Recently, I got a friendly leg-pull via email from Louis, who jokingly noted that my various Hooptedoodle efforts appear to be generated by a formula. I complimented him on his good taste in reading such material, and on consideration I have to say that there may be some substance in his theory.
Something current in my life, says Louis – an argument with the bank, non-delivery of a parcel, disappointment over the performance of a virus-checker, a tasteless banana, whatever – will remind me, often via some oblique (or incomprehensible) link, of some remote event in my lengthy past. I shall somehow mix the whole lot up into a yarn of some sort, arrive at some unlikely conclusion and – bingo – another Hooptedoodle is born.
There are times when a glimpse of the truth is uncomfortable. I have to say that I do not fully agree with him; I admit I might recognize a process by which I am led to ponder certain subjects. I cannot claim to have supernatural levels of wisdom or insight to apply to such matters but – like everyone – my views are coloured by my personal experience, and I certainly have a great deal of that. Of course, my ponderings sometimes generate Hooptedoodles, so in the end he probably is on to something.
To prove the point – here’s the formula at work again (I’m self-conscious, now).
On the radio this morning I was listening to an interview with an elected councillor of the city of Stoke on Trent, no less, who is pleased to represent the British Nationalist Party (BNP). I am certainly not going to get into a debate about the BNP, but I listened to what he had to say. Some of what he said seemed to be based on fear, and in essence the thing that he feared most was the disappearance of the community in which he remembered growing up. The strongest attributes he mentioned were that it was an exclusively white, English community, and the trouble starts right there, with the loss of that situation.
OK – let’s not get into any of that. It occurred to me that any kind of presentation of such views is a mixed bag. Some of what he said made some kind of sense. Some of it seemed to me to be wrong, and I deliberately use a vague word like “wrong” because that covers a whole raft of reasons why it might be wrong. It might be absolutely wrong because (say) it is illegal, or morally indefensible for some reason. It may be wrong (to me) because it does not accord with my own views, or the things which I have learned (or been persuaded to believe) – and that is layered with things like religious views, fashions in society, and the dreaded Political Correctness.
The PC thing is tricky – I’ve never found it intuitively natural, and at times it can be counter-productive (CP?). For example, some of the BNP man’s views are definitely frowned upon from a PC perspective, and in some instances quite correctly so. On the other hand, the gradual wearying of the public at large (well, me, anyway) with the screechings of the PC brigade – especially on issues that do not matter a great deal – can make bits of the BNP view sound relatively calm and pragmatic. Not easy to get a handle on.
Anyway, I was left to ponder the complicated mish-mash of legality, good taste, prejudice, vested interests, inculcation, ignorance and genuine grievance which makes opinions seem right or wrong (whatever that means). And I was reminded (that’s right, Louis) of an embarrassing episode – maybe 20 years ago. I was invited to speak at a dinner organized by a Scottish business group. My subject was the future role of technology in the workplace – I wish it had been something else, but – hey – they were going to feed me.
At dinner, I was placed next to another speaker, who was an executive director of a well-known feminist publishing house. She was Agnes – she was about 6 feet 2 inches tall and she wore black clothes. Terrifying – she reminded me of Maria, the mother out of the old Charles Addams cartoons.
Her first line at dinner was “I notice that all the serving staff are girls – I bet the chef is a man.”
I was aware of the terrible history of discrimination against women in all walks of life – especially the workplace – and was generally positive about feminist initiatives, though I was very uneasy about some of the fashionable terminology, and about most of the extremists. So I just nodded, accepting my share of the inherited guilt.
Then we moved on to “how many of your company directors are women?”, to which – I fear – the answer at that time was “none”. And what proportion of our senior managers were women? – well, a growing number, but I had recently had a bad experience in this area (which I did not tell Agnes about, but it certainly coloured my view).
In my area at work there had been a vacancy for a Senior Manager (let’s not worry about what that means), and there were three excellent candidates, of whom two were men and one was a woman. As it happens, the woman candidate was the weakest of the three – she lacked practical experience, and had an overriding need to avoid blame which was worrying. However, we were instructed by our director to choose the woman, because it was important that our company be seen to be actively promoting female staff. I protested to my immediate boss, but it was made very clear that it would not be in our best interests to disagree with the board, so (and I still cringe with shame) we did as we were instructed.
Back to Agnes.
I said, “do you actually employ men, then?”
Oh yes, smiled Agnes, men were much better for lifting big boxes and so forth in the dispatch area, and they also employed some tradesmen.
So let me get this straight – she ran a company which published only female authors, on women’s subjects, exclusively targeted at a female audience, and which had a policy of placing women in all senior positions. I have a feeling, I said, that if I were even to suggest the possibility of creating a counterpart enterprise which was exclusively male, I would be in very big trouble. How is this?
Agnes looked at me as though I were something she had scraped off her shoe, and told me – very firmly – that she was very disappointed that I was just another sexist bigot. That was my very last flirtation ever with the glamorous world of feminist publishing.
Got it wrong again.