“It’s not sexist, it’s a statement against political correctness” aka don’t mess with my male privilege

Councillor David Taylor (Nottinghamshire County Council) has put up a soft porn calendar on his office wall. The office being that of his official county council offices, just for clarity. His reasoning is that it’s a political statement against political correctness. He apparently takes it down when he has visitors. He says a man should be allowed to put whatever he likes up in his own office.

Now here we go with logical flaws you can drive a coach and horses through at high speed:

1. it’s not “his” office, it belongs to the council which will have regulations about what can and can’t be displayed (and probably about use of bluetack v drawing pins and similar too). They own the walls, they can make the rules. He’s an elected employee (effectively) and just like the rest of us may chafe against some rules of our employers but we’re stuck with them.

2. If it’s such a grand statement why doesn’t he stick to his guns and keep it up all the time? Why is it external visitors get special treatment but the men and women he works with are deemed less important?

3. How exactly doe this challenge “political correctness” and what does he mean by that? Does he mean he has a right to bigotry at the absolute exclusion of anyone elses right to safety and security? Would he agree it was OK to display a poster saying “sexually exploit all white middle class elected representatives?” Or a poster celebrating lynchings in the US? Or a poster demonstrating D-I-Y castrations? I suspect not but he’s a special person who demands special privileges because he feels impinged upon because he can’t freely flaunt his bigotry.

4. What purpose is he putting this calendar to? What reasoning does he have for a soft porn calendar? OK so it will tell him the date but does he think his visitors want a quick spell of arousal (if they relate to the sorts of airbrushed images they portray) when they come to talk to him about sewerage or planning permissions or the rates of sexual violence in the County? More to the point is he prepared to accept that he has no grounds on which to complain about any blokes with obvious erections in his office from now on? No matter how uncomfortable that might make him (if he can’t take it as a homosocial bonding moment obviously). Does he think it makes him look cool or edgy or “making a stand”, ‘cos to me it makes him look like a rather sad middle aged white bigot with a penchant for surgically altered models with their tits out and trust me, that’s not a good look.

I choose the posters on my office wall to make it look nicer, to inform people of things like demo’s or helpful development sessions, to challenge people (sometimes) and sometimes to make people think. For the record I have a poster from a Suffregette exhibition, some funny postcards around a variety of issues, three abstract paintings by a school-aged friend and, eventually when I get round to putting it up, a Peter’s projection map. I turned down a poster which could be taken as promoting smoking (advice from a 1960s teenage magazine) because I felt that was not acceptable in my workplace.

For me, here’s what this story amounts to – “Hands off my male privilege” or, more fully, “I am a white, middle class man and I feel having to be aware of the needs and feelings of others, even where they represent a basic human need, is just curtailing my right to use my privilege wherever I see fit and if you complain about it you’re trying to deny my rights and police my behaviour”. Oh and a cheap excuse for the Daily Mail to publish some more topless shots just in case any readers didn’t know what women’s boobies looked like.

Here’s a thing, raving against “political correctness” is a tactic designed by those with privilege to deny the right to complain about demeaning behaviours. I’ve had it in face to face settings where I’ve pointed up some racism, sexist, heteronormative or transphobic comment and I’ve got back “That’s just political correctness gone mad”. The implication being I can’t possibly believe in the rights of these “others”, I’m just trying to be trendy or evil or something. Here’s the rub – I really do believe in anti-oppressive speech and action and to anyone who claims its just PC gone mad I make this point – they are saying they prefer oppressive speech and action.

You know I kind of like it when it’s turned around…..I mean it’s just oppressiveness gone mad to claim the right to oppress others without any criticism or comeback. It’s demeaning my right to live in an atmosphere of responsibility to others and to act in accordance with what is socially just even when it’s personally challenging. How can we challenge this backlash madness and make them see that my right to life without fear and without having to waste my time calling out oppression take precendence over their rhetoric of individual bigotry? Why is it they just don’t understand that I don’t care that they feel aggreived, it’s my right to live in an atmosphere of mutual respect because that’s what I’ve worked for.

So, my question today, lovely readers, is how do we (or how do you) challenge this sort of pro-oppression nonsense….?