Tuesday, 3 July 2012

"It's political correctness gone mad," gone mad

I am a feminist. A liberal, lefty feminist. I am for LGB equality, trans equality, equality for disabled people. I am for immigration, for the rights of carers to be recognised and enshrined in law. I am for the NHS. I am for home-made cheesecake, Malted Milk biscuits and Ian Hislop.

I am against the Daily Mail, hate-mongering, lazy TV and journalism, jeggings, the use of stale, over-chilled malted bread on pre-packaged supermarket sandwiches, and plain, common-or-garden bad manners. More specifically, I hate the phrase, "political correctness gone mad."

Now, I wouldn't like you to think that I espouse the cause of political correctness just because the Daily Mail regularly bash it, although that would be reason enough for any reasonable, compassionate human being. I like political correctness because it's a good thing. Because it prohibits a person from groping me without my permission. Because it stops some mean-eyed, braying dickhead from yelling, "SPASTIC!" at someone in a wheelchair who passes them in the street, referring to their colleague as a "Paki" or making abhorrent jokes about rape. I happen to think, as do most normal people, that it's better to dislike your neighbour because he or she is an arsehole, and be able to back that up with reasons if required, than huh-huhing like a mouth-breathing Beavis in between shouting "retard" or "black bastard." Political correctness, and its adoption broadly across daily life, has reduced the number of people who think it's all right to behave in this shitty way to the minimum, which can only be a good thing. Our manners as a nation have improved somewhat. We are more courteous to one another. One thinks of the Big Brother "scandal" where Jade Goody and Danielle Lloyd targeted Shilpa Shetty using racist language, which once would have been reasonably unremarkable, and, since times have changed, was no longer so. (Although to be fair, it seemed to be more about "gang up on the pretty, bona fide celebrity" than "gang up on the Indian woman", but regardless, the language was used.)

So, given that political correctness is mainly about shying away from the kind of horrible language that very few people would publicly espouse now (as the Big Brother incident showed), why do so many people seem to shy away from saying that political correctness is A Good Thing? The answer is that political correctness has been integrated so successfully into our everyday interactions now that the only time it ever really comes up is in the form of the right-wing whipping-boy of "political correctness gone mad." This is wheeled out every time a new law, or regulation, or suggested modus operandi comes to the attention of the tabloids, including the Mail. The emphasis here is on "suggested." It doesn't even have to be real.

Read my lips: there has never been a "baa, baa rainbow sheep" (or green sheep, as some versions have it). This is an urban legend. The reason whiteboards have replaced blackboards in schools has nothing to do with race. I mean, listen to yourself. It's ridiculous. Schools, in fact, are a repository for a lot of these made-up stories about "political correctness gone mad." An example: "schools now aren't allowed to put plasters on a child's knee when it falls over in the playground!" Bollocks. My eldest is seven this month and always skinning his knees. The school is constantly putting plasters on him. He is half child, half Elastoplast. They don't even have to ask my permission. What they do have to do is tell me that they've done it, which is why I now have a collection of neat little red and white slips chronicling my son's playground injuries. They might have to ask my permission as he gets older when his illnesses might require, say, aspirin, but - and here's the thing - that would actually make sense, given that aspirin makes some people ill, or aggravates pre-existing conditions.

Again, a lot of these legends are "the health and safety" culture. Now, pretty much everyone has been on eye-poppingly irksome health and safety training when they start a new job. You know the kind of thing: don't pour coffee over your computer, don't set yourself on fire, etc. And you can see why it's such an easy target for the anti-political correctness brigade. That said, isn't it better to have a health and safety culture in workplaces than not? Wouldn't you rather have a bit of tiresome jibber-jabber about proper lifting than risk breaking your spine heaving boxes around the wrong way? Personally I'd rather not be killed or severely disabled by my job, so yeah, I'll laugh at the training, but I'll also pay a LOT of attention. So that I live.

