Equity between the sexes, less discrimination, and a more tolerant society – any reasonable person would want this. But misogyny, homophobia, discrimination, prejudice, and sexism continue to exist despite the laws that are there to discourage them. These things are just worn on fewer sleeves.
Take kiss-gate at the recent Women’s World Cup tournament, which had been enjoying excellent football and massive TV audiences. In the UK, more than 12 million viewers watched the final between England and Spain. As the final whistle blew and Spain celebrated victory, it was undeniable that women’s football has come a long way, particularly in the last ten years.
And then the thing happened.
The (now former) Spanish football federation president held the head of one of the Spanish players (Jenni Hermoso) with both hands and kissed her on the lips. Something few people would bet on happening with a male footballer. Reactions around the world ranged from raised eyebrows to outrage. Calls for resignations were rejected, the Spanish football federation (RFEF) threatened legal action over the player’s comments on the incident (she made it clear that the kiss had not happened with her consent) and Spain’s win soured.
Instead of talking about advances in women’s sport, misogyny, sexism, entitlement, and abuse of power dominated television, radio, newspaper, and social media discussions.
These issues are not limited to women’s football.
Discrimination is in the eye of the beholder
In the UK, since 2004 we have civil partnerships for same sex couples and in 2014, the same sex marriage Act became law. On the face of it there should be parity between heterosexual and homosexual partners and legally there is. However, in reality, there remains an underlying streak of prejudice relating to homophobia. Indeed, prejudice of all kinds remain. It’s just more difficult to prove.
The difficulty becomes apparent when you, as an individual, believe you have been subject to any kind of prejudice or discrimination because there is no way to prove it unless there happens to be concrete evidence, such as something in writing, a voice or video recording. Evidence is something that is easy to avoid if you are a perpetrator. All you have to do is to avoid saying or writing anything specifically derogatory.
As a reasonable person, one knows whether a raised voice and/or aggressive action is aimed at you because you are gay, a woman or of ethnic origins.
I have a female gay friend who heard raised voices outside her home and went out to investigate as she recognised the female voice of her immediate neighbour. The neighbour was engaging with a man standing in his garden opposite her neighbour. My friend had never previously spoken with the man. When she asked whether everything was alright, the man aggressively turned to her, told her to mind her own business and added that her boundary wall between her property and that of her opposite neighbour was coming down. The friend, who is a very strong independent woman, and well-integrated socially was unusually upset by this unprovoked aggressive treatment and was convinced it was fuelled by homophobia. There was nothing explicit in the words used to indicate this, but she just instinctively knew. She called the police and explained the incident to the two officers that arrived and they offered to visit the diagonally opposite neighbour.
Some months later, my friend requested the police report and was shocked to find that the police officers completely rejected her allegation and believed the neighbour when he said that it was just a spat and there was nothing in it. The police even stated in the report that there was definitely no ‘homophobia’ involved as the neighbour had denied it.
Underground but regularly rearing its head
Unfortunately, this is not a unique occurrence. If a female worker complains about sexual harassment at work, it becomes the word of the victim against the perpetrator. Many years ago, when I worked in the property business, my boss was in the habit of commenting on women’s attributes as they walked past the shopfront. Having informed him that I found it insulting and inappropriate, he just told me to lighten up and that if I wanted to ‘move up’ the ladder, I would have to change my attitude. It was just a bit of ‘fun’.
I have had similar stories told to me in respect of discrimination due to ethnic origin. A friend of colour went for a job interview. She was well educated, well qualified and had massive experience in the particular field with excellent references. She did not get the job. This is not necessarily uncommon, but she told me that in the interview, which she thought went very well on the whole, there was a feeling from one of the three interviewing her that she definitely thought was not right and her instinct told her it was discrimination. She is not the sort of person that plays that card. She shrugged it off because that was all she could do. She could not go back and complain because what would be the basis of the claim? A feeling? An instinct?
Laws may be there to protect individuals legally in theory, but in practice they don’t prevent inequality or injustices or discrimination from actually happening in society.
How do we affect a change?
It is not always easy to call out bigotry, misogyny, racism, sexism, entitlement and abuse of power. Jenni Hermoso found herself under pressure from the Spanish football federation just for expressing her thoughts and feelings about something that happened to her. But she was supported by politicians, celebrities, and other players – more than 80 refused to play for Spain while the Spanish football federation president remained in post and the men’s national team condemned the “unacceptable behaviour”. That support contributed to resignations and sackings, and a determination by many in Spain to make further progress.
We should all think twice before letting bigotry, misogyny, racism, and sexism slide. Perhaps one way forward is to make a complaint to the police under the umbrella of “antisocial behaviour” and insist that you see the police report. If, as happened to my friend, the report is inaccurate, you should then make a point of complaining further.
Alternatively, you could request a legal professional, such as a licensed paralegal, to write a letter to the perpetrator. Neither action may produce a satisfactory result, but the more it is addressed, the more it may affect a change in attitude.
Amanda Hamilton is the patron of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP), a non-profit membership body and the only paralegal body that is recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual.