Sunday, 25 November 2007

Just How Sexist Are We These Days, Anyway?

I grew up in an era when girls did have to pretend to be boys to get on. I don't have any complaints; a bloke who disliked girls with hairy pins when I was first at University could resign himself to three years of celibacy, and Serve The Rude Baskets Right.

However, I can't pretend it wasn't a bit of a relief when we could start being a bit saucy again and the Lesbian Contingent were allowed out of their hideous handknits. And all the time the pay gap was closing ... or well, it wasn't really, was it?

I look at the BBC these days and wonder WTF they're up to. Oggling the old goggle box, I often wonder where are the women on telly? And the answer is, in the newsroom. The number of women newsreaders is very striking and nowadays you even occasionally see TWO WOMEN (in trouser suits, usually) reading the main news on the main channels. Oooh.

Strangely, women have largely disappeared from light entertainment; panels for Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Mock the Week and Have I Got News For You are often entirely male, which puts me off programmes I would otherwise watch. Anne Widdecombe enlivened the latter considerably on Friday, and should be hired permanently. Fat chance; having more balls than most of the male room she was presenting, she still lacks the main hiring criterion.


Finally the Great Leap Backward - because this is the kind of serial I grew up with, where there was one woman, with whom all the guest men fell hopelessly in love each week, and met with Quite Inexplicable Rejection, for the Hero never gave the Heroine so much as a chocolate kiss, let alone any commitment. Were life to resemble these serials in its sexual behaviour, humanity would have died out hundreds of years ago. Or at least shrunk to the population of the Isle of Wight.

All the regular men are quite indistinguishable from each other. I have watched this show regular-like from the start, and can barely tell the Treacherous Bastard member of the gang from the loyal 4th in command, or either from Robin. They are as monozygotic a selection as ever despatched from central casting, which may explain why the guards in Nottingham never recognise them as they stroll merrily in and out of the castle with the odd change of headwear, but always in a Large Gang. Last week, indeed, the gang managed to get all the way from Sherwood Forest, on foot, before any among them noticed that the forbidden-by-Robin Maid Marion had accompanied them. Is it mildly offensive that Robin does nothing but tie Marion up and order her about, and she has to apologise to him for disobedience, while he never does? You decide.

The chief indication of sexism, though, is that there are hardly any women in the cast. Why is Gisbourne hopelessly in love with Marion? Because there are No Options, the whole of Nottingham being empty of women. For those of you who remember your reading of The Dialectic of Sex, Ms Firestone's idea was that women's lower sex-class means that to justify partnership with them, men must believe that the One they love is Special. If Robin Hood's treatment of Marian doesn't furnish a glaring example of this, while "Jak", also a woman, is like George in the Famous Five, or a Serbian Sworn Virgin, a woman who accesses the privileges of the higher caste sex by denying her own, further illustrates it, it's hard to know what does. Though the constant belittling of Much might be a further example.

Though technically male, Much is Robin's faithful servant, and does the cooking. The others treat him like a skivvy, and upon occasion throw his cooking at him. Because there are no women, Much is treated as one, and not in the way any woman would be pleased by.

A show often stands or falls by its portrayal of same sex relationships. I stopped watching Smallville after an episode where all the "goodies" were so appalled and repulsed by a lesbian that she was deemed to be wicked solely on that premise. (This is a series shown on Channel 4. How very politically correct is that?) The fact that she was also wicked in terms of storyline helped to confirm that the programme-makers' political views really were as nasty as those of the characters.

Compare with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show which had one of its principal characters develop into a lesbian with no ill effects on her character whatsoever - almost as though sexuality is not any kind of moral barometer. Buffy was a radically different show, with real sophistication and depth, reflected in its character development, and it was the maturity and possibly real life experience of its makers that allowed it to be so.

In an era when in real life most half-way sensible blokes marry high-income-generating women - lawyers, doctors, architects, business-women - is this a programme which shows women or men in a way we really aspire to be? Hell no. A lack of imagination and awareness makes this a pretty poor piece in terms of politics or reflection of society. Escapism? After watching this, how I long for some.

