“It’s not sexist, it’s a statement against political correctness” aka don’t mess with my male privilege

// 30 January 2009

Not page 3 models but Cllr David Taylor Councillor David Taylor (Nottinghamshire County Council) has put up a soft porn calendar on his office wall. The office being that of his official county council offices, just for clarity. His reasoning is that it’s a political statement against political correctness. He apparently takes it down when he has visitors. He says a man should be allowed to put whatever he likes up in his own office.

Now here we go with logical flaws you can drive a coach and horses through at high speed:

1. it’s not “his” office, it belongs to the council which will have regulations about what can and can’t be displayed (and probably about use of bluetack v drawing pins and similar too). They own the walls, they can make the rules. He’s an elected employee (effectively) and just like the rest of us may chafe against some rules of our employers but we’re stuck with them.

2. If it’s such a grand statement why doesn’t he stick to his guns and keep it up all the time? Why is it external visitors get special treatment but the men and women he works with are deemed less important?

3. How exactly doe this challenge “political correctness” and what does he mean by that? Does he mean he has a right to bigotry at the absolute exclusion of anyone elses right to safety and security? Would he agree it was OK to display a poster saying “sexually exploit all white middle class elected representatives?” Or a poster celebrating lynchings in the US? Or a poster demonstrating D-I-Y castrations? I suspect not but he’s a special person who demands special privileges because he feels impinged upon because he can’t freely flaunt his bigotry.

4. What purpose is he putting this calendar to? What reasoning does he have for a soft porn calendar? OK so it will tell him the date but does he think his visitors want a quick spell of arousal (if they relate to the sorts of airbrushed images they portray) when they come to talk to him about sewerage or planning permissions or the rates of sexual violence in the County? More to the point is he prepared to accept that he has no grounds on which to complain about any blokes with obvious erections in his office from now on? No matter how uncomfortable that might make him (if he can’t take it as a homosocial bonding moment obviously). Does he think it makes him look cool or edgy or “making a stand”, ‘cos to me it makes him look like a rather sad middle aged white bigot with a penchant for surgically altered models with their tits out and trust me, that’s not a good look.

I choose the posters on my office wall to make it look nicer, to inform people of things like demo’s or helpful development sessions, to challenge people (sometimes) and sometimes to make people think. For the record I have a poster from a Suffregette exhibition, some funny postcards around a variety of issues, three abstract paintings by a school-aged friend and, eventually when I get round to putting it up, a Peter’s projection map. I turned down a poster which could be taken as promoting smoking (advice from a 1960s teenage magazine) because I felt that was not acceptable in my workplace.

For me, here’s what this story amounts to – “Hands off my male privilege” or, more fully, “I am a white, middle class man and I feel having to be aware of the needs and feelings of others, even where they represent a basic human need, is just curtailing my right to use my privilege wherever I see fit and if you complain about it you’re trying to deny my rights and police my behaviour”. Oh and a cheap excuse for the Daily Mail to publish some more topless shots just in case any readers didn’t know what women’s boobies looked like.

Here’s a thing, raving against “political correctness” is a tactic designed by those with privilege to deny the right to complain about demeaning behaviours. I’ve had it in face to face settings where I’ve pointed up some racism, sexist, heteronormative or transphobic comment and I’ve got back “That’s just political correctness gone mad”. The implication being I can’t possibly believe in the rights of these “others”, I’m just trying to be trendy or evil or something. Here’s the rub – I really do believe in anti-oppressive speech and action and to anyone who claims its just PC gone mad I make this point – they are saying they prefer oppressive speech and action.

You know I kind of like it when it’s turned around…..I mean it’s just oppressiveness gone mad to claim the right to oppress others without any criticism or comeback. It’s demeaning my right to live in an atmosphere of responsibility to others and to act in accordance with what is socially just even when it’s personally challenging. How can we challenge this backlash madness and make them see that my right to life without fear and without having to waste my time calling out oppression take precendence over their rhetoric of individual bigotry? Why is it they just don’t understand that I don’t care that they feel aggreived, it’s my right to live in an atmosphere of mutual respect because that’s what I’ve worked for.

So, my question today, lovely readers, is how do we (or how do you) challenge this sort of pro-oppression nonsense….?

