“Now even Top Gear could fall foul of Harman sexism law”

// 29 April 2009

whinges the Daily Fail in just one example of the kind of pathetic complaints emanating from the more privileged corners of our green and pleasant land since the release of the Equality Bill. Now, I bloody love Top Gear, even if I’m not Jeremy Clarkson’s biggest fan, and I think the trio generally make for fun viewing, despite the odd bigoted comment from the aforementioned self styled protector of chauvinism, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy with the prevalence of white males on our TV screens. The Mail doesn’t share my concerns, it would seem:

The BBC and Channel 4 could be forced to use more female and ethnic characters and presenters in TV shows under controversial reforms of equality laws.

Oh heavens no! Not more females and “ethnics”, quick, run for the hills!

Critics fear programmes will be forced to hire actors, presenters and producers on grounds of gender, ethnic background or sexuality, rather than suitability for the show.

Because clearly there are no female, ethnic minority or queer actors, presenters or producers suitable for these, um, clearly unpopular TV jobs.

What the Mailites fail once again to understand is that straight white men, gay black women, and everyone in between, are not on an even footing when it comes to social and economic opportunity. Straight white men benefit from a social system which privileges them over everyone else. Their prevalence on our TV screens is in itself testimony to this inequality. Actively seeking out people who are not straight white men simply helps redress the balance. Without this help, for as long as sexist, racist and homophobic attitudes continue to be spewed by the likes of the Mail, they will continue to lose out to straight white men.

And while one could argue that we should tackle these attitudes rather than employ this kind of affirmative action, to borrow the US term, this would be a hell of a lot harder without legislation and policy which forces us to recognise and value those who are not straight white men.

Note to Mailites: this will not mean that Eastenders will be unable to screen episodes featuring an all-black cast. You muppets.

Comments From You

Mary // Posted 29 April 2009 at 12:14 pm

Thing of note: there is a lot of concern that about the fact that equality laws might mean that women and people from ethnic minorities might get hired because of their gender or ethnicity, rather than because of merit. You also often hear people say, “Well, I would want to know that I’d been promoted on merit, not just because of my sex/race.”

And yet it never seems to occur to the same people that, if you’re white and/or male and your workplace is disproportionately white or male, you probably *were* hired because of your gender or ethnicity, or you gender or ethnicity at least played a good part in how you got to where you are today.

Most of us white people and most men seem pretty relaxed about that.

Kez // Posted 29 April 2009 at 12:43 pm

Oh, Daily Mail. Do you have to be so predictable? Would you not like to surprise everyone, just once, by NOT saying exactly what we all know you will say in response to any given situation?

Go on, give it a try.

Qubit // Posted 29 April 2009 at 1:27 pm

Isn’t hiring someone based on race or gender illegal? I thought the exception only applied if two equally suitable candidates applied for a job in which case if the company feels like it, it can hire someone from the minority group within the job (not that women are a minority) for equality purposes. In a female dominated profession such as teaching this law could be used to justify hiring an equally suitable man over a woman which would give better gender equality in teaching.

Other than being a very contrived situation this seems to imply that previously in this case a white man should be given the job as default although I don’t think this was the law. Personally I don’t think there is any harm in the supposed change in the name of equality because it doesn’t change anything nor does it mean a person from a minority group can be employed just because they are a member of that minority group, they still have to be as good as the most suitable person.

The way people argue against it thought you would have thought the law allows less suitable minority candidates to be hired for a job above white men in the interests of equality. This isn’t the case nor do I think it should be. However arguing against this idea in the main stream media heavily implies that is the way the law currently lies.

JenniferRuth // Posted 29 April 2009 at 1:28 pm

Mary, that was spot on. I am stealing this for future debates! –

“And yet it never seems to occur to the same people that, if you’re white and/or male and your workplace is disproportionately white or male, you probably *were* hired because of your gender or ethnicity, or you gender or ethnicity at least played a good part in how you got to where you are today.

Most of us white people and most men seem pretty relaxed about that.”

sianmarie // Posted 29 April 2009 at 4:37 pm

can’t really add anything as mary said what i wanted to say in a much clearer way than i could! so just wanted to second what she says – totally spot on!

xx

betsy // Posted 29 April 2009 at 4:38 pm

“…female and ethnic characters”

So not human beings then?

Amy // Posted 29 April 2009 at 7:43 pm

Good post Laura, funny too!

Agree with Kez, predictable

much? If the government and laws ever do anything about it, I hate how papers and the male media take it upon themselves to represent the views of the general public. These are not our views. I’m sick of being made out to feel

emotionally in line and sympathetic with insecure males all the time. Alienated while without choice to live from outside a whitemaledom. Why I hate papers like this.

Everyone’s white and male and wants to keep their privilege, right? Tossers, you don’t speak for all of us. A vast majority of the UK you do not speak for.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 29 April 2009 at 7:46 pm

Of course women aren’t human and neither are ethic groups, especially if these groups comprise women.

Daily Male – yet again another over-the-top hysterical outburst, which neatly shows its editorship has not one iota of intelligence.

Mary’s comment was absolutely correct – dominant groups – meaning white males – cannot perceive their privileges because they are not the ones discriminated against because they do not happen to be female. Note: this means males as a group. Just take a look at how your organisation/company is comprised and which group dominate managerial roles as opposed to lower level positions. Each time we turn on the television we are presented overwhelmingly with a white male-dominant perspective/presenters.

Amy // Posted 29 April 2009 at 7:57 pm

“This is nothing to do with equality, it is all about sad people like Harman visiting their hatred on the white male population of Britain. She and her type have a vicious agenda, Harman is a very screwed up individual who needs psychiatric help.” Mike

See what I mean? I’m sick of being expected to sympathise with this kind of insecurity all the time.

Anne Onne // Posted 29 April 2009 at 8:58 pm

To suggest that people will suddenly only be hired because of their gender or race etc is to suggest that of all the POC and ethnic minorities, all the women, all the minorities out there, there is absolutely nobody capable of the job who could possibly apply.

I’d expect the real reason for affirmative action is to encourage more women, POC etc to apply. To say to them ‘look, we’re taking employing people like you seriously. If you apply here, you actually have a chance of getting the job!’. Because let’s face it, if all you see is white men in a job, minorities are less likely to apply because they know they are less likely to get it in the first place.

Not to mention that you need to be twice as good to get anywhere, because virtues are less impressive, and mistakes less forigiveable, when one isn’t a white male.

In reality, a few women or POC here or there won’t really affect the chances of white men, who will still make up a good proportion of the applicants and the people chosen.

I’m not too bothered by affirmative action in that I think it’s sometimes a necessary evil. Minorities shouldn’t get any kind of preference, but when the numbers present are pitifully low, they deserve efforts to give them higher representation. If we leave things to develop as they are, who knows when equality would be reached? I think that there being more minorities in these positions will help change the attitudes, rather than the other way around. Having capable women and POC in these jobs will hopefully show people that they can actually do the job, get the bigots used to seeing them around, and help them get their foot in the door of an otherwise difficult to crack institution. They’ve been waiting patiently to be let in on the basis of merit, and so far the merit of a woman or a POC or other minority always seems to weigh less than that of a white man. If people refuse to honestly take on women and PoC and other minorities in decent numbers without being forced to, then they might need to be forced to, until they get used to the idea that white men aren’t inherently better qualified than anyone else.

And yet it never seems to occur to the same people that, if you’re white and/or male and your workplace is disproportionately white or male, you probably *were* hired because of your gender or ethnicity, or you gender or ethnicity at least played a good part in how you got to where you are today.

Repeated for emphasis. Ironically for people like this, they don’t realise that their chances of getting the job are always higher than they should be. Had things been equal, and the numbers of people in the job reflected the population, white Anglo-Celtic men would only make up around 40% of the people in any given position. The fact that they complain when their chances are slightly reduced so that there are any women or minorities present at all speaks volumes.

For the privileged, it feels like oppression if things don’t go 100% your way.

Shea // Posted 29 April 2009 at 9:36 pm

Brilliant post by Mary.

Not only are the Daily Fail an insidious hate mongering RAG, they also have some of the sloppiest journalists around.