Monday, 19 November 2007

The Humbling of Revel Horwood


It is done. The trap sprung, the goose cooked, and Kate Garraway finally voted off Strictly Come Dancing. Hurrah! For her sad little rictus frozen claw-fingered paws as she fell back into a catatonic pose supported only by the superhuman strength of her long-suffering partner were too much for human sympathy to bear. Here, gentle viewer, was a woman unable to walk unaided about the dance floor in a sparkly dress. Her hand gestures - horrid dead-meerkat paws aside - were often assertive and even elegant, but she was unable to - well, stand up and walk about. The judges suggested she had no sense of rhythm, and it seems certain that this contributed to her magnificent inability to see what was coming next, even after six days of unbroken rehearsal. Nine out of ten steps came as a complete surprise to her, this must surely have contributed to her repeated injuries. It is easy to hurt oneself if one is moving about without the smallest notion of where one's body is going or what it may do next, let alone if there is another person in one's space moving with a similar degree of mystery.

But Kate Garraway has brought one prodigious moment to television; she brought Craig Revel-Horwood to button his lip.

Mr Revel-Horwood has always liked to be quite stinging in his remarks, and not always constructively critical, either. But Miss Garraway was the Elizabeth Bennet to his Mr Darcy, and by her, he has been properly humbled. By connecting the continuing public vote to keep her in with the pity generated by the judges' cruelty, he has finally seen the light and renounced rudeness. Though it must have pained him, he spoke highly of her "courage" in coming out to dance on Saturday night; and with justification, for someone of her clumsiness must be pretty brave just to get out of bed. Even after he had got his wish, and she had made the bottom two, he was gracious and spoke only of his obligation as a judge, rather than metaphorically trampling all over her with the hobnailed boots of accurate comment.

This goes to show what I have always felt about Craig; he is a big soft lass at heart, and upset and distressed when people don't like him, and I find I rather do.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Customer Satisfaction Survey

I've just had a customer satisfaction survey - from the Council.

I am thrilled. I morris dance with fervid joy. I have never, ever been satisfied with any of the "services" provided by the Council. Public transport sucks, the schools are among the worst in the country, the council tax levy among the highest, and only yesterday the search for parking in the city centre had me on the verge of tears. Bristol's city centre is hopelessly underutilised, in my opinion, as a direct consequence of the council's poor planning. The only available parking is extortionately expensive - I have checked, and Bristol's £3.20 for two hours is the most I have ever been expected to shell out anywhere, including Kensington and Chelsea. Like many of the Distraught Citizens of the City, I have found myself moreorless coerced into paying to park in the Mighty Galleries Car Park, a multi-storey number reminiscent of the Death Star, though possibly with more warnings about your liability for items left in your car. It certainly feels like a journey to the Dark Side, and had I a Jedi lightsabre and the good fortune to find Council Leader Helen Holland between me and the path to Marks and Spencer, I suspect that my hatred might well overwhelm me and lo we would have four council leaders for the price of one, completing my initiation as Darth Gardner.

Why the Evil Council (most undemocratically composed of the Labour group, instead of the Lib Dems duly elected to the majority) robs its taxpayers blind for street parking, instead of just running what must be a highly profitable multi-storey which charges less, is something they have never explained. Possibly because they do not wish to out themselves as a bunch of spendthrift incompetent dollops. Like nobody has noticed.

Back to my customer satisfaction: since the strange Paper I have received does not mention which particular complaint they wish me to comment on, it is quite difficult to complete. I have made two different complaints; one about being awoken by a noisy and re-starting warehouse alarm, and one about Fiery Rubbish, and their response has been quite different.

For the alarm, they kindly said they would send someone to investigate, then rang me back that same night to say it had been off when they visited, and perhaps I could let them know when it started again. Then somebody else telephoned me again the next day to repeat the good news.

The Fiery Rubbish was quite different. Next door but one to me houses people who make more rubbish than seems humanly possible. In a dramatic face-off, the dustmen refused their refuse, until eventually I rang up the council explaining that I objected to living next door to 20 bags full of rubbish on the walkway, usually split by investigative feral felines, foxes or possibly rats, spilling chicken bones and dirty nappies, and that I was not convinced the dustmen's "teaching them a lesson" approach was having the desired effect.

