Sunday, 10 February 2013

Britishness

I may be British, but so-called Britishness means nothing to me. It's just a bundle of tired old stereotypes I simply don't identify with.

And now it's struck me that most of the stereotypes have a distinctly male bias, I recoil from them even more. They're not only simplistic but firmly stuck in some sexist past that doesn't exist any more.

Think of Britishness and what comes to mind?

1) Football. Both players and supporters predominantly male.
2) Cricket. Even more so.
3) Pubs. Still mainly a male preserve, despite the rising number of heavy-drinking women.
4) Wars. Largely started by men, fought by men and supported by men.
5) John Bull. The archetypal Englishman - stout, middle-aged and jolly.
6) The bulldog. Tough, rugged, fierce, intimidating. Masculine, you might say.
7) The stiff upper lip. The traditionally male tendency to suppress your emotions and soldier on.
8) Suits and bowler hats. The customary uniform of the male civil servant.
9) Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. A good hearty meal for hard-working men. Though prepared by women, bless 'em.
10) The Union Flag. Symbolising conquest and the imposing of superior values on Johnny Foreigner. A strong whiff of the masculine, I think.

If the government wants us all to be proud of our Britishness, it might help if they gave the familiar image a rather more androgynous and gender-neutral flavour instead of the current phallocentric overtones.

It's hard to see how any woman could feel remotely British if these are the things she's meant to enthuse about. If on the other hand, Britishness referred to lip gloss, cupcakes, pencil skirts and chihuahuas....

18 comments:

Kristofor Ballance said...

Couldn't agree more.

While I consider myself Northern Irish, part of that comes from being 'British' (as in NI is part of the UK, which I have no issue with)and the culture I am often associated with, is often an insult to my intelligence.

Britishness, Irishness and Americaness (spelling?) needs to adapt with the times. But lets focus on Britishness for the moment..

1) You can be proud of your back ground but there is also a need to accept that the world has changed a lot since the 1940's. Multi culturalisim is here to stay in the UK. Its helps society evolve and gives us all an insight to how the world works.

2) We have a Monarchy. We are 'subjects'. When we are proud to say we want to spread democracy around the world and protect human rights, yet we contradict that by endorsing an outdated idea of how our nation should be ran and what my place in that society is.

3) Europe. We seem to hate it. I'm not sure why, but we don't seem to like other people working here (even though it's fine for us to live in Europe) and having a body hold our nation to account on some matters that we don't have the courage to face. Everyone - we get a lot from Europe, don't act like we don't.

I could go on but I think you get my drift.. It seems national identity is like religion, take what you like and ignore the rest.

Nick said...

Kris: Indeed, the notion of Britishness very much implies superiority to other cultures and the idea that we should keep out foreigners who will corrupt and pollute our wonderful Britishness.

And yes, the idea that the British version of democracy is better than everyone else's, when the head of state is a fabulously wealthy women heavily subsidised by impoverished taxpayers who can't get rid of her, would be hilarious if it wasn't absurd.

Val said...

And now - horse burgers!!

Wisewebwoman said...

Funny how everyone wants to stereotype everyone else, don't you think?

I couldn't be further removed from the lovable redhaired Irish colleen rounding up her sheep that the USians hunt through the 32 counties.

And I hear begorrah one more time I will scream.

I'm with you. Squire.

XO
WWW

Nick said...

Val: Horseburgers are a good example of the real everyday Britain as opposed to the corny stereotypes. Horseburgers, food banks and obesity.

www: That's a thought, that Irishness at least includes a female stereotype, even if it's also a phoney one. Yes, the pure and tender-hearted Irish colleen is still out there somewhere.

Bijoux said...

Unless you eat fish and chips out of a newspaper cone and are a terrible lover, you can't be British! At least that's what the movies taught me.

Nick said...

Bijoux: Ah yes, fish and chips in a newspaper, a very British tradition. And also being a terrible lover. Though again I think that's generally assumed to be the male of the species rather than the female. Men are still much worse at pleasing women than the other way round.

Jenny Woolf said...

Well stereotypes are just stereotypes. The real essence of Britishness (or anything else) is much harder to define. it is there, though. But there are always exceptions to that rule and I am always wary of making generalisations.

Nick said...

Jenny: Is there an essence of Britishness at all, or are we always dealing in artificial stereotypes? At the end of the day, maybe there's only individual British citizens, with whatever identities they happen to have.

Nick said...

Of course there's the idea of the perfect woman, the English Rose, but it's hardly used any more.

Macy said...

I like Britain.
I'm living in a part of the world where it's under threat. And I'm worried that it's going to be gone in another couple of years.

Nick said...

Macy: Oh yes, the coming Scottish referendum on independence. You're against then? From over here, it's hard to work out exactly how independence would change things.

Fiona Campbell said...

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. There's also the Crown dependencies and our overseas territories (who all have the union jack on their flags). Our Queen rules over more than England.

Cricket, John Bull, bulldogs, stiff upper lip, bowler hats, Yorkshire pudding... these are all English things from your own mind. ;) You might as well have written: morris dancing and wassailing. :p And, I have no interest in pencil skirts or chihuahuas!!

Nick said...

Fiona: Well, that's what British means in factual terms, but I think for most people there's also something called "Britishness", whatever that might mean. I just picked out what I thought were the most obvious stereotypes of Britishness. And they're certainly not from my own mind!

I'm very glad you have no interest in chihuahuas - peculiar little dogs!

Fiona Campbell said...

They ARE from your mind - you thought of them and wrote them down, surely? I'd have thought along the lines of queuing, rain, talking about the weather, the monarchy, understatement, etc. I fear there is a terminology misunderstanding here. :(

I was really just gently winding you up a little (something that I also think of as truly British) because you start by recoiling from sexism and end by saying women must be attracted to pencil skirts, lip gloss and chihuahuas. :p

Personally, I am proud to be British whether or not there is a government endorsed cupcake recipe. :p I do not require my sense of Britishness to be modernised. I've never thought of it as being phallocentric! :o

Nick said...

Fiona: Well, yes, I suppose they are from my mind in that sense, but I picked them out as images that other people would recognise as typically British. Things like queuing, rain, talking about the weather happen in other countries as well - the Irish Republic for starters.

I was being very tongue in cheek when I mentioned pencil skirts and chihuahuas. But I love the idea of a government-endorsed cupcake recipe!!

Rummuser said...

You forgot Colonel Blimp and the weather.

No, the ladies are not quite ignored. High tea with cucumber sandwiches on the lawn wearing sun hats and floral design dresses.

You will find more Indians and Sri Lankans who qualify to be called British than you will find the originals! Can you imagine scotch whiskey with branch water? You will get it here.

Nick said...

Ramana: Colonel Blimp indeed. The famous caricature of a confused reactionary. And yes, you're right about high tea with elegant ladies and cucumber sandwiches. The stereotypes aren't entirely masculine.