How I became an accidental sexist

At work I'm taking part in this big international exercise event called The Global Corporate Challenge. Basically the idea of this is to get people out and about and doing exercise in teams. We're all given a pedometer and we tot up our daily step count and we register our daily cycle miles on the site too.

At the start of the challenge, we got together in groups. As I was away on honeymoon at the time, I was teamed up with a group of 5 people I'd not met from across the university, which was fine by me and we agreed on the team name "Desperate Disparates" to show that we were a rag tag bunch of chancers.

I was really looking forward to getting started, and at the beginning of the challenge, the team leader sent an email around with our first team challenge, hoping to get us bonding.

"So," he said, "Who wants to try and make a logo for our team?"

Being the creative type, I decided this would be a good idea for me to have a go, and I figured that I'd get the first one out and let the others catch me up. So I started by doing a quick search for "Silhouette walker" and found an image of a silhouette of a woman walking a dog. I found the dog a little dull, so I looked for a monkey instead, cut the monkey out and put it on the end of a lead. A few tweaks later and I had the final creation ready to go, which I sent out to the whole team.

About half an hour later, I got an email back from one of the (female) participants, which was a reply to all that said something like

"I think this is an awful logo. Not to mention it's sexist"

I was aghast. I knew it wasn't the best work I'd done, but a reply to all email accusing me of being sexist?! I looked closely at the logo a few times trying to work out what I'd done wrong. I asked my colleagues at work and nobody could see anything wrong with it.

I then asked someone else, a black girl, who saw nothing at all wrong with it. When I mentioned that it had offended someone she scratched her chin and said "Oh yes! I see. It could be racist if you think about it. That woman is walking a monkey, which could be said to show white superiority over blacks!"

D'oh! What a minefield!

Anyway, I decided to let this blow over, and have never met the group I'm meant to be walking with, choosing instead to walk with my wonderful wife, who knows full well I'm neither racist nor sexist.

Then, this weekend, I was watching BBC iPlayer, and noticed a documentary about the Impressionist painters in France, which piqued my curiosity. The documentary talked about Georges Seurat, who painted scenes using lots of dots of colour. This technique of using points of colour was called "pointilism" and the commentator spoke about some of his best works, Bathers at Asnieres and Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

Immediately when they showed this picture, I was drawn to the woman with the parasol. She looked almost identical to my silhouette right down to having a monkey on a lead!

Apparently this latter piece, Seurat's most famous, was also a social commentary. According to Webexhibits

The Grande Jatte makes use of symbols. A monkey in French (and female) is known as “singesse,” denoting a prostitute. The smartly dressed woman is fishing — but for what? Then, as now, spectators have questioned Seurat’s meaning.

This agreed to what the narrator on the BBC had to say. Apparently "singesse" was a well known French slang term for prostitute in the 19th century! The woman with the monkey on the lead was, by extension, a prostitute! So there we have it. Apparently my piece, by some freak accident, was indeed as sexist as you can get!

*sigh* How was I to know I had a French art historian in the group...
blog comments powered by Disqus