Category Archives: Privilege – Privilèges

Ring my bell? Please, do!

There is an old trend that seems to flourish lately and it says that one can only ring its own bell. Chris Thompson, a YouTuber, is one of the best-spoken advocates for gay rights I have ever listened to: clear, straight to the point, genuine, asking the right questions, righteous but not sanctimonious. Yet some gay people seem to have a problem with him defending their rights, going to gay prides, campaigning for equality: he’s not gay.

He basically doesn’t belong to the community as such so their argument is that he’s taking the speech time and the space of someone who is truly gay, who can speak first-hand about the realities of what it means to be gay and actually bring water to the mill instead of a half-glass of lukewarm water. Chris Thompson is straight so he should shut it and let the gays speak for themselves.

Firstly, he says it himself, his advocating and expressing himself doesn’t shush the others into darkness. He’s not taking anyone’s space. It’s 2016 and the age of virtual reality with infinite space to share, not 1850 with a couple of newspapers columns to fight for. If anyone has anything to say, say it. Open a YouTube channel, it’s free, a blog on WordPress or anything and just say what you want to say but don’t blame others for taking your space when you don’t even create it.

Secondly, we need him. We need straight people to also speak for us because they know exactly what to do to convince them: be themselves – tolerant and happy. Having straight people to defend us doesn’t make us any weaker, or more dependent on them. The truth is that we are a minority so we do, somehow, depend on them. As of today, we depend on the people from the majority to also speak for us because there is safety and results in numbers. To call for the community to be the only one to be allowed to speak and defend itself is not going to get us anywhere.

Minorities and everyone who suffer discrimination in any form cannot afford to curl up in an armoured and restricted community that will be the only voice out there. We need people who, because of their gender, sexuality, skin colour, religious beliefs belong unwillingly to what is considered as the dominant group because they will be the first ones to be taken seriously by the said group and they will be role-models their peers will follow.

The first reaction we have in the face of someone else getting what we have is a feeling of self-defence so it’s dangerous to force the precept that we should only fight for our own privilege. It creates division and infighting when so much can be done by their free electrons to unite us under a common goal and make others understand that the fight for equality doesn’t deprive them of anything.

All these men – like me – who everyday explain to other men that women’s rights are not a personal threat to every living male. All these straight people I met at the gay pride who show the world everyday that gay rights are not a personal attack of straight people’s freedom. All these white people who campaign against racism. All these people who campaign for animal rights because they have no voice. History moves forward and our societies improve because people see beyond their own privilege, why stop them?

Where would the women of France be without the man who used his position of power to weather the storms of his sexist peers as he managed to convince them that contraception had nothing to with men but everything to do with women’s freedom to have control over their own body?

In South Africa, it took a white man to stop the Apartheid. Why? Because white people had the power but it doesn’t make Nelson Mandela and his life work irrelevant. De Klerk was a selfless force for good who saw beyond his own privilege and that’s what Mandela needed, what every black person in South Africa needed. People like him is what we all need.

Don’t let anyone restrict you to your own parish. You needn’t be a woman to fight for women’s rights, you needn’t be gay to fight for gay rights, you needn’t be fat to fight against body-shaming, you needn’t be discriminated to fight against discrimination.

If you want to help ring the bells of someone who, you know, is being ignored or discriminated, do it. If, for whatever reasons, the society has put you in a position of power and you want to use it to help others, do it.

Use your position to do good, we need all the help we can get.

The witch-hunt and Tim Hunt

Let’s talk about Tim Hunt and the witch-hunt of which he is a victim…according to many people.

Hunt is a Nobel laureate in his 70’s who thought it would be funny to address a room full of women, during some kind of dinner for women in science, to say that mixed labs were a bad thing because “women cry” when facing criticism and men like him cannot concentrate and do their jobs properly because of the physical attraction they feel for the said women.

Someone tweeted what he said, the storm mounted and he was forced to resign from the University College of London for being a sexist pig, to cut the story short. It’s all over the papers if you want more details.

