There was a funny picture on Twitter the other day – it was a man posing the question, ‘I always find it difficult to tell if they are male or female …’
He was holding a chicken.
This, I guess you could call a clever joke, plays into the realm of psychology that considers conscious and unconscious biases – the expectation being the guy is a sexist and the reality being that our unconscious biases take us down a blind alley.
For several months I have been listening to the Adam Buxton Podcast (I spend a lot of time listening to podcasts) and something Adam has discussed previously is his interest in the word ‘actor.’
The other week he was interviewing British actress/comedian (comedienne?) Ellie White and he asked whether she considered herself an actor (with the emphasis on the ‘or’) or an actress.
Adam has been talking about actors for a while.
That is what he calls actors, male and female.
I’d never really understood or considered what he was getting at until his most recent podcast when he interviewed the Irish musician/comedian/writer/artist Blindboy.
Prior to this interview I’d never heard of Blindboy (actual name, Blindboy Boatclub) – (Google reminds me he is also a podcaster, TV presenter and satirist.)
You can hear the whole discussion here.
It blew me away.
I haven’t heard such smooth, selfless candour and honesty in a long time; the conversation ranged from philosophy and comedy to psychoanalysis, the linguistics of class and gender identity.
It was here they mentioned the actor again.
This time I got it.
When you say someone is an actor, the supposition is that they are a guy; as if, well, actors are men and women can act but they aren’t actors they are actresses.
Big deal you might say.
Let’s put it another way.
I was talking with my son recently; those of you who follow this blog, might recall this weekend’s discussion about the Romantics – well, a follow-on from that chat was my son’s reflections that he might not get into medical school.
I said to him, ‘You could be a male nurse.’
He replied, ‘You mean, a nurse.’
I’d fallen into the same trap as the actors and actresses.
Yes, most of the nurses I know are women, but nurse doesn’t mean woman just as bus driver, doctor or engineer doesn’t mean man.
This is all rooted in the concept of conscious and unconscious bias.
We, that is everyone tends to think of themselves as being unbiased.
If you ask Mr Trump, ‘Would you say you are biased against women/Mexicans/People of Colour/the poor/scientists’ he would almost certainly respond, ‘I AM THE MOST UNBIASED PERSON IN THE ROOM!’
Most of us think we are good.
Interestingly you can actually take a test to determine how good or bad you are at these things, particularly at an unconscious level, for that is where this all operates (I am currently listening to a Blindboy podcast from 29/11/17 in which he discusses the unconscious viewed through a chance encounter with an otter; see here.)
It is called the Harvard Implicit Association Test; I did it once and discovered I was a racist, misogynist, ageist, well, pig. It isn’t for the fainthearted.
It does however make me realise how incredibly my children are.
And although education seems to have fallen off a precipice of standardised tests and the planet is crumbling; young people today are liberated from so many of the dodgy biases that were central to my upbringing in the 1970’s.
You see, I might think I am enlightened; I read books by people from different backgrounds, I visit art galleries when they are open, I am really a product of the Badlands of my early years.
And how many readers are the same?
How many of you hear, ‘The doctor will see you now’ and assume you will find a man, even though most doctors are women?
It is so very easy because I have been around longer than my children to assume I know better; I don’t.
I know different.
I need to be deconstructed.