Wednesday, 27 January 2016

expecting more

I've been tripping over myself recently, realising that things I'd just taken for granted are actually problematic.

One thing is of course coming to the realisation (detailed here) that high fantasy doesn't have to be mysogynistic. That has had a huge impact on my thinking, and is making me rewrite a book, and that is good. But it's started the ball rolling, making me think about everything else I see.

There is so much mysogynistic nonsense out there that most of the time it just seems normal. When I hear a podcast with men talking about women as if they're actual human beings, I'm pleasantly surprised. When I binge watch Mad Men I'm thrilled that a rampantly sexist period of time can be portrayed in a way that subtly ridicules the sexism, racism, and homophobia, etc. (and I probably gloss over the fact that Betty could only be fat because she was unhappy).

I get bored of hearing myself argue that something is sexist, and I can't be bothered to explain to my husband why it's sexist that there's only one female character (and no, there doesn't just happen to be one female character, and no, women don't have better things to do). Also I'm forever moaning about older male presenters (on radio mainly) chuckling over what young women do, which might seem harmless, but it's patriarchal belittling in action.

It feels like the last desperate scrabble for mysogyny to keep its grip on our culture at the moment, and although there are lots of steps in the right direction, there are so many things that are wrong.

The other day I'd spent some time shouting at the radio after listening first to Mark Lawson interviewing Frederick Forsyth (on the Guardian's podcast, here), who amongst other things said that he has to research things well so that he could explain them to an old woman without confusing her, and called women who might go on dates with men 'birds'. Meanwhile Mark Lawson just chuckled. No challenging, not even gently. 

Then I listened to Thinking Allowed, which I really want to like because it's a Sociology programme on Radio 4, but Laurie Taylor drives me crazy, this time it was his interview with a researcher who had done a study on lunch boxes, predominantly prepared by mothers. He repeatedly belittled the study, laughing at the mothers attempts to fulfill the school rules of lunch boxes, and refusing to acknowledge the important aspects of the admittedly small scale project. This was not the case with other small scale research projects he's spoken to people about.

I've not read anything by Frederick Forsyth, and I'm not going to, and I know that many people think it's just his way, but what if he was talking about the challenge of explaining things to black people? What if he was using derogatory terms about a group of people other than women? 

I'm still subscribed to Thinking Allowed, because I'm interested in the research discussed, but I wish Laurie Taylor would hand it over to someone else.

The thing is of course, that this sort of thing happens all the time. I don't want to get angry, because I'd be permanently angry. There are so many sexist old white men getting platforms, and not being challenged. 

And then Zoe of I Knew I Was Next shared this little beauty on her Instagram account:

Shared with Zoe's kind permission. Thank you!

And I thought, YES!

Sexism might be normal, but it's going to stay like that unless we challenge it. Even those of us who don't want to be biased will fall into the traps of lazy sexism and racism etc if we don't expect more, expect better, challenge the assumptions. Heck, challenge our own.

Foz Meadows of Shattersnipe recently posted about Naomi Novik's book Uprooted, a book which lots of people have been talking about because it's got some great female characters, but Foz pointed out that it also has an abusive narrative going on. We are so used to patriarchal, mysogynistic, worldviews, that even those of us who challenge them can't help but adopt parts of them.

But I'm doing something about my story, and it won't be perfect, but it is a step on the path, and I'm also going to expect more of others.

I'm not going to get angry, but I'm going to name what I see, to point out the lazy sexism: The poo on the path which is dirtying all our feet. Havi Brooks of The Fluent Self, whose way with words is beautifully simply complex talks about the power of naming, and now I'm taking up that mantle.

Frederick Forsyth and Laurie Taylor and all the rest of them are probably not malicious, but they are old white men who's outdated views shape opinion, and we need to challenge all of them, whilst also being aware that we have picked up these habits ourselves.

I'm avoiding immersion in those ideas. I'll not be reading Frederick Forsyth, and I'll be naming the problems I see. Perhaps I should get some stickers printed. I'm also voting with my purse...

Simply Be suggested a while ago that I might aspire to look like a groupie (it was a shame they said that because I really liked the clothes!), and then ignored my protests, not even deigning to respond when I asked them, why not a rock star? That's fine. I'm no longer shopping with them.

I'm not going to get mad, but I'm going to name the prejudice I see and so be part of the effort to denormalise it.

I can hear some eyes rolling, but believe me, it's a work of beauty. Join me in expecting more.