Don’t do it. When you want to go to it. Remember when that song was banned from Radio 1 for containing the word ‘come’? Gasp in horror! I’ll stick my neck out and say that in the 33 years since that was released (Christ, I’m old), much of the planet has loosened up with regards to sex. However, at the same time, we appear to have the propensity to be offended more than ever.
Of course I blame the internet. If Twitter had existed back in the day, there may have been a shitstorm on the net about Relax, possibly with members of the parental advisory committee (against raunchy lyrics) up in arms. Then a backlash by people against censorship and ‘the people who like to come whenever they like’ community; flaming and trolling for Mike Read (the DJ who instigated the ban) and so on.
I was busy last week, hence no blog, but one of my favourite stories of outrage was about the woman in a small village in the South West, who liked to hang out her washing on the line in her garden. One day she received an anonymous note through her letterbox, wrapped in a pair of her knickers, stating that people in the village would like a halt to this sort of thing. Her daughter posted the letter on Facebook and the whole thing went viral. Every day there are more of these stories.
Firstly, kudos to the granny – her knickers are a scrap of black lace. At 65, I expect I’ll be wearing full-on big pants and loving it; if you can’t wear enormous pants at that age, when can you? But what kind of world are we living in where people get offended at the sight of drying washing? Apparently, part of the issue is that she lives across from a school. So presumably, children don’t know that grown ups wear underpants? And are they to learn that the contents of our trousers are a source of shame? Get a fricken grip.
While part of this story can be attributed to a small minded, pearl-clutching, village mentality, it’s also about that sense of entitlement to feel outrage and offence that is such a marker of our times. I know, I’ve been guilty of it myself, with occasional ranty posts on Facebook about the things that really push my buttons. However, I’ve not yet been angry enough that I’ve self-justified going into a neighbour’s garden, taking their knickers off the line and posting them through the front door.
As an angry young woman, I got into countless arguments and debates with people over politics, morals, ethics and so on. I still do sometimes, but have tempered my approach, attempting to win with rational thinking and a smidge of charm, rather than heated exchanges. People and things can still get me fairly riled, but I rarely lose it these days, unless the person I’m debating with is very arrogant. And if it’s out and hate speech, then I’ll say so and disengage from the discussion.
There’s something about growing older that makes you more sympathetic towards the majority of people who are generally well meaning and nice, but probably unaware of their internal prejudices, built from the institutionalised ‘isms’ that permeate our culture. They often say the ‘wrong thing’ or use the wrong terminology but they don’t mean to be cruel, or wound with their words. If they are famous, then their gaffe will light up Twitter with the flames of indignation. Thereafter, they will be known as the racist, or the homophobe or whatever.
My job is about equalities, yet I despise the phrase ‘political correctness’ which has such a negative connotation. I believe that people have a right to decide for themselves who they are and to name that, and that as a mark of respect, others should learn that too. So for example, it is better to say that a person is disabled, rather than ‘has a disability’. A small difference maybe, but it comes from the notion that people are just different, and are disabled by how society functions to only support the ‘able’, rather than because they ‘have’ something.
Again, these days I’d rather educate gently around these things, unless a short, sharp shock is called for. It’s better for people to learn these things right from the source, because they are interacting with real human beings, something we often forget in classrooms or online. And much as I hate to admit it, I realise I am getting to that age where it gets harder to keep up with our ever diversifying humanity, and know everything that’s potentially offensive. There’s only so much information going into my brain at this time of life.
My current struggle relates to gender and sexuality. For a while the prevailing acronym has been LGBT, for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender – so far, so straightforward, although technically the first three are sexuality and the last, sex, but that’s fine. Nowadays, we have LGBTIQA*. Getting friends to guess the last ones has been one of my pop quiz activities of late. For those who don’t know (I imagine that’s most people), I is intersex, Q is questioning (or queer, which is a catch all for the whole shebang) and A is asexual. I think the * is in case there is anything else missed. Adding non-binary gender would make it a bit too long.
While it doesn’t upset me that all these categories exist, I do sometimes find it hard to understand the differences between some of them and wonder why we need to be careful of ‘questioning’ for example. After all, isn’t that all young people? Maybe a few older ones too. I’m not sure how that means you get discriminated against, but I’m prepared to learn. When minority groups keep adding definitions and identities, the trouble is that other people tend to roll their eyes and get frustrated that they have more things to get their head around.
Tough shit, you might think. Their refusal to accept means they are part of the problem. Yes and no. People don’t always immediately understand all concepts that are new to the public consciousness. But they are usually receptive to being engaged in a civil and respectful manner, something that is typically lacking in exchanges on social media. And more than anything, it takes a bit of time.
There’s been a huge upturn in awareness of the everyday sexism agenda, as I’ve written about before. This frequently causes social media shitstorms, especially when there are articles making mountains out of molehills, creating offense at every last thing, even when it’s clear to most that none was intended. This only spurs on the misogynists, hate dripping from their keyboards. Except this is not a hate crime by law, when women are at the receiving end.
My point is not that we shouldn’t challenge hate and indeed the isms as they arise, of course we should. And people should respect diversity and understand where some of their learned beliefs came from. But maybe we should all stop being so damn precious and offended about every damn thing and then baying for blood on Twitter. It does exactly the opposite of educating people and gives the trolls the kicks they are seeking. And above all, free speech matters.
Stephen Fry might go a bit far in the quote above, but I like it. Let’s save our righteous fury and our energy for those that seek to offend, to hurt and abuse. There are plenty of them out there.
Until next time,