From the decline of the NHS to the election of Donald Trump, insights from analysis can help us understand our fragile political timesby Susie Orbach / January 8, 2018 / Leave a comment
Mary Beard, the renowned classicist, said as she lectured on Women and Power last year that on hearing a woman pilot’s voice through the airplane’s PA system, she did a double take. At first, she wondered why the cabin staff were making such an important announcement. She talked of thinking of Professors and Pilots as male, despite she herself being a professor. It reminded me of the 1970s riddle: a father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad. The son is rushed to the hospital with a brain injury. Just as he’s about to be operated on the neurosurgeon says, “I can’t operate—that boy is my son!” Who is the neurosurgeon?
In 2018 we might answer that the surgeon is the other Dad. Issues of sexual orientation and parenting are no longer confined to heterosexual tramlines. But enlightened as we like to think we are today, how fast would we would say, “his mother?” How deep is the internalisation of misogyny that many of our responses would echo Beard’s?
Beard’s point, of course, is that our thinking is shaped by all sorts of preconceptions that operate without us even being aware. That’s an important insight at any time, but especially when sexist assumptions are in the spotlight as never before. And especially, too, at time when countless known knowns in politics have become unknown unknowns, as the self-anointed authorities on “what people want” have been shown to mis-read them in contexts including Corbyn, Brexit and Trump.