When good people say bad things

Saying something racist or homophobic is a bit like taking your eyes off the road for a second when you are driving and clipping a pedestrian.

When you are driving there are no free passes. If you hurt someone, it doesn’t matter how careful you have always been or how slowly you usually drive. Nothing in the past changes the fact that right now, here, you have made a mistake. You didn’t mean to do it, but the damage is done. You can’t claim that you are in a relationship with a pedestrian so you know what hurts them and what doesn’t or that the pedestrian that you ran over last week didn’t mind.

Lots of drivers get angry at the pedestrians they hurt. They get angry that the pedestrian is in their way, or blame pedestrians for being so squishy. Some pedestrians pretend they haven’t been hurt just to avoid this kind of response. It’s even been known for drivers to run over a pedestrian they have clipped because they are so angry. Sometimes I think it is because anger is a much more comfortable emotion than shame. It is easier to blame the pedestrian for getting hurt than to admit that you did something wrong and you are horrified at yourself.

Fortunately, metaphorical car accidents are much more easily solved than real ones. If you can get over the shame and not let it move into anger, you can apologise. You can resolve to do better. You can think about the underlying attitudes that prompted the mistake and start laying down new thought processes.

Having to watch out for pedestrians and cyclists and motorbike riders is annoying when you are driving a nice sports car, but remember you are having a much more comfortable ride. Cars are great, you just have to be careful with them.

When good people say bad things

International Women’s Day – Not your pity party

Forget celebrities and endless statistics, let’s celebrate the millions of anonymous women who look their oppression in the eye and say ‘fuck it’ and do what they want anyway.

Whether it’s International Women’s Day or any of the history months, two main stories emerge; the anomalous celebrity and the oppressed and victimised lump. So in LGBT month, we remember that Martina Navratilova is a lesbian and that people are still imprisoned for homosexuality in Russia; on International Women’s Day we remember that the windscreen wiper was invented by a woman, and that millions of women still suffer from domestic violence. The aims of these narratives are laudable, they remind us that members of an oppressed group can be successful and that much work remains to be done to end the oppression. However, there is a major problem with this pattern in that it only ever plays into the dominant narrative; that this poor minority can’t really manage for themselves and we have to help them, poor things.

Malala is a great example of the anomalous celebrity. Don’t get me wrong, she is fantastic. But there are thousands of other Pakistani girls who deserve admiration. Every day they know the risk they run, and yet still they go to school. I can’t face school when I have a cold. I wonder how many times the thought runs through their heads ‘I’m not sure I fancy risking getting blown up today, I think I’ll just stay in bed.’ But still they defy the pressure and the danger and they walk to school.

In history we have the Pankhursts who swanned to fame on the backs of hundreds of forgotten women. These women never became celebrities, often their children and grandchildren never knew the way they had campaigned in the face of abuse and violence, balancing political action with housekeeping, only to see themselves reviled in the press and then ignored by history. Without their groundwork, though, the vote for women would still be an issue.

We also have the countless women in this country who marched and protested and campaigned between the wars so that we now have maternity pay and holidays, reasonable working conditions and protection under the law from exploitative bosses. These rights didn’t appear out of thin air, they were fought for and won by women who refused to accept the status quo, who refused to be bullied or intimidated out of their demands.

Whether it is going to school or going to work or just continuing to breathe, I want to salute the courage of those whose names we won’t ever know, the ordinary bravery of women who won’t give up and who won’t give in. These women ignore the jeers and leers and harassment and go to work as engineers, plumbers and electricians. These are the lawyers and civil servants who know they are excluded from the Old Boy’s network and fight their way up anyway. These are the women who are everyday sheros and we ignore. Let us remember them on International Women’s Day.

International Women’s Day – Not your pity party

Killing spiders – Gender roles and lesbians

Just as DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act – the one which prevented any US federal body from recognising same sex unions and the legislation that meant that R and I couldn’t stay in the US) was in the process of being repealed, the New York Times published a lifestyle piece about a lesbian couple. For the life of me, I can’t find it – if you have any better luck can you pass it on as I would love to link to it! Anyway, this article was a well meaning attempt to ‘humanise’ same sex partnerships by showing that gays and lesbians are just regular folks. Obviously at the time (2012), the notion that queers have to put out the garbage was considered newsworthy.

As I’ve said, the article was well intentioned, but in its attempt to normalise us, it called on a whole slew of gender stereotypes. It really did talk about having to put out the rubbish and arguing over who got rid of the spiders. I suppose the point was to highlight that lesbians are just ordinary women. I’m sure that the writer didn’t mean to suggest that ordinary women needed a man to deal with their spiders.

There is a joke that is really old now; ‘Asking a lesbian couple which one is the man is like asking chopsticks which one is the fork’. It’s true. We can deal with our own spiders (R gently ushers them outside, I squash them). We know enough about ‘man stuff’ to have renovated our own house and have bought a used car without consulting either of our fathers. We are both strong enough to lift anything that needs shifting. This isn’t because we have special lesbian powers, it’s because gender stereotypes are rubbish.

What neither of us can do, however, is occupy a man’s status in society. The other weekend, there was a huge row at a house party we had been invited to. One of the other guests, a large white male, was angry that R (who is Black) had said that English people could be racist (see Racism in the UK on this blog). Then he went off on one about immigration. R refused to say what he wanted her to – why would she? What she was saying was true and what he was saying was racist. He kept arguing and arguing. I took him outside to try to talk to him. He wouldn’t listen and he still wouldn’t stop. Finally another guest, a white male, the same age, but shorter and less physically intimidating, said to him “Enough now, time to stop”. The man shut up instantly.

R and I can defend ourselves physically, but in situations like this, where the aggression is verbal, neither of us have the power to shut down an angry white male. We just don’t have the status. That is one of the few times when I really wish one of us had the power of a fork.

Killing spiders – Gender roles and lesbians