Monday, 9 November 2009

No Hetero!

I've discovered a new reason to love the internet: Bryan Safi's 'That's Gay' segments from a US show called infoMania. This guy is a genius: He's funny, camp-but-owns-it, rather than camp-to-amuse-straight-people, and he identifies and dismantles casual and not-so-casual homophbia in popular culture.
The title 'That's Gay' is spoken in a disparaging tone (as in 'ew, that's so gay') but the title graphics are a cute, cheery rainbow design, immediately forcing the viewer to remember that the negative use of this phrase and the second class citizenship of the queer community are, in some mysterious way, linked. It's a very clever show.
The thing that really caught my eye was a segment on the use in hip-hop music of the phrase 'No Homo' - i.e. "Not that I'm gay or anything!", possibly short for "I'm no homo, but..." Click here to watch. It has typical gangsta rap lyrics that get quite graphic, so watch out if playing it in the office...
As Safi points out, this phrase is highly offensive. The idea is that it allows straight homophobes to act in ways that might be construed as effeminate or gay (male to male affection, appreciation of beauty in anything other than female sex organs, use of sexual slang towards other men) without allying themselves with the queer community they hate so much. I guess this is KIND of a step forward in that it frees them up to be slightly less macho absoloutely all of the time. However, the people specifying that their words or actions 'no homo' usually make multiple references to their heterosexual exploits as well. By sayin 'no homo' they are not giving us shock breaking news that they aren't gay, the are making quite sure we remember that they don't LIKE gay people and don't even want to share your train of thought with a bunch of queers.
When Lil Wayne says 'no homo', Peter Tatchell does not fall onto the floor weeping in shock & disappointment that one of the most promising gay hip hop role models has gone back into the closet. We can extrapolate that he's 'no homo'(or at least that he's not comfortable with any homosexual feelings he might be experiencing...) from the desperately overt heterosexuality portrayed in his songs, videos and lifestyle. Why say it at all?

But now I am worried. If doing something as innocuous as stating affection for friends, admiring a landscape or rhyming 'luck an'' with 'buttfuckin' throws doubt on hip hop artist's sexuality, what about the thousands of ostensibly heterosexual things I say and do? Things like showing affection to a male friend, deciding to wear make-up, even (gasp) enjoying hip hop! I wouldn't want people to get the wrong idea about me, I mean, gross. Imagine people thinking I'm hetero. I'd never live it down. But I've come up with a solution: No hetero. It works just like no homo, but you say it after doing something terminally straight.

"I just bought the most gorgeous pair of heels! No hetero!"
"I think David Tennant's kind of hot... no hetero."
"Fuck you, Nick Griffin! No hetero."

and for the boys,

"Hey who cares if my accessories don't match! And sandals are just more comfortable with socks! No hetero."
"Hey! Golddigga! I love this song! No hetero."
"No hetero, but Megan Fox has an amazing body..."

I think it could take off.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Bad women drivers, funny foreigners and stereotypical poofs? It's OK: It's "edgy".

What the hell is happening to comedy? For most of my teenage and adult life, 'alternative' comedy has been pretty much mainstream, with the Jim Davidsons and Bob Monkhouses of the world being viewed as bigoted has-beens. Jokes about nagging mothers in law, black people with 'hilarious' accents and mincing, prancing gay men were disdained as offensive or, more damningly, unfunny. Comedy got surreal, monologue rather than one liner based, and was even occasionally delivered by the women, ethnic minorities and queers who had previously been the butts of the joke .
I'm not saying that the new breed of comedy was clean, wholesome and politically correct. Where would the fun be in that? It was just that prejudice and bigotry were perhaps more likely to be the target of the comedy than its basis, also with the more culturally diverse collection of comedians, routines about minority cultures were more likely to come 'from the horse's mouth' than from a platform of straight white male superiority.
I suppose my generation has been spoiled by the range of alternative comedy available. The old-school hasn't gone away, it just stopped being the be all and end all, and a generation rejoiced.

