happening.

      As for rape, how are victims supposed to know what to do if they’re used to rape being treated so casually, as something they’re supposed to just *accept*. Argh!

      Thanks again x

    • Claire,
      You are right to a certain extent with the schools educating the children.
      But the schools can only do so much. I felt that our head teacher tried to hit things head on the last time it happened but no matter what is drilled into them in school if that child walks into an environment of ‘casual racism/ sexism’ at home then the schools work goes out of the window.
      When Betty was called a ‘chinky’ by her 5 year old friend that HAD to have come from her parents and that is just not acceptable.

      Aside from my children having to go through this because I failed to see the colour of my husbands skin what rocks me the most is that people in the public eye, and by that I mean on Twitter / TV / Press think that its OK to casually throw these insults around.
      It’s not.
      When I questioned the ‘this weather is bipolar’ tweet, the blogger in question didnt bother to reply but someone else jumped in to say that she meant polar opposites.
      Yeah and gay means happy? No it doesn’t. It’s a insult.
      @hoola my love, thank you so much for writing about this in such an eloquent way. I shall report back after this afternoons meeting with the head. xx

  2. I think this is a powerful blog and raises many thorny issues.
    As a blogger, mum and journalist, I am often shocked still by how rascist, homophobic or sexist people can be – but they dress it up as something else. I’ve also made many films about mental health issues and do not find it funny to make jokes about it – especially when these services are fighting hard to maintain their funding at the moment.
    With teenagers, I often hear the term ‘that’s gay’ or ‘don’t be gay’ and I always pick up my kids and their friends about it. It’s not just a saying to me – what if one of their friends is gay? hearing that will make them less able to be gay and proud at that difficult age for any teenager. Only yesterday, a girl at my child’s school was singled out as a lesbian and taunted in front of my child, who I’m proud to say, replied ‘so what?’.
    However, I’m not setting myself up as someone who’s exempt from these thoughtless actions – I just hope that I can keep telling myself off. At one of my children’s school, there is a high level of Eastern European parents and only today I found myself thinking how poorly ‘they’ park their cars around the school, blocking the road and causing chaos. I thought this because two drivers in front of me were parents I recognise and don’t have English as a first language. I did not verbalise this, but I thought it.
    I then slapped myself on the wrist as I counted other cars parked inconsiderately and just as many were parents with English as their first language. Oh for the day when I’m able to instinctively grasp the reality of a frustrating situation.

    • Yes, I think we are programmed to think a certain way and like you say, though I try to be blind to differences I’m guilty of thinking of a particular group as ‘they’ or making sweeping generalizations. we hear it from our parents, from friends and on the TV and it just gets lodged there.

      I like that you admit to having that thought – it’s something I should probably of included, I’m not free from guilt in this either, in fact I’m probably part of the group at the root of the issue – the white middle class, middle incomes who selfishly worry about their wallpaper and their cars instead of realizing we’re making inappropriate statements in front of our kidsat Prosecco fueled dinner parties!

      Thank you for reading and posting! X

  3. People can be easily, and more often than not are offended by these types of apparent jokes. They are not funny or clever, they are not thinking about others when they say them. I wish the world was a different place and I hope it will be one day x

  4. I’m also here because Sian highlighted this post–what an excellent piece. I feel for you that you’ve felt you have to just get used to the casual use of ‘bi-polar’. Yes, it probably did start as a coping mechanism by someone (I notice comedians often do this) but these often get taken well beyond coping mechanisms and become part of regular, casual use. It doesn’t always mean the person using it is awful or ill-intended though, they just need to be made aware (probably in a gentle way, because otherwise they will feel instantly bad and on the defensive).

    For example:
    My step son was given a T-shirt buy a well known ‘fun’ t-shirt company that has an arrow pointing to the side and says ‘He’s gay’. I was really unpopular in the house because I told him I thought it was really inappropriate. He’s a really nice, good kid, but he simply couldn’t see why I made such a big deal about it and got really huffy with me. He and other family members suggested I was too intense and not light-hearted enough. Intensely frustrated, is what I was. The only message they heard was me moaning at them. I still need to work on that one.

    Back to the mental health issues–all this at a time when people are trying to raise awareness and empathy in order to reduce the stigma!!!

    Great post.

    • Thank you for reading and commenting. I agree, in most of this situations nobody is intending harm and sometimes we have a tendency to over react – the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand debacle springs to mind. They were doubtless being idiots but were they being vicious? I doubt it. In fact it surprises me that that went so far when this year Clarkson (grrrrrr) got away with making light of suicide…weird priorities.

      Anyway, keep standing up for what’s right, they think you’re a nag now but your kids will get it when they’re our age x

  5. Look, of course these are big issues, and I don’t for one minute condone the attitudes behind them, but do you really think that these people really mean what they say? I am playing devils advocate, but if anyone said anything sexist to me they would be corrected firmly and succinctly. I think far too many women allow this stuff to be said, and then rant about it afterwards. That is not an accusation, just a fact. If women stood up for themselves at the time, in the face of condescension, as men would, I don’t think these isssues would be so rife. After all, these men are just blagging and hoping to get away with it for the sake of machoism

    • Thanks for reading and giving a different view…

      I absolutely agree, as I just said in another reply below I do think we can have a tendency towards ‘PC gone mad’. For me, with the weird foibles of my bipolar standing up for myself in these situations can be just that bit too hard and likewise kids like Betty can’t be expected to know how to deal with racism, intended or otherwise. But it takes those who can (this blog is my way of doing it) to stand up and say ‘think before you speak’ and, more importantly to teach our kids that being different isn’t a joke and that thoughtless comments can hurt people.

      At the end of the day the last thing we need is for everybody to be scared to have opinions! X

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