NEWSFLASH- you can already discriminate in the casting of actors/dancers etc on the grounds of authenticity. For example it is perfectly legal to refuse to cast a white man as Othello, or a man as Juliet —-it has been for the past twenty odd years*. I haven’t read the bill, but I can’t see them doing away with this clause. So frankly all the vitriol and panic over “ethnics” and women seems a bit ridiculous.

* Although I remember the RSA casting a black actor as Hamlet recently, which goes to show that just because tradition has portrayed a character as white, it doesn’t have to remain so.

Rob M // Posted 29 April 2009 at 10:09 pm

Qubit is bang on. Positive discrimination is prohibited – I suspect it’s against anti-discrimination laws, funnily enough. As far as I’ve seen, the new bill doesn’t change that (and, er, one of the supporting documents on the government website actually includes the following seemingly-pretty-clear sentence “The Bill will not allow positive discrimination, which will remain unlawful.”)

Still, well done all those arguing in support of an awful, unjust and unworkable, fictional plan. Almost as well done as those bolstering their negative isms by getting angry and outraged about a plan that ISN’T HAPPENING.

Laura // Posted 29 April 2009 at 10:15 pm

Rob M – yes, Qubit is right with this:

“…the exception only applied if two equally suitable candidates applied for a job in which case if the company feels like it, it can hire someone from the minority group within the job (not that women are a minority) for equality purposes.”

Which is what the Mail is willfully misinterpreting and getting all het up about, and what I and others think is a good idea. Namely that employers and public bodies should be looking to ensure that minority groups are represented within their ranks, in the manner outlined by Qubit above.

Rob M // Posted 29 April 2009 at 11:15 pm

Hypothetically, I guess that limited implementation versus a choice-made-upon-nothing is a fine idea, but I don’t know it can be actually put in practice. (As in, at all; either for benefit or otherwise.)

I’ve only skimmed the relevant bit of the ‘for Dummies’ version of the bill (as I fancy some kip, and the full thing is a thousand miles long,) so if someone can point us to the detailed clause or correct me, that’d be handy. But ‘two equally suitable candidates’ is a theoretical… perfect… thought-experiment thing, that won’t ever exist. No two candidates are identical, so if it’s so close as to be almost equal, you can always make a valid case for saying one is better than the other if you have to. I’m a bit confused why they’d bother drafting it in there, unless they fancied a bit of Mail-baiting or, on the other side, appeasing people with an illusion, because it seems entirely impractical.

As I say, any lawyers in the building fancy explaining to an idiot if it’s not the nonsense it seems to be, I’d be interested.

Wisrutta Atthakor // Posted 30 April 2009 at 1:56 am

Sigh … as a female “ethnic” or “coloured” (didn’t realise white wasn’t a colour or that white people aren’t “ethnics”!), it really does sometimes feel as if we’re the ones causing all the bloody problems for those poor white middle-class men who have to tiptoe around us and make space for us troublemakers who demand so much! Imagine that, wanting to be given equal opportunities!

But seriously … I do agree with Anne Onne in that a lot of women, and especially ethnic minority women, are less likely to apply for certain jobs because they ‘know’ that they are less likely to get them or even be considered, because they feel they are seen as intruders or outsiders. (Imagine a non-white woman presenter on Top Gear! The Mail would have a fit!) And even when they do get the job, not only do they have to be twice as good because of the pressure and extra scrutiny, they are also often met with hostilities resulting from having been given the job, from those who think that they may have got the job *because* of this whole having to employ more women and ‘ethnics’, and not be appreciated for their abilities. And yes, while forcing employers to take on more women and ethnic minorities may go some way to changing attitudes, there will always be die-hard fascists who refuse to accept that women and “ethnics” should be allowed to trample on the comfortable toes of the privileged. And while there are national newspapers like The Mail and national icons like Jeremy Clarkson endorsing misogynistic views, it is going to be a long time before we see any real progress, especially when we are made to look like the villains and they the victims.

rita // Posted 30 April 2009 at 10:05 am

Spot on Wisrutta Atthakor, while i agree with both you and Anne Onno, sometimes, not all but, some ethnic minority have attitudes of thinking that some jobs are for white people. I don’t know where that comes from. And sometimes there’s a cultural clash and understanding especially with different back grounds. When i first came to britain, i never understood the whole system and language, which reduced my confidence and that am sure played a role in me not getting some jobs. Am not giving any one excuses.

