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Ian Hawkins

Speaker, author, conference moderator & coach

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Gender Politics

Great Women: a personal list #2

Last year, the family said goodbye to my wonderful grandmother, Peg, whose birthday was Christmas Day. Though I also associate her with Shrove Tuesday, as it was during one catastrophic pancake flip that she taught me how to swear like a sailor. Continue reading “Great Women: a personal list #2”

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Great Women: a personal list #1

To mark 100 years since (some) women were granted the right to vote, I thought I’d celebrate some of the women in my life who’ve made it substantially better. Kicking off: Nadine Dereza.

Continue reading “Great Women: a personal list #1”

The Fury and The Anger

I may have acted hastily in clicking the e-petition to get Tyson Fury off the BBC Sports Personality of the Year shortlist. Continue reading “The Fury and The Anger”

Tat For Tot

As my imaginary wife took my imaginary newborn son to the doctor’s, I took his imaginary newborn sister to the tattoo parlour. Continue reading “Tat For Tot”

Disclaimer

Awake too early in a strange hotel room; that’s what I’m used to, and this morning, I reached over to switch on the kettle and a look at the headlines on my iPhone. I looked up the Daily Mail homepage. What would stoke their ire this morning, I wondered?

CLANG!

Tesco, they said, have dropped their support for Cancer Research in order to back next year’s Pride.

Now there are lots of aspects to the article with which we may argue. Chiefly, I think, is that the funding for Pride comes out of a different budget than the money for Cancer Research. The headline might as well read ‘Tesco drops Cancer Research for Disabled Children’ or ‘WI’ or indeed any of the community projects they support. But that wouldn’t be a story, right? Anyone else here spot an agenda shaping up? Teh evil gayz have no more stolen the Cancer Research money than those disabled kids did with their pesky, over-priced playground.

Tesco has backed Cancer Research’s Race for Life for a decade, raising (according to the DM’s numbers) ‘hundreds of millions of pounds’ for the charity. Tesco may not be your favourite multi-national farmer-screwing capitalist octopus, but that there loot ain’t no bad thing. That said, what do I know about morals? As I don’t believe in a god, it’s sometimes interesting to hear from people who think about the eternal in order to check my moral compass. The DM has found two men of god who are calling for a, er, boycott of Tesco. Blimey! I’d love to see their working out. Fortunately the DM quotes them at length.

First up is Francis Phillips, a commentator at The Catholic Herald. I’m going to quote him in full (from the DM story, anyway) with my responses to each of his ill-thought-out statements in italics.

‘Tesco is a supermarket. Its remit has been to sell good-quality food and other items at very reasonable prices, and in this it has been hugely successful. Why has it now aligned itself with an aggressive political organisation such as Pride London?’

Catholicism is a religion. Its remit has been to worship the Holy Family, and in this it as been hugely successful. Why is one of its newspapers now aggressively encouraging readers to take the political action of boycotting a business that operates in a legal manner and provides employment to thousands?

‘Why has it given up its sponsorship of Cancer Research? Or at least…why hasn’t it taken up with another mainstream charity such as the British Legion or Age UK?’

Hold on! Do you mean like this?

‘There are thousands of ex-servicemen and wounded soldiers needing help in this country, and millions of elderly people in danger of neglect.’

That’s true, but how is this relevant to the argument? Are you trying to pedophile priest be deliberately emotive just for the hell of it?

‘They are a fundamental part of the fabric of our society – the kind of fabric that Tesco should be reflecting.’

Tesco do support these groups. Where, for example, do you think I bought the poppy I’m currently wearing? You’d think a journalist would think of googling ‘Tesco charity trust’ before committing to paper. Ultimately, Tesco is built on private money and can do anything it likes within the law. Who is Mr Phillips to tell them what to do? Oh – I forgot: Mr Phillips is a Catholic, and it’s therefore up to him to tell everyone what to do. How neglectful of my Catholic friends who have allowed whole decades to pass without being similarly didactic.

Next, David Skinner of the Anglican Mainstream organisation has written to Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke: ‘For Tesco to sponsor a tiny homosexual minority – according to the Office for National Statistics, that amounts to little more than 1 per cent of the population – will be showing the utmost contempt for a large proportion of British society that still adheres, more or less, to the morality and values of the Ten Commandments.’

David Skinner, two questions:
1. Which of the ten commandments condemns homosexuality?
2. The ONS puts the number of gays in the UK as roughly equal to the number of Jews. Would you similarly disapprove of Jewish charities getting support from Tesco?

Even question 1 is a red herring. How many of them can you name? Read the ten commandments. How many could you honestly say you live your life by?

Emma Gilbert who actually works for Cancer Research was a bit more sane in her appraisal of the situation: the relationship between Tesco and CR ‘came to a natural end for both parties.’ She sounds, well… pretty cool about it, really, doesn’t she? Hey, Dave, Frank – take a chill pill, woncha?

