Wednesday, 26 January 2011


There have been some interesting ‘equality’ debates here recently.  One of them at least made the US press.  But a lot of tosh has been spoken and written about this incident too.  We seem to have lost the equilibrium we once had, where humour was humorous to all and was seen as humour, and where offence elicited apology, rather than legislation and punishment and mediaeval public shaming.  I am not at all defending the two useless prehistoric commentators, but subjecting them to a retraining programme would seem to be more useful to society than burning them at the stake.
I confess I am not yet enamoured of female football commentators.  I heard one commentating on a cup game recently and I would like to listen to her again.  But all the others I have heard simply annoy me.  It’s not just that the timbre of the voice is wrong, but there is something that sounds phoney in a women being enthusiastic about a football match.  I keep waiting for her to make a sarcastic comment.
OK, that’s me probably sexist too.  But, like the viewers who prefer young female newsreaders, it’s just what soothes my soul and holds my interest.  And it is significant that we do seem to prefer huskier voices from female presenters and news readers. But surely no one objects to seeing persons of different sex or race in any role these days.
The sexist commentators were probably joking and maybe even being ironic, though I’m not sure either of them is that clever, and many people have since tried to dismiss this banter as ‘laddish’ or the female outcry as ‘overly sensitive’.  But wasn’t this the same argument men used to use in the office when they hung up Playboy calendars and pin-ups or smacked their secretaries on the bottom? 
Now, I’ve been careful to avoid suggesting anything about presenters’ sexuality, though several popular radio presenters are gay and nearly every gay celeb you’ve heard of is now hosting a show  (and the two dinosaurs were probably trying to tell us something about their sexuality too).  This post isn’t about sexuality; it’s about customer satisfaction.  The reason that so many camp men rise to prominence in the broadcast media (OK, it’s also probably something to do with artistic natures and creativity), is because we, as the listening public, like their voices.  I accept that there are deep, masculine voices in the media that set hearts a-flutter and probably a few shrill ladies’ voices that are liked too, but the fact remains – the male and female voices that please us most (or displease us least) are somewhere around the middle of the spectrum.  It’s the same as us preferring middle class dramas, but that’s a whole nother post sometime.
We have already had the recent Countryfile case.  It’s the same argument – we just don’t so much like older presenters in certain roles these days.  Why should the BBC be branded ageist for telling her that?  There are plenty of other programmes where we quite like the gravitas of older totty.  I suppose I can’t call them that either now.
One of the problems these days is that we have lost the freedom to joke without being branded something awful under some equality law.  Moreover, the sensitivity of minorities has been stimulated by do-gooders, campaigning societies and media, and cynical solicitors (offering to seek compensation).  There was a lady in the news the other day for winning a compensation claim against her employers for unfair dismissal on the grounds of discrimination.  It turned out she had never worked for more than a few months anywhere and this was her third or fourth successful claim.  I’m sure there must be others like her who live on the proceeds of equality legislation.  But the main problem is of course that times have changed.
The recent case of a Christian B&B losing their discrimination case is a case in point.  This was not so much a conflict between religion and sexuality as an elderly couple failing to keep up with the times and modern law.  There is no point referring back to pre-war morals or what your Mum told you; it will be laughed at today and, if campaigning gays or blacks or Muslims are involved, you will probably be victimised and pilloried too.  The law against bullying by minorities is a somewhat off-white area.
The Race Relations Act was designed to stamp out racism of the kind that causes conflict.  But of course it, and other such equality laws, now serve mostly to highlight the differences between us. 
And the ludicrous aspects of the Race Relations Act recently came to light with the statistics for racism and homophobia in primary schools.  I have news for whoever decided to start this exercise – kids in primary school are some of the most vicious and cruel humans on the planet.  They will so quickly spot weaknesses or differences in their classmates and so quickly join with the majority against the minority.  This is the start of bullying and it must be nipped in the bud and the kids firmly taught what is right.  But, I’m really sorry, very young kids have no idea what racism or homophobia is and branding them as bigots for the rest of their lives helps no one.
If parents can’t do the job, that sort of life training is surely what teachers should be doing.  Not passively recording dubious discriminatory acts. 
There are evolutionary traits still in the human being that will manifest themselves from time to time.  We will all, at least once in our life, say ‘that fat woman’ or that ‘bloody Chinese bloke’ or hit out to assert our masculinity or femininity or say that we prefer to look at or listen to someone or other.  But is labelling these outbursts useful?  I am so happy that we do not now have to prove our superiority in the workplace by any means other than mental ability.  And I am pleased that we now recognise that teasing might also offend and be considered bullying or harassment (though a recent study found that men are programmed to tease in relationships more than women).  But the workplace would be a dire and thankless environment if we couldn’t use humour at all.  The current trend in stand-up humour seems to be reviving the old form of insult in the name of humour.  Maybe that will help to break down these new barriers, though it doesn’t make me more comfortable.
We can only discriminate against someone if their difference is pointed out to us.  If the differences don’t matter, the insults don’t matter either.  I just hope we can find equilibrium soon.

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