The telephone operative agreed to action it, and some of the rubbish disappeared. Then the rubbish at the bottom of the steps was fired. I was awoken by the flashing lights of the local fire brigade putting it out.

Almost as fired up as the rubbish, I rang again, and demanded that Something Be Done. And to be fair, it has improved massively. Except for the random dumping of toy buggies, old furniture and television sets, almost no refuse is left out on the walkway now for much longer than the statutory fortnight. There have been no further fires, and a significant reduction in the nappy / chicken spillage. But why the council would ask me whether somebody has let me know and kept me in touch with this, I cannot fathom. In the first place, surely if somebody had, there would be a record, and in the second place, why on earth would I care? I don't need the council to talk me through the trauma of the dirty nappies, I just want them to sort out the damn rubbish.

And just for the record, I will not be filling out their monitoring form. They have no right to monitor the gender, colour, sexual orientation or anything else about those who would rather not live on a tip. They should Just Deal With It.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Today I am a Lifer ...

I have low expectations.

It is part of who I am; much of the limitation of my achievement can be directly traced to my limitation of expectation - mine and other people's, mainly mine.

However, today even these modest expectations are Not Being Met, and I am warning the universe, because today, Matthew, I am a Lifer. "Lifers", as you will know, are people - men, largely - who have committed crimes sufficiently nasty to be banged up forever - at least in theory and on the paperwork. When I worked in Probation, the point about Lifers was they were HARD. They were dealt with by specialist officers, a Crack Troop trained to recommend refusal of parole and groupwork to serial rapists and murderers. The Dangerous Offenders POs were so determined and rational they did not give chocolate biscuits to their crims - the polar opposite of Groupwork, where these were a vital part of the befriending and rehabilitation process. I digress. The thing about Lifers is that for the first few years of their sentences, with no hope of parole, they enjoy a reputation for uncontrollability that would be the envy of Britney Spears. They infest prisons, fighting, wounding and generally making a nuisance of themselves to all who cross their paths, because they have nothing whatsoever to lose (much the same is true of the more unpleasant among schoolchildren. As soon as it is legal to restrain 13 year old children in orange fright wigs and encourage others to throw custard soaked sponges at them there will be a lot less conviction among the junior Tontos that they have nothing to lose, and the world will improve very quickly.)

HOWEVER, custard sponging would probably not work for Lifers - certainly it would not have any effect on my stony determination - and today, I am a Lifer. I ask little of the world, but I expect my modest needs to be met. And so, I set out my demands:

1. Kelly and Brendan must be voted off Strictly Come Dancing. Preferably with immediate effect. Perhaps like Emily of Ex X Factor infamy, they might be caught "happy-slapping" some innocent party - Kate Garraway, maybe - on a mobile Device, resulting in their prompt dismissal from the show. Without the public having to look any more at Kelly's ridiculous sequin scarf waving Wonder Woman antics. Why is she running round in her knickers? Even sparkly knickers look a bit silly in public, and combined with Brendan and his corset fetish, it is all too annoying. People who dress like that belong in 1950s Western motion pictures or Eastern European Eurovision Entries.

2. Sootycat must stop pooping on the bathroom floor. Once the poop has been delivered, it is pointless to hope she will not attempt to cover it with a towel or bathmat, because she is pretty cretinous, and obviously doesn't realise I can instantly see if she has clawed down a towel and crumpled it up in the middle of the floor, and even if I were Stone Blind, I would be able to identify the whiff of catshit and make some deductions so astute as to astonish Sherlock Holmes himself. Neither am I overly impressed by her vomiting over my shoes, but one step at a time.

3. I must be delivered a Sinecure. My needs are modest, but I no longer wish to have to do unpleasant things to obtain the money to meet them. If I were prepared to do disagreeable stuff for money I could have Come Upon The Town, so I don't want to do any more. If no sinecure is forthcoming, I shall have to become a Webcam performance artist, and I bet you would all much rather I didn't do that.

You have been warned. Don't mess with me. I am a Lifer.