BBC and sexism – why it’s more complicated than that
Louise Livesey // 4 February 2009
So the BBC has said Carol Thatcher is dropped from reporting for The One Show for an obscenely racist comment made off-camera and out of studio in a conversation about a tennis player. The analogy she drew was grossly racist, insulting and deeply shameful for both her and the BBC (who, I’d aver couldn’t have been entirely unaware of her racism prior to this). But the situation got me thinking – when Jeremy Clarkson normalised violence against women and made a joke of the murder of five women in Ipswich the BBC defended him saying viewers “wouldn’t take it seriously” despite 500 complaints from viewers who obviously did take it seriously. It leaves me asking the question – where’s the parity?
Well, as the title says, it’s more complicated than that. The One Show staff complained about the comment by Thatcher and that was taken seriously. Those staff (who I applaud for taking a stand) however are those who’ve “made it” in the techical aspects of TV work. If you look at the Top Gear that list is very largely men-only. My point – given the BBC’s stated position that viewers don’t matter and production crew do it’s a de facto statement that sexism will continue apace where the BBC is reliant on crew complaining rather than viewers. It also reinforces the homosocial nature of the those shows as spaces which are allowed to be sexist because it’s a boys club in which people don’t complain – the problem them being that even if women working on the show want to complain they can’t without losing their place within that homosocial setting (i.e. for women to fit in they must become just “one of the boys”).
So, Thatcher’s racism and Clarkson’s sexism are both wrong. But one is defended and one has serious consequences. Why? Entrenched, institutional sexism.
As an addendum and following up on recent posts and comments about political correctness – needless to say Melanie Phillips has decided to try and gain some mileage out of this by declaring those who complained about Thatcher to be “snitches” who are like the Stasi and KGB. This further reinforces the closed-club mentality and demeans all who take a stand against bigotry.
Phllips (and Thatcher’s by the way) justification is that if it was “a joke” it’s therefore exempt from the category of offensive speech. I hear this well-worn fallacy so many times it’s not true – offensive speech is offensive speech, and yes sometimes it might be funny, but it’s still offensive speech. If we “joke” about raping women or lynching LGBT people or beating up minority ethnic people we’re still saying the same thing. As for the idea that making a valid complaint about racism is “snitching” then roll on the snitches as far as I’m concerned – perhaps it says more about Phillips own concerns of being “outed” as a bigot (although surely she’s done that more than enough herself) than about real, valid opposition to creating some sort of just society. Thatcher has refused to admit that her comments were unacceptable – Phillips may do well to examine that rather than issues of why people complained. But then the BBC would do well to examine why a grossly offensive comment by a woman, in the green room with two other people present resulted in her being effectively sacked whilst grossly offensive comments by men, on national television to thousands of viewers results in them getting pay increased and the full protection of the BBC.