Comments From You

Laura // Posted 30 January 2009 at 3:17 pm

Great post! One final flaw in his logic you failed to point out, but which hit me when railing against this with my father yesterday:

So, those who complain against PC-gone-mad tend to hark back to a ‘golden age’ (say 1950s) when you could call people all sorts of offensive words (see anything spoken by the Duke of Edinburgh for examples) without people ‘misinterpreting’ them and calling you racist/sexist/homophobe/transphobe/etc. But in this bygone era when everyone respected your right to use whatever term you chose, women knew their place, and gay people were where they belonged – in prison – would it have been acceptable to put a picture of naked women in your office? Obviously not.

Is anyone else ever struck by the irony that the people aggressively asserting their right to express themselves by insulting anyone around them are the same as those who complain about the breakdown in manners among the younger generation?

On a more serious note, I think that we need to stop using the term ‘political correctness’ as it is too closely associated with ‘PC-gone-mad’, and try to highlight that most ‘PC’ language and actions (not calling people offensive words, not putting offensive calendars in your office) are just plain good manners. Obviously we need to point out that it’s sexist, but I’ve had better results with friends and acquaintances that like to tout their un-PC credentials by saying ‘that’s rude and sexist’ rather than just ‘that’s sexist’ – It’s a bit tautological (if it’s sexist, obviously it’s rude), but I think adding ‘that’s rude’ highlights why we have the idea of PC language in the first place. And hey, whatever works!

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 30 January 2009 at 3:51 pm

The phrase ‘political correctness’ was invented by anti-feminists and males who believe it is their unadulturated ‘right’ to continue enacting their white, male, heterosexual privilege over predominantly women and ‘others’ who are not ‘white/male/heterosexual.

I always ask is it acceptable for these individuals to use racist/homophobic language? Is it acceptable to insult men in general? The answers are always no. I then ask are not women human too and it is all women’s right to be treated with dignity and respect. It certainly makes the offender think of ways to excuse his (sic) behaviour and think of ways of justifying his (sic) actions. Political correctness? Euphemism for misogyny.

Giuseppe // Posted 30 January 2009 at 4:50 pm

What has his skin colour got to do with it?

Laurel Dearing // Posted 30 January 2009 at 5:16 pm

@ guiseppe

its just another point of general privilege in our society, and also they usually are the ones complaining that racial slurs arent allowed and that people dont stand up enough for their rights while challenging PCs worth. often when offered the chance to defend their class, race, gender as others defend theirs they dont really see it as a problem. its not to say others or all are responsible for this attitude, more where the benefits lie.

Louise Livesey // Posted 30 January 2009 at 5:16 pm

Great question Guiseppe.

Basically the convention of writing “white, heterosexual, middle class male” arises out of critiques by women of colour and working class feminists about the lack of recognition around differential power experienced by men of colour and working class populations. It accepts that at the “pinaccle” of the power structure is the white, heterosexual, middle class man and all others have lesser power available to them – it demonstrates the privileges available.

This form of commentary also acknowledges that racism, heteronormativity and classism are not divorced from gender oppression but intimately related, and also the gender oppression is not devoid of other forms of discrimination but often form a nexus of thought for those who reject women’s rights to equality.

Does that help?

aimee // Posted 30 January 2009 at 5:27 pm

I absolutely hate it when people decry political correctness. Political Correctness is necessary because of those very people! The people who will take any opportunity to marginalise a minority group (or in the case of women… not a minority group, just an opressed one) are the very people who complain about political correctness.

I imagine that political correctness would not be necessary if people could stop being arseholes to eachother and demeaning certain identified groups for a change!…

For example, the term for what is now called “additional needs” has changed… oh countless times! In fact I don’t even know how many times. Why? Because as soon as a new term comes into use, it is immediately snapped up as derogatory… as an insult! And then those self same people who are going round calling eachother “retards” and “gay” are the very people who complain about political correctness. I just wanna say to them “aww, you can’t excercise your right to demean people you feel aren’t worthy of a certain amount of respect? Aww poor you! It’s PC gone mad!”…

Laura // Posted 30 January 2009 at 5:29 pm

re. Jennifer – fair point, had no idea of the origins of the term. However, I think my point still stands – highlighting the rudeness of offensive language rather than (or as well as) its offensiveness makes it far harder for people to dismiss you as over-sensitive.

Serian // Posted 30 January 2009 at 5:48 pm

What’s more depressing though are some of the comments that have been written…


Rachael // Posted 30 January 2009 at 5:55 pm

Oh dear god! I Live in Nottingham and now I am ashamed of our councillors. I may be writing a letter about this one! Not that I vote Tory anyway – but good grief!!

Louise Livesey // Posted 30 January 2009 at 6:03 pm

Great comment over at Dolly Mix on the same story which concludes with this which made me laugh out loud!

