Equality, prejudice, discrimination and the law
Amanda Hamilton shares her views on the difficulty around proving misogyny, homophobia, discrimination, prejudice and sexism in light of the ‘kiss-gate’ scandal
The final of the recent Women’s World Cup tournament should have been celebrated as a huge advancement for women’s football. The matches were exciting, the players were skilful, the TV audiences were huge. But then, as Spain revelled in their victory, the celebrations were soured by kiss-gate.
Instead of talking about advances in female sport, misogyny, sexism, entitlement and abuse of power dominated television, radio, newspaper and social media discussions.
A long way to go
It is clear that while there appears to be a willingness to have equity between the sexes, to have less discrimination and a more tolerant society, there is evidently no such thing in practice. Misogyny, homophobia, discrimination, prejudice and sexism continue to exist despite the laws that are there to discourage them. It has just gone underground and is less spoken about. This is not just in relation to women’s football, but to the whole of society.
In the UK, since 2004 we have civil partnerships for same sex couples and, in 2014, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) 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 is just more difficult to prove.
The eye of the beholder
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, or 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.
Discrimination, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. 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 spoke aggressively to her. 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.
My friend contacted the police and officers visited the male neighbour. Some months later, she 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 and denied any homophobia.
Unfortunately, this is not a unique experience. 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. Being well educated, well qualified, with massive experience in the relevant field and having excellent references can sometimes not be enough to secure a job. Nothing will be said, but there will be a feeling. And that is not much to back up a complaint.
Laws may be there to protect individuals legally in theory, but in practice they do not prevent inequality or injustices or discrimination from actually happening in society. Perhaps we should be making complaints more often. The more issues are addressed, the more it may affect a change in attitude. But it will take time.
Amanda Hamilton is the patron of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP)