Some time a go a colleague in work mentioned in passing that she’d seen a photo of me on the University staff pages that appeared to be missing a number from underneath it. Other than that, it was a perfect mug shot. Needless to say, it was soon replaced by a photo that was vaguely more flattering.
The Guardian too seems to have been replacing photos of hacks in recent months and I noticed that Julie Bindel has a new photograph accompanying her articles (it may be months old, I only noticed today). It was not taken by someone who likes Julie Bindel. She appears to have the feint beginnings of a moustache accompanied by black and baggy eyes. The website photo (the same one) looks slightly better but she might still want to undertake a similar exercise to the one I did, and replace the photo for a more flattering – and indeed accurate – photo.
I don’t say this to mock – glass houses/stones and all that – but it did seem ironic accompanying a story which is all about looks and an attitude of anti-lesbianism. It’s a great piece from Bindel, well worth a read. She concludes that: ‘hate speech serves as a warning to all women and girls that we have to toe the line – be properly feminine and subservient to men, and if we are to dabble in lesbianism then at least have the courtesy to look like a male fantasy of one.’
Are not my own initial reflections an indication of the very thing that Bindel is talking about? That I begin by commenting on facial features. Of course they are. Are you ‘less’ of a woman to look like you have facial hair? My academic answer is simple: No. My honest – none academic – answer is I’m not sure, but it does make me uncomfortable. My intellectual side says it shouldn’t, don’t be absurd and yet there it is. It leaves me uncomfortable. If I see an elderly woman with facial hair, do i think less of her? Yes, I think she’s let herself go, that she should have it removed. These prejudices run deep in those who we might thing of as ‘enlightened’ in so many other respects.
Indeed, I wonder how many liberal types – of all sexualities – will read the Bindel piece, nod sagely and continue to neglect their own prejudices? The colleague mocking my photo did not suggest I was any less of a man for a bad photo, yet often – as Bindel notes – we do apply those values to lesbian identities.
I would suggest we also apply a similar set of expectations to masculinities, and critique campness as similarly deviant. The key difference is that camp is seen as safe – safer than ‘straight’ masculinity whilst butch lesbianism is seen as more dangerous than ‘straight’ femininity.
Too often we think that hate speech is something that others do. Don’t dismiss the Bindel piece. Read it and reflect.