Really though, If Councillor Taylor really wanted to make some protest against ‘people telling him what to do’ – a slightly bizarre grudge to harbour for a man who’s gone into local government – I’d suggest he man up and paper his office walls with Penthouse, or better still go swing his member of parliament around Nottingham City Centre and see what the ‘PC’ brigade have to say about that.

zohra // Posted 30 January 2009 at 11:06 pm

Ace post Louise, made my day.

Anne Onne // Posted 31 January 2009 at 12:32 pm

Really good explanation of why this is neither original nor much of a stand.

I wanna ask this guy: Why? Just why do some men feel they need pictures of naked women everywhere? Scared you’ll catch TEH GHEY? Really? Scared that unless you look at the pictures non-stop to remind you that you like women (well, to you that’d be the sex objects with the tits and all), your testes will shrivel away? Because I really think this boils down to being afraid of having your power taken away, and believing that your only power lies in proving that you’re a heterosexual, ‘red-blooded’ male.

A place of work (unless you work from home) is a public space, not a private one. You don’t own the space, you don’t get to decide who walks in, and you don’t get to decide what the rules are. You sit there, do your work, and may be lucky enough to be allowed personal effects there, so long as they don’t contravene policy. Now, there are plenty of personal effects that would be deemed fine by most work places, so the implication that this is somehow stifling his creative expression of his inner soul is rather overblown. No workplace guarantees the right to pornographic or sexual images present.

It’s NOT appropriate to expose those working around you to material which they are likely to find offensive, and in this case it assumes that everyone is attracted to conventionally attractive female glamour models. What about the gay men and heterosexual women (a group who together outnumber heterosexual men, let alone the ‘look at me, I have a dick!’ dudes)? Do they get to put up pictures of naked men for their delectation? I bet not.

I just can’t see why there is any need for sexual material in a place of work, (unless someone is doing sex work or works in a porn shop ot sex toy shop etc). What is the point? You planning on wanking your way through the workday? If he is, then that alone is a good enough reason for his employers to ban them: keeping workers er, focused on the job…

Sexual material is unnecessary at work, and someone complaining because they’re not allowed to post pictures of naked people everywhere they go are really, really childish.

Besides, doesn’t having sexual material everywhere just kind of take the fun out of actually being attracted to such material? God knows that if someone sees so much porn every day, all day, they must get rather used to it. No, it’s just about proving you’re a manly man’s man, and making everyone else unconfortable.

That reminds me, I saw them talk about this on The Wright Stuff (I know, morning TV, stuff of nightmares…) and the women on the show made it very clear that they were used to it, so didn’t mind it. One of them seemed baffled why any women would be offended, wondering how women could be offended by women’s bodies. *eyeroll*

Er, no. We’re not offended by seeing women’s bodies (assuming they’re not distorted out of physical plausibility by Photoshop), we’re offended at the in-our-face reminder every time we walk into someone’s office that our kind are nothing more than wank-fodder, that our purpose is as a decoration, and that such people don’t see anything impolite about posting up pictures of our naked bodies in front of us, as if to remind us that they spend most of their time fantasising about degrading us.

Bringing your sexuality to work makes you less trustworthy in the eyes of those who meet you there, because it implies you can’t separate sexuality from your work. If someone can, then why the insistence to bring sex to their work? It implies a lack of professionalism. I would not respect a councillor (or anyone) who posts up such material in the workplace If I were to consult them, because they would clearly have no inkling of politeness or courtesy regarding sexual material. I would believe they care more about sexual gratification or improving their image among the lads than doing their job, and I certainly wouldn’t trust someone who puts such things above their work, during the work day.

Even if he takes it down when vistitors come, his underlings still need to be exposed to it, which could make them uncomfortable. The characature of the sleazy boss with page 3 girls all over his office should be a world away from a representative of the government.

I’m not implying that a councillor shouldn’t have any sexual urges, but that sexual material has no place in the workplace, particularly in the council. How can he be an example of a good worker and good councillor if he spends half his time taking up and putting down smutty calendars?

Men aren’t acutally seen as inherently sexual and vulnerable by society, so topless pictures of men don’t carry the same impact as topless or naked pictures of women. So if such people insist they want their naked women everywhere, or say I shouldn’t be offended, let’s see how they’d fare if there were naked, sexualised men. I bet a lot of male workers would be scandalised, because seeing the male figure objectified (apart from being assumed to be homosexual, because of course women can’t enjoy that!) wouldn’t go down well with them.

