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:
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 Lesley…my 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.
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.