I said “tried to be funny” but actually we don’t know because he first said that it was a joke but also that he was sticking to his comment. Then he said he was confused, nervous and did not know what to do or say exactly. Then he said he was misquoted then there was an article in the Guardian where he says that nobody had asked him for his version of events. Sorry love, but we did find it pretty self-sufficient when you said you were sticking with the idea that evil women were a bad influence on poor men.

An article where his feminist wife says she would have never married him if he were a sexist pig basically, as if it were relevant to anything. Then some people, including women (because every woman speaks in the name of the 4 billion other women, obviously) went to the media to say his dismissal was unfair and the reaction had been disproportionate.

He complains that he was in the plane when he got his notice, he says it was not the right way to do thing and now friends and family, colleagues and ex-students are coming to not criticise his medieval reading of society but to try and put the focus on how he was pushed out. To make him the victim in this story.

Now let’s take the arguments one by one.

The status of women to begin with. What I see in all condemnation and attempts to focus the debate on him as a victim is that it is still okay to use age-old, hackneyed stereotypes about women as a joke, as he pretends to have done in the first place. “Women do not have their place in the labs because they cry when people disagree with them”. Mr Hunt, whatever his intentions were, has obviously not evolved the least since his twenties in the mid-1960s. He still lives in a world where women are crying for nothing and where crying is an act of weakness, and unfair because it brings men to their emotional knees – whether it triggers anger, annoyance or pity.

Women cry because, like babies, they cannot express themselves differently when they see they are losing the argument so they are bringing on the tears hoping to put the men they are working with in a position where he feels like an awful executioner, hoping he will just give in.

For those who are still finding ground to say it was tongue in cheek, let’s consider this hackneyed , sexist cliché and replace it with a hackneyed, racist cliché that would go as such: “Mix-raced labs are not working because black people are lazy so it makes the work of white people even harder”. Or even worst: “Black people are violent when facing with criticism so mix-raced labs are a danger to white people’s lives.” Not so funny anymore, is it? He would have been fired too, had he said something like that. Would people be making him a victim? Would people try to convince the world that his employer should have acted differently?

No.

Why?

Because racism is beyond the pale and we expect people to have moved on from 1950s views of people with a different skin colour. No company or institution would put up with such a level of bovine, racist idiocy and no one would dare try to defend him by saying that people need to lighten up and have a bit more humour. Why not with outdated views of women? Because beyond race and wealth, women are still considered as lesser than men so it is fine to be sexist, even for fun.

The daily fight to encourage women to be in science, the endless fight to make people understand that women are not lesser than men is a fight as important and crucial as the fight against racist prejudice. This is why I support the firing of Tim Hunt.

Then there is the argument, he said he would not deviate from, about women being a distraction to men. Women are pretty, attractive and it makes it very difficult for men like him (he said words for words) to concentrate and work. He said people fall in love and it changes their priorities and clouds their judgement. So we have to separate men and women…especially women that need to get out of the labs where men are…because they were there first, I presume.

First of all, it doesn’t add up to the reality of couple and marriage. Most people marry within their own profession because we do spent most of our lives working. As far as the economy is concerned, love is not the most damaging factor to productivity.

But no matter, the same way some school are still unisex, one would think: why not? Only-male labs and only-female labs could be good.

No, they would not for we still live in a world where Nobel laureate publicly said that women are irrationally and cunningly emotional so funding for female-only labs would be close to none with all the investors going for the serious, male-led labs.

And why stop at labs? What about male-only companies where men can concentrate on work at all time without the fear of being accidentally attracted to a female? I can make a huge list of stupid ideas like that…I worked in a boys school for years and there not being any girls doesn’t change anything to how the boys are performing. Countries where single-sex schools have close to disappeared are not at the bottom of the league when it comes to how their students are performing.