I can’t imagine doing the equivalent of what he’s doing, because I think sexual material in a workplace can other people feel uncomfortable (something to be avoided, unless you’re a real arse), and I believe not grinding one’s sexual preferences in other people’s faces is a mark of maturity.

I’d really, really like to see someone plaster his office with naked men. Heh.

Jonni // Posted 1 February 2009 at 12:34 pm

Today really does seem to be a day for trashing political correctness, so much so I had to write about it: http://jonnigirl.wordpress.com/2009/02/01/political-correctness/

Two similar things in one day is really a bit worrying.

Clare // Posted 1 February 2009 at 1:29 pm

Issues of exploitation aside, having a pornographic calendar at work is just downright unprofessional full stop. His employees and colleagues should complain to his superior and members of the public should feel free to write to the council to complain too. He does not have a right to put anything in the workplace, he has a right to put it up in his own home which is where he should have left it.

Roxsie // Posted 1 February 2009 at 5:35 pm

I’m sorry but this has been blown out of proportion. I got the facts from my dad who actually works with this guy at the council.

A local journalist was there for a normal interview, spotted the calender and then wrote an article claiming it was a political statement. This was due to the original story being considered boring. Then it was picked up by the nationals and is suddenly a big scandal.

Kez // Posted 2 February 2009 at 12:30 pm

But Roxsie, isn’t such a calendar a little, ah, inappropriate in the office of an elected official?

Whatever his motivations for putting up the calendar, the fact that it’s there at all seems newsworthy.

Louise Livesey // Posted 2 February 2009 at 12:46 pm

I don’t understand what you mean here by “blown out of proportion”. A local journalist broke a story, a national paper picked it up – that’s what happens. The Councillor in question has repeated that it’s meant as a political statement against political correctness.

The question here isn’t how has the story been picked up but why does he think this is OK?

Cara // Posted 2 February 2009 at 12:52 pm

Anne Onne: ‘Scared that unless you look at the pictures non-stop to remind you that you like women’

These guys don’t like women.

(I know that isn’t what you meant – just being pedantic :-))

But, hells yeah. WHAT? There is no right to put any kind of poster, calendar etc. up at work. It’s a workplace!

And *sigh* enough of middle-aged middle-class white men thinking they are just sooo cool and edgy for being ‘un-PC’.

Like Laura said, PC is just basic consideration for others, you know, *not* being a bigoted moron.

Rachael // Posted 2 February 2009 at 1:03 pm

I read the comments of the poeple on the Daily Mail site – the ones who are openly praising this man’s behaviour – and I sent my own comment. Basically saying that it was disgraceful.

I sent it on Saturday…and guess what? It has not been posted on the site!!!! It was not offensive – just annoyed. Shows really just how the Daily Mail supports this councillor and that anyone who disagrees, is ignored.

So I warn anyone here who tries to post an alternative viewpoint on the site…don’t expect to see it.

polly styrene // Posted 2 February 2009 at 1:24 pm

How should this be challenged? Legally. Anyone who is offended by the calendar who is employed by the council should put in a grievance. It could fall under sex discrimination, or possibly even religious discrimination – members of some religions could be offended by open display of these images. if it’s not removed, go to an employment tribunal.

Aimee // Posted 2 February 2009 at 4:45 pm

Rachel – I’ve posted countless responses to horrible articles on the Mail website. They’ve never been posted either. Apparently they don’t like opinions that differ from theirs.

Rachael // Posted 2 February 2009 at 8:33 pm

Thanks for that Aimee! Don’t think I will bother again then! Was going to write an angry e-mail about it – but hardly think they will reply! Thanks for not letting my waste my time further!

Princess Rot // Posted 2 February 2009 at 9:09 pm

Shorter David Taylor: “My wang, my wang, my precious, precious wang.”

Sorry for the immaturity, but that’s what it really boils down to.

polly styrene // Posted 3 February 2009 at 7:50 am

Can I suggest that since this is a conservative councillor anyone who wants to object e-mails David Cameron?


Bartholomew // Posted 3 February 2009 at 12:28 pm

Presumably he’s been watching too many of those free Life on Mars DVDs given away with the Sun last week and was overcome with nostalgia. Imagine walking into his office and realising he’s just been leering over breasts in private – not a nice thought, especially if he gets up to shake hands.

Kez // Posted 3 February 2009 at 12:57 pm

Second Polly’s suggestion to e-mail Cameron.

I’m going to do that right now.

