The sexism row – after careful consideration…

If your first reaction after reading the word ‘sexism’ in the title of this post was to think the picture compares male and female brains, you probably need to reassess you basic assumptions about equality. This post is not about women being better than men, or vice versa, but about empathy.

Lots of people have emailed this week to ask my opinion on Andy Gray being fired and Richard Keyes resigning. People have also phoned to ask the same, then gone on to give their own views. My take on this is, after careful consideration, as follows:

As a woman I feel that I am equal to any other person, yet I have been marginalised, partly because of I am female, partly because of the class system, and partly becasue some people just don’t care if they hurt me. I expect to be respected for my differences and who I am, not objectified or oppressed. I don’t have a chip on my shoulder, this is just the way my life experience has played out, and I have and am doing everything in my power to address it. This includes taking action if someone abuses me – not by shouting and name calling back but by quietly trying to make my point. If this person has an agenda or is just plain nasty, I leave them to it, as it is unlikely that I can change them alone. Only walking a mile in someone else’s shoes can do that, and this is unlikely as they are already planning that person’s downfall before they put the shoes on in their scramble to ‘the top’.

I have witnessed many incidents of the type of ‘banter’ doled out by Andy Gray and Richard Keyes, and dealt with it appropriately. But in my heart I felt sorry. Not for the people who dealt the biting sexist remark comment or disgusting joke about rape. Not for the people who looked at my chest when I was speaking or touched me up in the workplace. Not for the people who racially abuse my neighbours and their children. Not for the people who feel that somehow they are entitled to have social power over me. No. I feel generally sorry that people feel so insecure and unhappy with life that name calling, bigotry and prejudice is a way of living. Their thirst for power is so great that they have forgotten how to live happily and respectfully with other people.

I’m no saint but I would never dream of saying something hurtful to anyone. I feel queasy at the thought of hurting someone else’s feelings or calling someone a name. Although I have tolerated this name calling myself, mainly because I have red hair and I’m more than a size 12, I would never remark negatively on another person’s appearance. Insinuating that someone is stupid or unintelligent is psychological abuse, and is the abuser is in a position of power, it’s a double whammy.

David Mitchells’ comment on this matter is representative of most of the personal opinions this week on this matter. The best blog I have read so far about this is The Angry Mob . Overall, whole frenzied issue has sunk into an ironic battle of who is better, women or men – the whole issue of sexism whirling into a circular, never ending argument. The media are calling ‘sexism’ at every opportunity, and I can almost imagine Harry Hill shouting ‘Fight!’ to intervene.

The deeper question here is why so much time is spent reacting to this? Surely time would be better spent working to make sure these archaic attitudes towards women (and some women’s towards men) are improved? This wouldn’t involve shouting, name calling, oppressive behaviour, scapegoating or ‘the thought police’. But would involve education. For like most bigotry, it’s based in ignorance and lack of empathy.

We are all capable of empathy, or the ability to assess someone else’s feeling and, more important, care about what another person is feeling. The fMRI images above show the areas of the brain that are used to do just that. So, if we are physically capable of empathy, what’s stopping those bigots amongst us? It can realistically be two things: 1)We don’t know how to (undereducated) or 2) we choose not to (intentional bigotry)

Let’s not be confused about what equality means. It means respecting difference within difference in others, and the right to have difference and make choices without being abused or oppressed, either physically or psychologically. It’s not name calling or point scoring and it definitely doesn’t mean that one person is better than another.