Apart from this, the argument Mr Hunt is giving is that he cannot control himself, he has no will power to focus on the task in hand when women are here. They distract him with their attractive femininity – when they don’t guilt-trip him with their tears.  And he puts all men in the same bag as him. Is it his Nobel prize that allows him to speak for all of them?

The fact is: in his mind, the focus should not be trying to address the fact that adult men like him are still behaving like teenagers in a professional environment such as labs, we should instead remove women.

That’s the same argument the Talibans and other various religious fundamentalists of all kinds have to force women to wear the burqa or stay at home behind the opacity of its walls. When you listen to their arguments, they say women are a distraction, they are a temptation. They say it is in their nature to appeal, to attract, to seduce the men and divert him from his true goal: religion and God. Replace religion by work and God by science and you have Mr Hunt’s “funny” or “confused” exposé.

I am sure his feminist wife has something to say about the comparison but as far as I am concerned, it is quite striking. Old, sex-obsessed males who think women are the reason for their unholy or unfocussed self and should be removed.

Why do people defend such a view? Why is he the victim when he says such things? Why is the victim of a so-called ‘self-righteous witch-hunt’ when he just put 52% of the world population in the same boat labelled “To get out of sight”?

Finally, there is Mr Hunt himself. If you look carefully at all that has been said by him recently, we have a man who uses casual sexism as a mean to be funny, who then says he was confused and nervous, did not what to say, say one thing then the opposite in the same sentence, and uses his wife’s credential to justify an open and mature mind he can’t show himself.

He seems to have lost touch with the outside world and to not exactly know the ins and outs of anything, especially when he makes sexist jokes at a women in science dinner, in front of women. This is not just a error of judgement but sheer lunacy. Not a good place where you are working as a renowned teacher.

As far as I am concerned, such men are and should remain a thing of the past and his forced resignation is just the enactment of this. You can again accuse women or political correctness, like his defenders are doing right now. “It’s all because of Twitter!”. No, it isn’t.  What’s to blame is casual chauvinism and the self-entitlement of old men who think their working prowesses render them forever untouchable.

University College London realised that Mr Hunt’s credentials as a Nobel laureate were not strong enough to balance his outdated behaviour so they decided to lay him off because he became a liability to their future. A future that lays in mixed labs with grown-up and professional men and women who act as such.

There is one and only person to blame for Mr Hunt’s downfall is Mr Hunt himself.

“Straight privilege”

A friend said, after Tom Daley’s coming out video, that it was unnecessary, ridicule and even indecent for him to do that. It was too much, she said. “The whole drama and everything! What’s point? Another PR move…” This friend is everything but homophobic, she is okay with me being gay, we like to gossip about hot actors, and her best-friend is gay.

What she is, however, is basking in what an American friend of mine would call “straight privilege” like there is “white privilege”. I don’t really like that, just to say. It seems like gay people are trying to compete with Black people to see who is the most persecuted, which I guess a lot of minorities do in today’s society’s Olympics of Misery. Soon there will be the “man privilege”, the “married people privilege”, the “thin people privilege”…

The fact is that in our society, anyone who is not a man between 30 and 50, married, Christian, brown-haired, tall, thin, handsome, light-skinned but tanned, workaholic but a family man, driving a car, drinking beer, slightly sexist, watching football and openly right-wing…Anyone else will suffer from a form of intolerance. However racism and homophobia are today the most violent and extreme forms of discrimination so I personally want to keep that notion of privilege solely to “white-” and “straight-“.

Anyway, for her, to talk openly about your sexuality is indecent because sexuality is a private matter and “no one cares about it”. She says that him publicly coming out as gay – although he just said he was dating a man, which does not make him gay – is nothing but a call for his sexuality to become a public matter. He therefore can’t complain that people talk about it now because he’s bringing this on himself.

