My boyfriend’s got a new radio, and we’ve got into the habit of listening to it as we drift off to sleep. The other night we picked a station that was just talking, but unfortunately the DJ’s views were so bigoted that I was kept awake by irritation. One of the things he said was that Nicola Sturgeon was ‘only given the job of leader of the SNP because of reverse sexism’.
I don’t claim to know anything about Nicola Sturgeon, or her ability to do her job, but I found this statement particularly galling not only because of what was said but because of who it was that was saying it and how he had decided to express it. Firstly, it’s ‘positive discrimination’, not ‘reverse sexism’. If he REALLY means ‘reverse sexism’ he’s saying that a woman having a position of power is sexist to men… REALLY?
It reminds me of a Ted talk by Michael Kimmel in which he describes being on a show called ‘A Black Woman Stole My Job’, in which several angry white men spoke about situations in which they went for jobs they were qualified for that in the end were given to someone else. When it was his turn to speak, he questioned a word in the title of the show: ‘my’, and asked ‘Where did you get the idea it was your job?’
He goes on to say that
‘White men… are the beneficiaries of the single greatest affirmative action programme in the history of the world, it is called… The history of the world.’
Ian Collins is a radio DJ, who happens to be white and male. I say ‘happens’, but really, his kind are grossly over represented in the media, so you could say, it’s not a co-incidence. You could say, he got the job because of patriarchy; because of actual discrimination and actual sexism. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, but here he is, throwing stones. I have no wish to hate on white males, some of my best friends are white males, but if you’re going to be completely oblivious to the obvious benefits of the system you receive and then go even further and act so definitively entitled to them to the extent that you’re claiming anyone NOT like you shouldn’t really be there, then I have a problem with that. In fact, I already hate you.
I went to the LBC website to look at their presenters. There were 19 in all, and only 4 of those were women. Of those 4 women, only 1 had more than 1 slot a week: the other 3 had only a 2 or 3 hour show. In a week. That means, that female DJs make up only 21% of their on-air staff, but if you work it out in hours, in the 168hrs that there are in the week, only 21 are hosted by women. That makes 12.5%.
12.5% representation is terrible. But sadly, normal.
London is one of the most racially diverse cities in the world, and London based LBC which claims to be ‘Leading Britain’s Conversation’ has only one presenter who isn’t white – Maajid Nawaz, who is British, born to a British Pakistani family. He is on air for 6hrs a week, or just 3.5% of the time. That leaves 84% of the airtime to white men. In the 2011 census, the white population of London was recorded as just 44%. If we said half of those were men (despite statistics showing women outnumber men by almost 1 million) that would be 22%. So even though white men make up only (at most) 22% of London’s population, LBC gives them 84% of the airtime. So you can see why Ian Collins’ claim that Nicola Sturgeon only got her job because of sexism pissed me off.
And while I usually notice these things and feel disappointed, I don’t feel the need to point out the privilege of the presenters until they go onto the glass roof of their stupid glass house and start throwing bricks around.
Deborah Frances-White in her podcast The Guilty Feminist says:
‘If you were an alien in space watching television trying to learn about the human race, you would make an assumption… that 98.5% of the human race were straight white men – that would be a reasonable assumption, and then there were some stranger outliers who were allowed to sit and watch and laugh at those straight white men’s jokes, occasionally punctuating… Now here’s the reality though. Women are over 50% of the population, and of men, there are men of colour and LGBT. So, white straight men are a minority… And it’s great that that minority is given so much air time. No, that’s lovely, because they are a minority, and it’s important to put minorities on the television. But maybe, sometimes, it would also be nice to perhaps have people on the television that reflected the whole audience… the majority, it would be nice if the majority were allowed on television.’ (Episode 9, Representation)
In a world where 84% of the heard voice is a white man’s, White Man (and the non represented others) begin to see his voice as the default, the only one of value, the most important, the entitled to speak. Studies show that even though women speak less in group discussions, we think they speak more. Somaya Chemaly writes that ‘we are socialized to think women talk more. Listener bias results in most people thinking that women are hogging the floor when men are actually dominating.‘ It is women who are seen to be prattlers, chatterboxes and gossips (an effective way to silence this group).
I’ve noticed a backlash against this new focus on straight white men, as if this sudden spotlight were a cruel attack. ‘NOT ALL MEN!’ after all, are responsible for their voice being the loudest. Ian Collins himself says you can’t be a straight white man these days – they’re the ones these days who are ridiculed and disrespected. A consequence of White Man being the usual/normal voice, it feels like bullying when it is pointed out, injustice when it is taken away, or when steps are made to equalise the playing field. What have white men ever done to you!?
‘When you have privilege, equality feels like oppression’
It isn’t a cruel attack, it isn’t bullying. Nobody hates white men. It would be impossible to hate them, they’re everywhere. They are hosting our talk shows and panel shows and news broadcasts. They are managing our big companies and leading our countries. They are starring in our films and the main characters in all our stories. They are our Robin Williamses and our Steve Martins. Our Brad Pitts and our George Clooneys. Our Dr Who’s, Sherlock Holmes, our Monty Pythons and South Park characters and creators. And they have 84% of airtime on LBC. We love these white men, but we don’t need to see them as white men. Because their voice is the standard one we just see them as people, humans, heroes. Did anyone notice the sexes of the original Ghostbusters until it was decided to make a new one with an all female cast? Michael Kimmel uses an example. When he looks in the mirror, he sees a person. When a woman looks in the mirror, she sees a woman. When a black woman looks in the mirror, she sees a black woman, because ‘privilege is invisible to those that have it.’
It is a privilege to not have to see yourself in the category society has ascribed to you.
So, it is not an attack on white men. It is mere pointing out of gender and colour, as our gender/ethnicity has been continually pointed out to those of us who aren’t white or male.
Michael Kimmel says
‘making gender visible to men is the first step to engaging men to support gender equality’
I remember a comedy audition I went to. My male friends had been given the job (without auditioning), and they were now looking for women (which is at least a start). After the audition the producer looked at us and said ‘but what have you got to say about being women?’ He went on to say that while men were able to talk about politics and philosophy and current affairs etc, the thing we could add was our experience as women. This is all too common a trap – we had gone up acting as humans, believing, arrogantly, that we were complex human beings capable of delivering rounded characters, but what he really wanted was for us to do was perform as women. The only arena available to us was womanhood, as that was the only arena the men hadn’t already got covered. We didn’t get the job, but if you are a white man, consider; would you want the job if the only thing you were allowed to talk about was your experience specifically of being a white man? What if the main voice in our society was a black woman’s, and there were TV shows where incredulous black women ranted about white men like you that had ‘stolen’ their jobs? Wouldn’t it make you angry?
‘without confronting men’s sense of entitlement I don’t think we’ll ever understand why so many men resist gender equality’
So, Ian Collins, I hope you get my point. I don’t care that you are a straight, white man, though it disappoints me that the world is inflicted with your narrow-mindedness. What I want you to see is how ridiculous you look in your little glass house, mouthing off about Nicola Sturgeon getting the job because of sexism, without once realising how hypocritical that makes you.
Sturgeon is the 14th Leader of the SNP and the only ever female to have got the job. She is the fifth First Minister of Scotland, and the only ever female to have got the job. You, on the other hand, are amongst the over represented 84%.
Let me ask you this: do you think you would have your job if you were not white? Do you think you would have your job if you were a woman? And what if you were a woman of colour? You would be the first one on LBC. Don’t you think you would have to have been impossibly impressive in interview? Do you even think you would have got to the interview stage? Nope, me neither.
If I had to guess who got their job fairly, based on merit and nothing else, I’d wager it was her, not you.