Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Do you see sexism 'every day?' Or racism maybe?

Really?   Think about it.  Could it be you? 
The facebook post that prompted this article was from someone who’d rediscovered some old Brownie memorabilia, including the Brownie vow -  I don’t know which exact promise she referred to, but here is an example from the 1970s.  "I promise that I will do my best, to do my duty to God, to serve the Queen and help other people and keep the Brownie Guide Law."  

 Probably the poster referred to a slightly different promise as she said they were supposed to put others ahead of themselves.  At any rate, she interpreted it as deliberately designed to influence girls to become passive and obedient.  It was sexist, she felt. Terribly, terribly sexist. I disputed a little – it was for children, and children were encouraged to be obedient to adults in those days, though less so these days. 

I said that probably the boys had similar vows as members of  Cubs and Scouts.  They do - The Scout Promise -
On my honour I promise that I will do my best—
To do my duty to God and the King (or to God and my Country)
To help other people at all times and
To obey the Scout Law.

There was another similar vow I remember reciting at school, morning assembly. It included the words ‘to cheerfully obey our parents, teachers and the law.’ I didn’t actually like it much – I was prepared to be obedient – generally, but I reckoned ‘cheerfully’ was a bit much to ask, so always omitted that word.
Her reply was adamant. The vow was sexist. It was aimed at making compliant, obedient, passive women. And further that she saw sexism ‘every day.’ 
Now that is an odd thing to me. There is the occasional sexism visible, for instance, when a man talks over a woman simply because he can, or a woman’s opinion is treated as less worthy than a man’s,  but who knows when it is sexist or when it is simply that a particular man is particularly rude?  Maybe he talks over other men as well.
We hardly ever see frank sexism these days. I remember many years ago,  I had a temporary job as ‘the girl’  in a small English hotel over Christmas – cleaner/assistant cook/washer-up, etc. The male cook said that women were inferior because once a month they became very bad-tempered. Now that was funny, I thought, since that cook was the worst tempered man I’d ever known. I didn’t say anything, I was only ‘the girl.’ Or maybe I did. I don’t remember so long ago. 

These kids, all colours.
They could represent my fictional Penwinnard kids.
Racism – the belief that some races are inferior to others only because of that race. That is so rare these days that I have never, ever seen it. And yet, people constantly bleat that we are such a ‘racist’ nation, that they see racism everywhere. Another long ago memory. I was in London, by myself, wandering around most days, just a sightseer. I was constantly being harassed by men wanting to strike up a conversation, (and presumably more.)  In response and in self defence, I became ruthless. A man would say ‘Hello,’ and I would respond with ‘Goodbye.’ It worked well. But one day, the man said, wounded, ‘Just because I’m black.’ 
I looked back at him. So he was. I hadn’t noticed and was about to say so when I remembered that I really didn’t want to have to deal with him, and went on. If he remembers, he probably still thinks it was just because I was being racist.
If you look hard enough for something, you will find it. If you interpret any minor rudeness or lack of respect as an ‘ism’ you will find it more and more. Even ten years ago, I scarcely noticed a person’s race when I had dealings with them. These days, there is so much talk about racism that I have started to notice. It used to be non-racist not to notice a person’s race. Now, oddly, that is no longer so. What did Martin Luther King say? I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.’ 
It appears that, for some, that is no longer enough.  We have to work out a person's race (not always easy)  and be 'sensitive' in order to avoid 'micro-aggressions.'
What utter nonsense!  How about we simply treat people as people and stop looking for insults. Those who look hard enough will always find it.
It reminds me of something I wrote in one of my books. The manager of the Boys’ Home was accused of raping one of his boys. (The boy made it up.)  It refers to the woman who was to investigate the case.
‘She regarded her note-pad, greyish, recycled paper. Catherine Milne seldom had a thought that had not been first passed through a filter of political correctness, and 'green' was politically correct. In her world, men were suspect, white men especially so. Children and women were victims, and also those 'of ethnic origin' who had to be given every consideration, always remembering the shameful way they'd been treated in the past and probably still were.’
Milne was quite sure that the man in question was a rapist of boys, simply because he was accused. She wore blinkers, and so do many, many of us these days.  
In other words, stop looking so hard for an ‘ism’  and probably you will not find it. And if people are nasty to you, remember that it could always be simply that they don’t like you, and not because you are female or black or Muslim or gay or fat or anything else that has become an ‘ism.’

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