George // Posted 3 February 2009 at 1:13 pm

Bartholomew – lol!

I really don’t understand how he felt like he could get away with it. I work for my local LEA (which is obviously part of the council) and there is no way in hell that you would ever, ever see images like that on our office walls. Posters entitled “Every Child Matters” and promotions for healthy living, perhaps, but Page 3 boobs?! I wonder what sort of overall atmosphere there is in that workplace, and I hope that this is a complete anomaly rather than a symptom of dubious conduct or beliefs.

As for Louise’s point, I completely agree. Think it’s PC gone mad? Then you really have just admitted to being a bigot – well done you.

Roxsie // Posted 3 February 2009 at 1:27 pm

By blown out of proportion i mean it was already being raised as an issue within the council. The newspaper’s picking it up has made it into an anti-PC stand to the result that the Sun is giving free calanders to Nttm CC employees and are arranging a ceremony to present the councillor with a new calander, given of course by page 3 girls.

If it had not been blown out of proportion normal council procedure would have been followed and that calander would be down by now.

Aimee // Posted 3 February 2009 at 4:03 pm

Roxie!? Is that true? That’s gross. Ugh. I can just imagine those vile bigots at the sun ushering their topless girlies about and congratulating Taylor and eachother for being disgusting, lecherous, leering bigots. Bleugh.

Kez // Posted 3 February 2009 at 4:39 pm

Urgh, isn’t that just typical of the Sun, to make it into some kind of revolting self-promoting crusade.

I understand what you mean now about it being blown out of proportion.

Shell // Posted 3 February 2009 at 5:21 pm

Aimee exactly…. isn’t going THIS far about it sexism?

Saying it’s PC gone too far is one thing, but starting campaigns about it just screams a cry for male privilege. ‘How dare you suggest women shouldn’t be wank objects in a local council.’ is bad. And campaigning actively and vigorously that they should be?!! It’s sexism with a very thin ‘anti PC’ shroud.

The Sun and its proud ushering of eighteen year old topless girls need to know where to go.

John Gilliam // Posted 20 February 2010 at 6:59 pm

I’ve been in the U.S. Merchant Marine since 1980, and I can with complete honesty assert that of the 150 or so various ships I’ve worked on from short relief jobs to full four month stints,… that sexism, homophobia, and to a lesser degree racism have always been been the norm in the maritime environment, though since the 90s’ I attribute the advent of lawsuit-induced anti-harassment campaigns ( origionally “kick-started” by the sexual harassment case depicted in the film “North Country”) for mitigating such socially corrosive behavior in the workplace first here in the U.S., and thence worldwide. Being a “normal” acting/appearing individual of bi-sexual orientation always loath to even have homosexuality become a topic for discussion aboard ship ( Almost always it being in a very negative context by these guys…), it still would always affect me adversely as, over the years, one could find oneself confiding in an ostensibly open minded and friendly co-worker, and well,… word DOES get around, and often the mere suspicion of some shipmates that I was anything less than impeccably hetero-sexual would induce a shipmate/s to try to “run me off” the ship. Hostility can run the gamut from mere snideness, and/or prying questioning, to actively working to sabotage ones’ career. Indulging in this manner of active bigotry would seem, so far, to have been a mostly “feel good” endeavour on their part, as after 30 years, though such bigots won some transient victories, I’ve never gratified their desire for gaining the ultimate prize of running me out of the industry entirely. Though there IS the Union, such union officials are at best ambivalent, and, in my long experience, actaully just as homophobic as these shipboard fellows. Even though harassment has come more and more to encompass “Sexual orientation” in shipping companies policies, I recognize that in the “Real World” ship-board environment, that it is, in an operative sense, mere flaccid posturing with an eye towards covering their “legal tails.” THE salient point is that if a company REALLY takes seriously its’ responsibility to maintain a tolerant, bigotry-free work environment for its’ employees, they would’nt have the anti-harassment policy merely buried in pre-employment paperwork, but “pro-actively” POSTED, in no uncertain terms, in posters mounted in the shipboard living spaces, as daily reminders to the more obtuse crewmembers amongst the ships’ company that bigotry, in whatever manifestation, will not be tolerated, but precisely, and unequivocally so, ESPECIALLY in condemnation of those bigotries that (even yet) are the most prevelant. Homophobia is amongst the most prone towards being indulged in with a sense of impunity. Posters on the wall, as well as other pro-acive measures (That have “teeth.”), would be the only “non-cynical” way for a company to legitimately handle these issues…

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