Kez // Posted 30 April 2009 at 10:06 am

Wisrutta – I think your phrase “When we are made to look like the villains and they the victims” sums it up perfectly!

The Daily Mail should really adopt some version of that as their motto. Perhaps with pictorial illustrations, accompanied by arrows pointing out the villains and the victims, just to make sure their point is fully understood.

Samantha // Posted 30 April 2009 at 11:49 am

Infuriating. I’m not sure why I continue to tortue myself by visiting and commenting on that website; I seem to enjoy punishment.

That entire publication is rife with terrified men so insecure in their own abilities (or lack thereof) that the mere thought that their privilege may be threatened by, shock horror, women and ethnic minorities with superior qualifications quite rightly frightens the life out of them.

Check out Bert’s comments on there. So laughable yet they still challenge my pacifism to its limit.

Lara // Posted 30 April 2009 at 12:41 pm

Perhaps with pictorial illustrations, accompanied by arrows pointing out the villains and the victims, just to make sure their point is fully understood.

LOL!

Mary // Posted 30 April 2009 at 6:08 pm

Mary’s comment was absolutely correct – dominant groups – meaning white males – cannot perceive their privileges because they are not the ones discriminated against because they do not happen to be female

Jennifer Drew: I was deliberately not limiting that to “white males”, since anywhere where there’s racial privilege, white women are benefiting from it too. I don’t have to be benefitting from male privilege as well to be benefitting from white privilege.

Pic Akai // Posted 2 May 2009 at 5:10 pm

I find it offensive, as a woman, to be told that I couldn’t possibly enjoy Top Gear because it’s presented by three men. Like I am incapable of understanding their opinions, and need to have a woman to identify with.

WRONG. If I need women’s opinions I’ll go and watch a show with women in it. However, what I want is a show which shows a bunch of mates mucking about and clearly caring a lot about each other and coming up with insane, ingenious solutions to insane, ingenious problems, and some background stuff about cars. And that’s what TG gives me. I love Sabine Schmidt when she turns up, but not because she’s female – because like them, she has the passion for cars and driving, and her dynamic with Jeremy in particular is hilarious. I wouldn’t want her shoehorned in permanently because that would detract from the friendship of the main three, which is what makes it such a good show.

On Fifth Gear, I want more informed opinions about cars and bikes and stuff, and that’s what that gives me – and with the inclusion of a woman. But I don’t need Vicki Butler-Henderson there for it to make sense to me. I am watching it because I enjoy the comments about cars, not because I need a female or male perspective on cars [particularly as I think the idea that that are specifically ‘male’ and ‘female’ things is quite derogatory].

I get what they’re saying. I wouldn’t want to be promoted just because I was female and the company were told they had to – I’d want to be promoted on merit. Same as if men start chatting me up and going over the top, I think it’s sweet that my male friends often want to defend me, but I don’t expect it, and I don’t want them to feel like they have to, and they respect that and back off unless I ask otherwise.

Anne Onne // Posted 2 May 2009 at 9:46 pm

Hypothetically, I guess that limited implementation versus a choice-made-upon-nothing is a fine idea, but I don’t know it can be actually put in practice. (As in, at all; either for benefit or otherwise.

I agree. I can’t see most things like this actually achieving huge results, and I don’t know what can.

However, I appreciate the theory of it. The fact that someone has taken the time to point out that there IS inequality, and at least tries to make some effort to address this. To many people this may make no sense, since I believe this won’t have huge effects. But considering how often we have to point out that inequality is still an issue, that it exists, that we’re not making this up, and it’s not because women are inherently inferior or all out looking after their babies.

I appreciate this because it’s a tiny step in the right direction. In a country where everyone’s all ‘but why worry about the pay gap when we’re in an economic crisis!’ and denying there is inequality, I appreciate any reference to it existing. So often it’s left to be invisible and unacknowledged.

