Quick note: sorry there aren’t illustrations. I actually can’t bring myself to draw pictures on the topic that this post is about.
Also, a warning: I swear quite a bit in this one.
So I am being a final year PhD student rather more than a blogger. I probably should’ve anticipated that. Anyway, no apologies for that, because you’ve probably got too much to read anyway, right? I did have a post all fired up and ready to go, but I keep going away, coming back, and finding I disagree with myself. Which is rather like how the entirety of the PhD has gone, come to think of it.
Meanwhile, this isn’t the promised screed about being in my fourth year and whatever. Rather, it’s super topical, because like 9o% of the internet right now this is a poorly-thought out post prompted by an Oscars ceremony I didn’t watch at the time (I live in England, and damned if I’m staying up for it. I watched clips the next morning, like a sane person). Obviously, because I am a human being with a brain, most of what happened at the Oscars pissed me off. I am extremely glad that I don’t have to explain this whole stupid media circus to any children/alien visitors who happened to land at a really unfortunate time because I do not know how I would explain the logic behind a whole heap of things, including why the Onion were pointlessly horrible and a bunch of mouth-breathers on the internet decided that this was fine because chucking hate-speech at little girls is ‘free speech’ , and why Anne Hathaway won one of the highest accolades of her profession but people were all like ‘waaaah she FAILED’ because the person who designed her dress put some unfortunately-placed darts in it. What the FUCK, humanity. You and me, we’re on a break.
Incidentally, I do not understand the desire to enlighten the world about the fact that you, Anonymous Internet Arsehole, dislike a particular famous person. Um, what? Why would we care? Why do you care? Did Anne Hathaway come round your house in her pink dress and graffiti obscenities all over the walls or something? Why do you have to share an opinion on her? Can’t you just watch her films or not watch her films (and share your opinions on her acting if you have to), but keep whatever issues you have with her looks, or the personality you assume she has, off the internet? If I ran the internet, I would institute this basic rule:
- Things you can write hateful screeds about: Objects. Foodstuffs. Systems. For example: ‘I really hate the Hammersmith and City line, because it’s always late’. ‘I hate drinking Bailey’s because I feel like a misbehaving babysitter’. Etc).
- Things you can’t write hateful screeds about: Actual people, or generalisations about people (e.g. ethnicities, genders, sexualities, nationalities, professions, etc). For example: ‘I hate all bankers’ (oh, great. Yes, look, an acceptable bogeyman. Tell me, sir or or madam, have you met everyone who works in, or for, a bank?). ‘Ugh, I really hate Jennifer Lawrence. I know everyone likes her but she’s really fake’ (WHAT THE SHIT, HONESTLY. Have you met her? Or, indeed, to take a different tack: Do you believe that, interviewed by the world’s media, you wouldn’t put on some form of social act? Do you believe that you don’t do this at work, or on the phone? Would you be at the Oscars scratching your arse through tracksuit bottoms?)
Anyway – again, because I am a human being with a brain – I was not impressed with bloody Seth McFarlane and his tiresome sexist shtick. I heartily recommend you read Lindy West’s Jezebel piece if you haven’t already because it’s fantastic, though obviously don’t scroll down into the flyblown post-apocalyptic wasteland of comments below. Seth McFarlane and his goddamn boobs song and joking that Jennifer Aniston used to be a stripper and argh.
I understand that McFarlane ‘does’ outrage, and that if he hadn’t everyone would have gone ‘They hired Seth McFarlane, and they got Billy Crystal!’ and thought they were really witty for saying it. But I’ve read funnier things carved into exam desks at secondary school. Really, I have. The exam desks at my school were decades-old palimpsests of stoner comedy genius. McFarlane’s comedy was of a level where my peers might have considered carving it on a desk, but eventually decided it wasn’t up to standard. And yes, mocking people is funny, but not ‘ha ha women and boobs right? Huh? They nag! They have boobs! George Clooney shags ’em!’ all blooming night. Someone should’ve reminded him that the Oscars celebrate women as well as men, and not just the two bits of their bodies that stick out from their chests.
Anyway, all these happy happy sexist lols reminded me of something that happened to me, a while ago. Once I was in a meeting with senior professional colleagues with whom I had recently started working, and one of them made a joke which implied I was a sex worker. Actually, it wasn’t dreadful. No-one else joined in or laughed. No-one made me present an award afterwards, or come in a week earlier to film a reaction shot, and no-one wrote snarky shit about my outfit in the next day’s newspaper. Some of my peers were there, and they were nice to me after the meeting ended.
I didn’t do anything about it, for better or worse. I didn’t want to rock the boat, and I got on alright with the man who made the comment who was, I imagine, thinking ‘Ha ha! A joke!’ rather than ‘Ha ha! Let’s oppress this person! Viva patriarchy!’ I remain unscarred by the experience. It didn’t make me feel unwelcome in that workplace, or in the profession.
HOWEVER. It shook me the fuck up. I didn’t say anything in the meeting, and afterwards I had to talk it through with my friends. I ain’t a wilting flower and I live in a city so I hear worse than it when I go to the shops, but it was so blindingly inappropriate that it made me feel, if only for twenty minutes or so, shit and embarrassed and shamed in front of people I respect. By someone I respect. Not because I thought he was being nasty, or because I thought anyone would think his joke referred to my actual life choices (incidentally: nothing wrong with being a sex worker, if that’s your uncoerced choice. It’s simply that it wasn’t an appropriate thing to say). But because he had the power and authority in that room, and I didn’t.
I don’t imagine I’ll attract any bleating ‘men’s rights’ folk to this blog, but I guess if some do show up, they might be going ‘but that’s not a gender thing! Men get put down and bullied too!’ right about now (actually, probably ‘what are you moaning about? Gawd woman it’s just a joke’. But go with me here). To which I’d reply, ‘Honey, I don’t think the man in question would have joked at the six-foot guy sitting next to me about the cheapness of his sexual services’. However, my imaginary men’s rights advocates aren’t exactly wrong. This is, as feminists are insanely fed up of telling people, about power and privilege. Sexist comments are one way to demonstrate that power and privilege, to put people in their place. What you get a lot, right now, as a woman, is constant and insidious reminders that you are essentially worth what a man will pay you for sex, complete with gleeful boastings that he got you on the cheap, or that he ‘saw your boobs’ as a free gift with a cinema ticket. When Seth McFarlane says these things with a microphone on a stage or a colleague says them in a meeting in which he (or she) holds the power they are demonstrating their ability to talk, and in doing so shape the means by which others are judged, and the inability of those others to answer back. Other examples of people abusing their power and privilege are also shit and should also not happen.
Essentially: if you have power over someone, if you can speak in situations where they can’t, or where they feel less comfortable speaking – don’t make nasty jokes about them. Don’t use your microphone or your pay packet or the letters after your name to be an arse to people without microphones, or with smaller pay packets, or with fewer letters after their name.
I mean, don’t be an arse to people anyway. Even if you really hate that one actress. Just get a flipping hobby or something.
Quick extra note: in case you now hate humanity, I have decided to put one picture at the end of this post. It is a picture of Captain Hastings from Poirot, which I drew ages ago. I don’t think I’ve posted it before. I’m putting it here because Hastings is brilliant and watching old-school Poirot is a good way to feel better about people. Aside from all the murder that happens, that is. Er. Anyway!