Well, I seem to have stirred up a wee bit of a hornet’s nest with my post on Diane Abbott yesterday. I still think that, in the scheme of things, her one tweet, while ill judged, was not the end of the world. In fact, as James Graham pointed out, an opportunity to point out a few things about how power elites work was lost.
Where it comes to racism, or suspected racism, it seems we have a very low tolerance threshold. And that’s right, to be fair. People shouldn’t be castigated for the colour of their skin. End of.
If we accept that principle, then we must also accept that discrimination on the grounds of gender or sexuality should be equally unacceptable.
You would think, then, that examples of sexism or homophobia would stir up the same sort of froth. Sadly, they don’t.
I wasted two hours of my life watching the Celebrity Big Brother launch show on Channel 5. This was not because I wanted to, but because I know that this is what my daughter’s friends are going to be talking about for the next 3 weeks and I wanted to have a look at the sort of messages they will be getting.
We have to look at this in the whole context of the messages young people grow up with. If they happen to watch the news, or Question Time, they’ll most likely see male dominated panels discussing the issues of the day.
If they watch the X Factor, they’ll see the male judges being talked about in terms of their careers and achievements while the women are talked about in terms of whether they get on or not or what they’re wearing.
If they open the Sun newspaper, they’ll see a picture of a half naked woman as if that’s what women are for, for men to gawp at.
They’ll see a plethora of media articles castigating women for being too fat, or too thin. Stepping outside your house without make up on is treated as though it is a crime.
Whole industries have sprung up around telling women that they need various treatments in order to be acceptable to men, from depilation to facelifts to boob jobs. The merest sign of a wrinkle turns people into a pariah and the porn industry treat having sex with fat women as some sort of fetish. Most bizarrely, women are now being told they need cosmetic surgery on their vaginas. I loved the idea of the “Muff March” against this practice which took place in Harley Street last month.
So, if you’re a young girl, if you don’t have anyone telling you different, you’d grow up thinking men rule the world and women aren’t good enough on their own and have to spend their lives constantly changing their appearance to be acceptable.
Then, like most your age, you decide to watch Celebrity Big Brother. You see one male contestant, who’s already boasted about having the names of 7 women he slept with during one holiday tattooed on his bum and who’s already been booted off a talent show for taking drugs, talk about how he’d happily have a “sh*g” in the house. Is it not pretty distasteful to talk about sexual partners as pretty much disposable receptacles? Especially when a woman who talked in the same way about men would be branded as a harlot and castigated by the Daily Fail.
And then we have the female contestants. There are 7 women in that house. Four of them are glamour models. What does that tell you about the agenda of Channel 5 owner Richard Desmond? Another is only there because she had an affair with her brother in law who happens to be a footballer.
Obviously as a liberal, I’m not in favour of banning this sort of stuff, but I do think it needs to be challenged because it is holding girls back. Our sexist, image obsessed culture puts so much pressure on young girls and women and stops them from fulfilling their potential as human beings. It puts them under financial pressure too – how can you get the “perfect” body if you’re in a minimum wage job.
Speaking to young people, they tell me that racism is taken extremely seriously at their schools, yet sexist, homophobic and disablist comments are just left. That can’t be right.
Celebrity Big Brother concentrates so much that is really obnoxious and repulsive about our culture. We really should take a lot more notice of where our kids get their role models and ideas about life from.
Racism, or even the merest suggestion of it, sends us into a frenzy, but we seem to be immune to crass and unadulterated sexism on our tv screens. These two events, taking place within a few hours of each other, just shows how far we have to go to achieve a liberal society where people truly are free from conformity.
Jo Swinson this week urged advertisers to think what they were doing in terms of the messages they were giving young people. I think she should also turn her attention to tv companies and talk to them about the messages they are sending out.