I’d like a lot more to happen, and I have no idea whether this will be any good. but at least it’s putting inequalities in the limelight for a second, and admitting that they exist.

Anne Onne // Posted 2 May 2009 at 10:03 pm

Wow! Bert is a real gem, I must admit. A few women have tried to ‘make the grade’ in F1 racing, a field that many thousands of men have not succeeded in, and therefore women are inferior.

And apparently women just can’t fly planes. I suppose the fact that assuming their unproved assertions are correct, they provide no evidence that these mistakes women pilots make are actually dangerous (there being, of course, many ‘types’ of mistake, and pilots never flying alone and all that). Considering how many pilots fly under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you’d think THAT would be something they would be more concerned with!

Someone might also want to tell him that data being old doesn’t make it more reliable. Technically, the older findings are in science, the more one should be worried about underlying bias, or just not having been updated. Relatively few findings from 30 years ago are still seen as being or relevance today, for example. That’s not to say something from 50 years ago can’t be right, but rather to point out most research from 30 years ago has long been disproved, his antiquated ideas about ladybrains being one of them.

Also, Kathy is a real winner, too:

Go for the person with brains and/or talent, or go for the female or the one who is not native British? This is so bloody dangerous and damaging to our country’s reputation.

Because of course women or immigrants can’t possibly have brains or talents! It’s obvious that white men will hands down be better at every job every time they come up against women or POC! And this reputation of actually giving a shit about the talents of women and POC/immigrants will make the UK look SO bad! Nobody likes a country that doesn’t have a fast lane to success for the be-penised pale-skinned members of the community! After all, the entire world is mostly white men, isn’t it?

Charming lot they have there. I’m almost glad they never published any of my comments. If that’s what being and feeling ‘British’ is, I’d hate to be associated with it.

Anne Onne // Posted 2 May 2009 at 10:16 pm

Also, I just noticed that the F word’s Louise Livesey was quoted in the article (should I say well done, Louise, or commiserations? ;) )

Naturally the delightful commenters (I’d call them trolls, but being patriarcical asshats is actually the house style of the Daily Mail, so they can hardly be trolls) are afraid of educated women making points about how society treats women and minorities:

Louise Livesey, tutor in sociology and women’s studies at Ruskin College, Oxford, accused the BBC2 motoring programme of ‘entrenched, institutional sexism’.

…………….Oh do go and get yourself a real job….may I suggest shelf stacking damien trollopemien must be such a congenial man!

I’m sure this is water off a duck’s back to someone like Louise, being feminist making someone supposedly fair game for personal insults.

But I want to point out that had she no job whatsoever, working to make this world a better place for all is quite a ‘real’ enough job itself, one worthy of plenty of respect, whether people realise it or not. That someone like her is also recognised and paid for doing something she’s passionate about, and and educate other people at the same time is a great thing.

I will stop spamming now. :)

RadFemHedonist // Posted 4 May 2009 at 2:48 pm

As others have said, the “but we should be hired on our suitability for jobs not our race/gender/sexuality/having a disability which is why affirmative action is wrong/unfair” argument is problematic because if you are white, male, able bodied or known to be straight then that probably did have something to do with why you got hired, saying “but what about white/straight/able bodied/male individuals who get passed over for jobs, that isn’t fair!” is also specious because it isn’t right that anyone should be without resources for living, but it also isn’t right that white/straight/male/able bodied individuals get more jobs than anyone else. Also, the laws don’t mean that somebody incapable of doing a job will be hired, it means that of two equally or so close to equally qualified it makes no difference candidates, the one who’s race/gender/sexuality/abledness is least represented in the company will be hired.

Louise Livesey // Posted 4 May 2009 at 9:42 pm

Just to clarify I didn’t know that the Daily Mail had quoted me (massively out of context and without acknowledging The F Word)! Thanks Anne. AS for “go get a real job” – water and ducks back – because making a difference in the lives of men and women interested in social justice (which is what we do at Ruskin) is a real job. I’m with Taylor Mali on this.

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