I closed my browser as the kettle, and my blood, boiled quietly. It’s a classic piece of DM spin: find a photogenic victim, find a convenient villain, put them together, put the most emotive quotes at the top and you’ve got a story. I’m conscious that Messers Phillips and Skinner don’t represent all Christians (though you gotta love the audacity of calling your organisation ‘Christian Mainstream’), but whenever there’s a story about gay things, there is always a statement from someone with something nasty to say about us. And do you know? It’s always a Christian! I suspect (though can’t be sure) that Mr Skinner’s view is about as mainstream as those poppy-burning Muslims we keep hearing about.

I can think of plenty of companies that you could boycott because their unethical practices are so bad people actually die as a result. Shall we scour Mr Skinner’s kitchen cupboards and check he only buys Fair Trade orange juice? The tobacco industry uses chemicals that cause the children of some workers to be born without genitals. How does Mr Phillips feel about that? Do I hear a call for boycotting cigarettes? Can I assume that Mr Phillips is a smoker in the same way he assumes Tesco ‘don’t’ ‘support’ the ‘mainstream’ ‘charities’ of his whim? Face it, gents, you just don’t like gays. Which is fine and up to you, but if you’re pumping all of your hatred into this nasty little campaign, then a lot of more worthwhile causes are missing out on your considerable energies.

Here’s a thought: I don’t believe in any god. And if I did, it probably wouldn’t be your god. And if it were, I bet we could still manage to disagree on something. So if your entire objection to a section of society that is as approximately as numerous as the Jews (I keep saying it, because I really want to ram home the point that whether you discriminate or not shouldn’t be based on percentages, and because Jews and gays share a similar history of persecution that should be familiar to any sentient adult in this country), then your opinion is no more than that. Don’t you approve of gay marriages because they don’t please your god? Fine, then equally you shouldn’t approve of Jewish, Muslim, or for that matter civil marriages because they are surely just as abhorrent. Your god can tell you to stand on your head, naked, eating yoghurt for all I care, just don’t expect me to join in unless the process also involves presents, booze and a day off work.

Ian McKellen famously rips out Leviticus from the Gideons Bibles he encounters on his travels. I have some sympathy (it’s not easy being an Ian) but censorship doesn’t sit comfortably with me. So this morning, I finished making my cup of tea, took a pen, and in the inside cover of my hotel room’s Bible wrote:

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

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Oh boy, I feel rough…

I found myself referring to someone as a ‘schoolgirl’ the other day. Nothing strange about that, you might think. After all, the papers routinely refer to ‘murdered schoolgirl’ this and ‘plucky schoolgirl’ that. Which is precisely what worried me. Like finding yourself in agreement with Melanie Phillips, you know that’s a sign that you haven’t properly understood the argument and need to think again.

Surely the ‘school’ bit of ‘schoolgirl’ is redundant? Ah yes, well it would be, but we are so often referring to women as ‘girls’ that the qualifier is necessary. So much is so familiar. But there’s another gendered word on my radar with a definite whiff of disapproval about it.

That word is ‘man’.

I blame man-flu. I don’t know what man-flu is, though I am a man and I have had the influenza virus twice in my life. I suspect that man-flu doesn’t have anything to do with the virus though (it put me on my back for a week each time and was no laughing matter). It’s to do with men having colds and calling it ‘flu and whinging. I can’t claim to speak on behalf of my sex, but it ain’t our fault. ‘Flu is now one of those illnesses that it’s quite acceptable to claim to have without having it. In 1919, influenza killed about 17million people across Europe. Yes, killed. If a hot drink of lemon and crushed paracetemol could fix it, it probably wouldn’t have been so devastating. What you have sunshine, is a cold. Yes a cold. Colds are horrible, but they’re not ‘flu. What you’re talking about is a different condition. The idea that anyone would get ‘flu on a regular basis is a marketing gimmick dreamed up by the lemon drink people. What next? Chocolate for the cancerous? Crisps for Ebola?

I had a cold once. I said I had a cold. ‘Do you mean man-flu?’ I was asked. Well, no, as I’ve come to work, got on with things quietly and kept out of everyone’s way so they don’t catch it, no, I don’t have man-flu. I am allowed to be ill, you know, it doesn’t mean I’m a bad person, and it doesn’t give you permission to call me a wimp. I don’t think that’s what the sexual revolution was about.

The prefix ‘man’ has taken on a life of its own. Anorexia used to be a good, straightforward, deadly psychiatric illness. Now papers are routinely referring to ‘manoraxia’ just to give it that presumably necessary twinge of disparity. I’m sure that’s exactly what anorexic men need. I read an article about David Cameron on holiday, wearing shorts and therefore showing his ‘mankles’. Now I know there are differences between the sexes, but I wouldn’t look to the joint between foot and shin to make a first decision.

I know women have had the rough end of gendered language over the years, but can we agree to stop all of it? Can we they to remember that we’re people before we divvy ourselves up?

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