Thursday, 17 September 2009

Prejudice, idiots and retribution

I'm thinking about getting a tattoo. Across my forehead.

I am utterly and unreservedly pissed off with the attitudes of people in positions of power when they meet me. I say positions of power, rather than professionals, because this isn't just an issue I have with traditionally 'powerful' people. I even experienced it last week from a library assistant.

What am I talking about? Judgemental attitudes.

I'm wondering what I should put on my tattoo, something simple like "I've got a degree, actually," might cover most of it.

I feel so disgusted when people think they can talk to others with such condescension, based on prejudices about the way someone is dressed, the colour of their hair, or their age. I don't know which of these aspects I get judged on most often, whether it is a combination of all of them or something more, but it damn well pisses me off!

Two recent events have triggered this:

The first was when I discovered NP had an eye infection and I rushed her to an emergency appointment at the surgery. She'd already had two such infections in previous months and I wanted to catch it early this time. We took Spongebob with us, a little toy that she finds very comforting and sleeps with every night, but doesn't tend to use as a comfort item all the time. It also gets washed regularly.

I was seen by an older female doctor who proceeded to speak to me in a tone that rendered me speechless:

Her: "Well, it doesn't help using Spongebob to wipe her eye with then rubbing it all over the other eye"

Me: "hahaha [nervous laughter] yeah I know"

Her: "No, I'm serious because....blah blah put it in the microwave blah blah [ basically continuing in the vein of 'you're a stupid girl]' "

Firstly, I've just acknowledge what you said, you really don't need to qualify that for me.

Secondly, I know how infections work. I was even commended by the last lovely doctor I saw for not letting it spread to the other eye after weeks of trying to treat it at home. The other eye wasn't even showing signs of gunk this time.

Thirdly, that tone of voice is one I wouldn't use with anyone who was asking me a perfectly reasonable question, even if I thought they needed a little education. It was reminiscent of the teacher at primary school telling off the serial misbehave-er! Yes, my kid was getting a recurring infection, but it's not like I can prevent her getting a cold and rubbing her snot in her eye!

The whole situation got me so flustered that I couldn't even string sentences together, I was so angry, but instead of delivering a well structured smack down about prejudice, I ended up silently fuming whilst babbling about biological washing powder!

The other incident involved the utter stereotype of a grumpy library assistant. I don't say this lightly - I have years of experience of working in libraries and happen to know that lots of library staff are fun-loving, fantastic people. It boiled down to the fact that I was listed as 'staff' on the library system, when I no longer worked for the authority. This individual reeked of condescension throughout our whole exchange, for no reason other than the fact my status hadn't been changed on the computer. I tried to make light of it:

Her: "Do you still work there?"

Me: "No, not for a while, haha"

Her: "Well you shouldn't really be staff then should you?" (note the same 'stupid girl' tone?)

Me: "Ahh, isn't there some kind of solidarity with ex-staff?" (Joking, smiling, being friendly)

Her: "No"

Utterly miserable cow, no doubt, but why?

Why did this jobsworth assistant feel the need to be so bleeding miserable with someone who's attitude was nothing but friendly? Perhaps it's also useful to bear in mind that I'd already had this conversation 1 year earlier with a (supervisory) member of staff at a local branch library; a lady with whom I'd had a lovely chat about the changes since I'd worked there. She also (obviously) hadn't changed my status at that time.

Maybe I'm paranoid, maybe I'm overly sensitive, maybe maybe maybe.

But maybe I'm getting judged for being a young, blonde, lazily dressed parent. I may just try one day getting an appointment with the same doctor, dressed in a suit with a power hair-do and make up. Because I'm perfectly capable of doing that. I'm perfectly qualified to hold a job that would require that. But why should I conform to society's class standards and gender restrictions?

I was a mum worried about her daughter, I wasn't going to dress up to go to the sodding doctors in an emergency, and I shouldn't be judged for that. My little girl wanted some comfort and I let her take her toy, I shouldn't be judged for that. Perhaps I should stop being friendly and approachable, because it stops people from forming respectful opinions?

It's hard to broach this issue when you're dealing with a power difference, obviously, but at least with the library situation I've got the means and inclination to do something about it. I sent a very derisive email to the library and received the following (abridged) reply today:

I am very sorry that you had such poor service on Saturday. It was obviously far below our standards and I apologise for it and I will do what I can to improve the situation.

In our regular customer surveys we generally get a very high rating for customer satisfaction so things were certainly not good that day.


In the situation this would have left the least experienced staff on the desk. Your comments do highlight the need to give casual staff training in customer care. This is a difficult matter to resolve but we will have to give it some thought. You mention a particular person was “snotty and offensive.” From the timetables I can discover who this was and I will act on this. In this person’s case the problem was not simply lack of experience and knowledge.

Blatantly this person is a problem! I now feel a great degree of satisfaction for calling out her prejudices, and I feel lucky to be able to do this; others might be unable or unaware that they can complain about that sort of treatment. I think privilege definitely can be used for good, as well as evil.

But anyway, at least there was some satisfactory resolution to one incident, but it doesn't remove the gnawing inclination that I get judged for how I look. Which is unfair, to anyone.


  1. Liz, I love reading your writing, even when you're pissed off! It flows so smoothly and coherently, so unlike most blogs. I am very jealous.

    Condesension pisses me off too, I'm pretty sure there is no need for it in life! At least you managed to express your concerns about the library worm-sorry, assistant. Good job!

    Jo xxx

  2. Jo, you're a darling, thank you. Let me know what you're up to these days, now you're back in the land of snotty service staff xx