And if life and a bit of common courtesy are the outcome of political correctness, then let it go as mad as it likes. I'll see you in Bedlam. But no straitjackets, please. It's not that sort of place any more.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Spinster TV: Junk Food Mums - Pushy and Proud

We recently got TV in the Spinsterhaus, following many months of begging on the part of Mon Geek, and an unexpected saving a a result of switching one of our household bills which left us an additional £20 per month to the good. As a result, a whole new dimension of tack has opened up in my life. I have recommenced my grapple with popular culture, rather more successfully now that I am pinned to the sofa with a baby surgically attached to my nipple. I have developed low-level addictions to programmes I never watched before, like the inescapably middle-class Bob Larbey sitcom As Time Goes By, which is repeated daily on UK Gold, or Nothing To Declare, Pick TV's documentary about Australian border officials. I'm not ashamed. Honestly.

It was after an episode of Nothing To Declare (some madwoman tried to smuggle in three pounds of roast pork in her luggage; a sniffer dog found some cocaine sewn into a vast soft toy that had been mailed to a misspelt address) that I left the TV on the same channel absent-mindedly, and found myself watching a programme called "Junk Food Mums - Pushy and Proud." The title sat awkwardly on top of the programme, like an ill-fitting and inappropriate hat. It purported to be a serious examination of three women's attitude to junk food in their families: Nadine, a 21-year-old mum of four children under five; Debbie, a single mum desperate to stop her twin teenagers from putting on yet more weight; and Sharon, who weighed 37 stone and promoted a fat-positive view to stepdaughter Kate, herself a size 20. What he programme was had nothing to do with a serious examination. In fact, it was a proper carve-up.

Censorious footage of Nadine's four children stuffing McDonald's into their mouths was piled on top of interview footage with Nadine herself, a guileless young woman with a laissez-faire attitude - "My kids eat when they're hungry. If all they'll eat is McDonald's, I'd rather they eat it, and then I know they've been fed." Her unemployed husband, Ricky, (naturally, the programme had to mention that the family was living on benefits at the time) preferred to cook his own food, possibly because he was a qualified caterer. "But your food tastes like crap," Nadine retorts, which is possibly why they split up after the programme was filmed. The whole tone was of blame for this Bad Mum who forced her kids to eat junk. Umm, hello? The other parent in the house? Wasn't Dad as responsible as Mum for what the children ate? Clearly not on this show. As well as the benefit-bashing, partners were conspicuous by their absence. At least Ricky got an interview segment. Sharon's partner, Andrew, made no appearance at all, a bit like Captain Mainwaring's wife. The nearest we got was a lifesize cardboard cut-out of him that appeared with Sharon when she was interviewed as "Britain's Fattest Bride" on This Morning. So, This Morning - flying the flag for acceptance there, then. But the message here was clear - if these kids ate crap, it was Mum's fault.

Nor was there any exploration of the reasons behind the way people eat. Nadine admitted to being "a fussy eater" who struggled herself with trying new foods, and towards the end of the programme, mentioned that she had eaten a lot of junk food growing up. Sharon - an intelligent, articulate woman who started out saying that she was happy with her weight and believed that it was possible to be healthy despite being very overweight - ended the programme by admitting that she was frightened when she went to sleep in case she didn't wake up. The programme barely spoke to Debbie's daughters, although the head of the fat camp she sent them to explained to her that searching their possessions for chocolate wrappers and constantly banging on at them for being fat probably wouldn't really help them lose weight. There was a bit of bogus"exploring the issues" too, as bride-to-be Debbie and her stepdaughter Kate went shopping for bridesmaid's dresses in Debenhams, struggling to find much in size 20 for Kate to try on. (Which is fairly pathetic for a high-street shop. Get your act together, Debenhams.) People stared after Debbie, and occasionally shouted insults, if they were really small-minded. There was a horribly voyeuristic feeling about all this, sneery and unkind, as though watching people shout insults at a bright, pretty woman because of her weight wasn't really much different from heavy-handed, meaning footage of the same overweight woman sweating after a short walk through a shop. It left a bad taste in my mouth.

As the credits rolled, a defensive message screened, stating that all the individuals shown had been given access to healthcare professionals to help them with their eating choices, as though that was enough to make it all OK. It wasn't. This lazy snide type of programming is a disgrace to the schedules. If this is modern TV, bring back the freakshow. At least it didn't try to pretend it was anything other than what it was.