I was once part of a team carrying out a Gender Audit of an academic institute, one involved in the field of international development. I ran a focus group with the senior male professors and got them to role play their female research fellows, for whom their career prospects were far more limited. It was one of the most hilarious and depressing experiences of my professional career. They simply couldn’t do it, and when they tried they were so lacking in empathy, it was frankly embarrassing. It was an expression of this dominant culture, one practised by those who held power in the institution and had no awareness of how it affected those who were not white, middle-aged men.
My sons look different – well, different to the majority of boys their age; they have long hair of ever-changing colours (red, bleach blonde, black), have in the past wore eye make-up, and their clothes are black. Gay, faggot, queer, are terms regularly used by passers-by at them, and sometimes those looking for trouble. The currency of such a derogatory term has increased massively in the past five years among people. It is an indicator of the way in which, what lies beneath can easily come to the fore, to the mainstream. In other contexts it is this type of behaviour that blocks pathways to opportunity for many people who look different. It engenders a fear, a dislike of ‘others’, whether they be refugees, a woman breastfeeding in public, or people with ginger hair.
Andrew McMillan’s poem, The Schoolboys shows the subtlety of this type of discrimination; the one that lurks and only comes out at particular times, one that is not the whim of a teenage child either, but from someone who has for many years possibly not seen such behaviour as exhibited by the subjects of the poem. (more…)