By SIMON COPLAND
Howard Sattler’s interview with the Prime Minister last night has highlighted the role and negative impact sexist and homophobic stereotypes still play in our society today.
A lot of the reaction of the interview has been to once again point out the extreme disrespect with which our Prime Minister is treated. As Mamamia said last night “Of all the rude questions the Prime Minister has been asked, this is by far the worst.” But for me, the issue here is bigger than this. What Sattler has neatly done has shown the impact of queerphobia not only on GLBTIQ people, but on our broader community.
The whole basis of Sattler’s questioning last night was around the idea that because Mathieson is a hairdresser he must be gay. I’ve heard it plenty of times. Insinuations about his sexuality are common. Give our community a man who is a hairdresser, and is in a relationship, but isn’t married and hasn’t had kids, and he’s obviously ‘a poof’.
These sorts of stereotypes seem to be the bread and butter of queerphobia. Gay men are feminine – we have ‘girly jobs’ (i.e. hairdresser, decorator, fashion designer), we are all into fashion and design, and we are all bitchy as hell. In other words, gay men are your stereotypical ‘woman’. Lesbians, of course, suffer the opposite fate. They are butch – tom boys. The only wear comfortable shoes, play lots of sports, and are generally angry and gruff. In other words, lesbian women are your typical ‘man’.
We see this all over the place. I have experienced it myself. People find me confusing, because I am both gay and relatively ‘masculine’. I play rugby union and have an awful fashion sense (apparently). It genuinely confuses people. Look around and you will see it everywhere. The gay character on TV (who is always a man), is always camp. Women who play sport are assumed to be lesbians. And gay men are clearly into cross-dressing, whilst lesbian women can never make themselves look ‘pretty’.
Stereotypes like this are a perfect way for our sexist, homophobic, society to oppress queer people. At its most basic level it puts people into boxes, and then ridicules the boxes people have been placed into (see the fact that gay characters are always the funny ones on TV). But broader than that, in a world in which gender is so important, then clearly having your gender questioned so openly is the perfect form of oppression.
It is here where we can see how these homophobic stereotypes hurt everyone. Because the stereotypes aren’t just homophobic – they’re extremely sexist as well. In creating a standard idea of what is a ‘man‘ and what is a ‘woman‘ (and then openly questioning whether people fit into either box), these sorts of stereotypes put us all into boxes. And these boxes are sexist – ‘masculine characteristics’ are valued more highly than ‘feminine characteristics’, ensuring men continue their status position on top of the ladder (you would think that this would help lesbian women, but as they are still women – apparently not).