There is indeed “straight privilege” in there of someone who, because she is a woman sleeping with men, the issue of her sexual orientation – not her sexuality – is non-existent. Whom she is friend with, how much she wants to share about her love life at work, where she goes to have a bite or a drink, where she moves house, whom she votes for, even what she wears or what background she will put on her desktop… At no point will she make decisions based on her sexual orientation because it’s irrelevant to the society so it doesn’t affect her. Society will judge the person and how many of them she dates but not the fact that she dates men. She never hesitates wearing trousers for fear of looking like a lesbian or lending her phone to someone for them to make a quick phone call because she doesn’t care if they see the topless pictures of an actor.

Whereas gay people would love to be able to keep their sexual orientation private but we are constantly bombarded with the fact that it defines who we are, how we think, what we do, and especially it dictates how much we are allowed to be normal citizens in democratic countries. Being straight doesn’t strip you from basic rights, so basic that you take them for granted. Whereas for LGBT people, who we fuck defines every aspect of our lives in the eyes of the society and it will not let us forget it. We have to constantly think about it because it is always lurking and creeping on our social interactions. And we have to constantly fight to make people understand that we are not different and we deserve to be the same – through the pride marches to begin with.

What Tom Daley did, like all famous people coming out, is to make different sexual orientation part of the norm so one day no one has to “come out” or be accused of being a shameful coward for not doing so.

Inspired by Peggy McIntosh’s questionnaire on race, look at the following questions and if you say no to most of them, you have “straight privilege” and you cannot possibly fathom why someone like Tom Daley making a video where he says to millions of teenagers, the future, that dating a man doesn’t make him any different is a priceless beacon of hope:

  1. Have you ever questioned how your family and friends would react to your sexual orientation?
    Have you ever feared your family and friends might hit you, ban you, abandon you because of it?
    Have you lost any of them because of it?
    Have you ever pretended to be of a different sexual orientation with your family, friends, roommates, landlords for fear of being kicked out and having no place to go?
  2. Has your sexual orientation been called a disease by the World Health Organisation?
    Has your sexual orientation ever been called “contagious”?
    Has people died under torture aka “healing treatments” for having the same sexual orientation as you?
  3. Is your sexual orientation used an insult everyday from school playgrounds to high-ranked politicians offices, and everywhere on mainstream media?
    Have schools in the UK ban the mention of your sexual orientation because it has become an insult?
  4. Can your sexual orientation get you the death penalty or imprisoned in most countries?
    Do you hear people of your sexual orientation being murdered everyday because of it?
    Is your sexual orientation automatically and lawfully forbidding you from giving your blood or donate your organs in order to save lives in almost every single country?
    Has your sexual orientation ever prevented you from having the same rights as others?
  5. Have you ever felt like you’ve had to admit to your sexual orientation, to “come out” to people like it’s something you are doing wrong?
    Have you ever been accused of having your sexual orientation? Not an observation but an accusation, like a criminal.
  6. Have politicians, in “First World democracies fighting for freedom and liberty”, ever publicly said other people were “not ready” to accept you and your sexual orientation to justify official discrimination?
    Have people been openly praised for fighting your sexual orientation?
  7. Are people publicly associating your sexual orientation with paedophilia, zoophilia and necrophilia?
    Are people afraid to be with you, touch you, talk to you because of your sexual orientation?
  8. Have you ever feared losing your job or your home because of your sexual orientation?
    Have you ever feared for your physical integrity because of your sexual orientation?
    Do you avoid or decline going to some places, even with friends, because you know your sexual orientation will get you in trouble?
    Have people ever stared, pointed or laughed at you, abused or physically threatened you in a public place because of your sexual orientation?
  9. When you make plans for the future, do you ever worry about what the neighbourhood might think of a same-sex couple?
    Do you know you will have to avoid the countryside even though you love nature and hate the city because you know people will not accept you and your sexual orientation?
  10. Are people telling you will never be a good parent because of your sexual orientation?
    Do you seriously think of not having children at all because you know others will abuse them because of your sexual orientation?
  11. The most important: is your sexual orientation the name solely used to define who you are in the society?