But in the newish, now somewhat shop-soiled millenium, a scary new trend has taken place. Comedians show up making jokes about the queen both being old and having a vagina*, smelly gypsies** and gay men liking musical theatre***. Are they washed up, old school comedians on tired reruns on 'the worst of the 80s' compilations? Nope, they're just "edgy". It's postironic, apparently. These guys are deliberately being provocative and making us laugh out loud in shock as they break the taboos no-one else will touch. They're laughing AT the racism and sexism and homophobia we all secretly harbour. That's the theory, anyway. To me it just sounds like old recycled crap. I heard some of it on radio 4 the other day. RADIO BLOODY FOUR! (think NPR if you're in the US) If you can't get PC liberal bias on radio 4, what's the world coming to? And yet, I was hearing jokes about the collective noun for young frogs being 'french exchange trip', a German guest was ridiculed for having an incomprehensible accent (it wasn't) and laws against women drivers were touted as a good idea in a panel game hosted by David Mitchell. Mitchell is pretty funny, and is definitely not old hat, so why is he, like so many comedians, going for this tired old material? Is it an eighties trend too far, or was the halcyon decade of jokes not based purely on the prejudices of the hegemony an abberation in a centuries old tradition of comedy?
Watch out women, queers and foreigners: Normal service has been resumed.
*Frankie Boyle, **Jimmy Carr, ***Demetri Martin for god's sake! Is no-one safe?
That silly woman and hairy lesbian Word Geek

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Equal Pay for Equal Work

Recently I've found two of my long standing kneejerk reactions in conflict with one another.

Immovable Truth #1: Workers who are unfailry treated can and should strike and should have the support of the public. As a child of the north and the eighties, it would be difficult fo strikes not to be an emotive subject for me. As such, when the bin men in Leeds went on strike, my reaction was 'right on, go for it!' - as weirdly70s as that may have sounded.

Immovable Truth #2: Men and women should be paid equally for equal work. Not just the same job, but EQUAL work, so that could be two different jobs that are equally as challenging as each other, but one might be a job more dominated by women, e.g. care work, while another might be something we associate with men, e.g refuse collection, but they should still get the same pay. Especially if both jobs are paid by the same agency, e.g. Leeds city council.

I'm pretty good on non-sexist language, but even I struggle with saying refuse collector, or 'bin-person', as much as I struggle with 'dinner person' or 'lunch supervisor'. It's dinnerlady, and part of my soul rebels, even when I'm talking about a MALE I have no problem with a guy serving fishfingers and chips* in the school cafeteria, or a lady emptying my wheelie bin of a Tuedsay, in fact I rejoice on the rare occasions I see these things, but the societal sexism around certain jobs runs deep, language-deep. As a result, not many women are binmen. I've NEVER seen one, in fact. The odd dinnerbloke, and male care assistant, yes. Female bus drivers, rare, but getting more common. Binladies? Nope. Nada. And funnily enough, which sector of Leeds city council employees turn out to be getting paid loads more than their equivalents? Binmen. Funny that.It's not the guys' fault. Rubbish collection is a strenuous but well paid job. competiton for jobs is high and these guys have worked hard to get them, and bought houses and cars in good faith that their paycheques weren't going to suddenly get slashed. It's shitty to suddenly pull the rug out from under them like this. Care assistants, on the other hand, are incredibly poorly paid, and I can tell you first hand that anyone claiming that helping a stroke victim with senile dementia get up, get washed and dressed, go to the toilet, and eat breakfast while reassuring them that everything's OK despite the fact that they've forgotten that their spouse died 20 years ago and aren't really sure who you are even though you've done the same thing every day for a year takes LESS skill, strength and sensitivity than collecting wheelie bins and emptying them into the back of a lorry can only be being deliberately obtuse.

But this is the council we're talking about.

Equal pay legislation has been around for decades now and yet women take home considerably less than men. Not because, as has been suggested by some pundits, they 'choose lower paid jobs' but because they are socialised towards certain skillsets, and those areas are devalued simply BECAUSE they are 'women's jobs' Cooking, cleaning, care of children and vulnerable adults: none of these are seen as occupations worthy of a 'real man'. Recent UK legislation demands transparency from councils in what they pay jobs of equivalent skill, and now decades of disparity in 'masculine;' and 'feminine' jobs has come to light. Leeds is the tip of the iceberg. Bin strikes are planned in Brighton and may go nationwide as councils are forced to even up the pay. This has to happen, but by making the bin men take the brunt of the changes in savage cuts, the council risks further polarising male and female workers by creating bad feeling between them, and then claiming that the much needed payrises in 'women's jobs' are impossible because of the stubbornness of the bin workers.

I don't know what the answer is, but I think there's a lesson here.

Much like the recent MP's who've been forced to pay back extravagant put previously legal expense claims, binmen have enjoyed an unfair advantage. It's not their fault and they did nothing legally wrong, and now they are losing that advantage, which really stings.
So if you're offered a job with benefits that just... seem too good to be true, proceed with caution, because at any moment it could get whisked away.

*Um, I mean sustainably sourced grilled fish slices and fat free potato wedges, which in NO WAY resemble the junkfood they replaced. Thanks, Healthy Schools Initiative!