Disappointing reply from Tim Maguire in Autumn Edition of Humanitie - blog by lifelinking


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Posted 04-Oct-2010 at 01:49 AM (01:49) by lifelinking
Updated 04-Oct-2010 at 11:30 AM (11:30) by lifelinking

I was leafing through the Autumn 2010 edition of 'Humanitie' (the magazine of the Humanist Society of Scotland) the other day and saw a letter to the editor which raised among other points, a concern about sexist language used in a previous issue of the publication. The letter was from Stella Potter, a Humanist Celebrant.

The comment she referred to was a description of the new editor in the summer 2010 edition as 'another bright and beautiful young woman'. Stella, I believe rightly, pointed out that this was patronising and sexist.

Tim Maguire replied.

Lighten up, Stella! Just in case I was being patronising and sexist, I checked with both Juliet and Caroline before replying, and neither objects to being described in this way. Had the new editor been a man I would have found a way to compliment him too.
There are a number of very real problems with this reply.

Firstly, the use of a 'slap down' phrase such as 'lighten up' is highly questionable. This might be suitable language to use at a party when somebody is taking a game of 'pin the tail on the donkey' too seriously. But it is wholly inappropriate when somebody raises a serious issue with a publication that represents an organisation such as the HSS, in a reasonable and proper manner. If those concerned with running any organisation are serious about being open to improvement and about managing risk then they must be open to constructive criticism, in particular about serious issues such as equality. To achieve this they must create an environment that is conducive to communication and dialogue. You do not achieve this by having a defensive ‘knee jerk’ reaction and blaming the correspondent or demeaning the point they made, doing so looks awfully like projection.

Secondly, the old trick of a person saying that they have checked with the individuals concerned, and they 'are not offended' just does not cut the mustard. I have heard this being used many times over the years by people to excuse or justify not only sexist language, but other discriminatory language too. Not only does this place the individuals concerned in to an uncomfortable position, but it entirely misses the point that the impact of such language is much wider.

Thirdly, there is the assertion that "Had the new editor been a man I would have found a way to compliment him too". Fine, but would you have described him as "another bright and 'dashingly handsome' young man"? If the honest answer to that question is no, could that be because the person's perceived looks are bugger all to do with their ability to do the job? They are in fact, entirely irrelevant. And if it is irrelevant for a man, why should we think that it is different for a woman? And therein lies the rub.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, this was a missed opportunity. I strongly suspect that Tim Maguire really did have no intention to offend anybody. But maybe when something like this was pointed out to him, it was time to pause, reflect and reply in a measured way rather than rush to dig defences. This would have said very good things about him as an individual, and it would have been positive for Humanitie and for the Humanist Society of Scotland.

I reckon that everybody has areas of thinking and acting where they are blissfully unaware that the realities that they have constructed for themselves are limiting for them and others. Those who are familiar with person centred counselling will know that part of the counsellor’s job is to help the client uncover these so called ‘blind spots’. But you don’t have to receive counselling to become aware of them. Some years ago I was at an Open University Summer school when we did a group exercise where the facilitator asked us to sort photographs in to three piles; masculine, feminine and neutral. I should point out that at the time, I rather smugly thought of myself as being a pretty prejudice free individual. In the follow up the facilitator pointed out that I had put a photograph of a wheelchair bound male basketball player in to the neutral pile, and asked me why I had done so. It was an electrifying moment, as the realisation dawned that I had seen the disability, and not the human being. When life presents us with opportunities for understanding such as this, it is a very precious thing. We can grab it and grow, or we can start digging trenches.

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  1. Old Comment
    Gurdur's Avatar
    Scheduled to go out as tweet Monday afternoon. Added a coupla tags.

    Disappointing reply from Tim Maguire in Autumn Edition of Humanitie, by Lifelinking http://bit.ly/aN98JA #sexism #humanism #discrimination
    Posted 04-Oct-2010 at 05:34 AM (05:34) by Gurdur Gurdur is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Most of us grow up absorbing the particular prejudices of those around us - parents, our peers at school etc. The trick in later life is to overcome these and recognise them for what they are. However hard we might try to do this, perhaps especially us white British middle-class males (though I think it applies to almost everyone in some way), we are forever "recovering" racists, sexists, and so on.
    The incident above smacks of the "some of my best friends are.." defence, which is absolutely no defence at all.
    Posted 04-Oct-2010 at 11:46 AM (11:46) by Revsimmy
  3. Old Comment
    Thank you for this post lifelinking. I too suspect Tim had no intention to offend, but the issue of sexist language in a Humanist publication should have been thoughtfully addressed.
    I know Stella is very grateful for your support on this issue :-)
    Posted 04-Oct-2010 at 11:54 AM (11:54) by Fia Fia is offline
  4. Old Comment
    Marian's Avatar
    As Tim is the Media Officer for the HSS, I would have hoped for a much more enlightened view of the situation. I hope that his response does not reflect the standards of the HSS specifically and was instead a knee-jerk reaction. I'm waiting to see how Tim repairs the damage.
    Posted 04-Oct-2010 at 03:17 PM (15:17) by Marian Marian is offline
  5. Old Comment
    Excellent blog - I agree with every word.

    I'm particularly surprised he thought that checking with the women concerned first whether they mind the patronage is a defence. Sounds as if none of them actually engaged their brain and thought it through and the women didn't object because doing so would sound ungracious.

    I hope they read your blog and learn from it.
    Posted 04-Oct-2010 at 03:24 PM (15:24) by MollyMac MollyMac is offline
  6. Old Comment
    lifelinking's Avatar
    Thank you for the assistance Gurdur, and thank you Revsimmy, Fia, Marian and MollyMac for the thoughtful responses. I will be following this up with a letter to the editor at Humanitie.
    Posted 04-Oct-2010 at 09:37 PM (21:37) by lifelinking lifelinking is offline
  7. Old Comment
    muddleglum's Avatar
    Thanks. One good thing about the incident is that this allows a clear-headed reply that I can read and re-check my own prejudices. I'm grateful for the reminder.
    Posted 04-Oct-2010 at 10:04 PM (22:04) by muddleglum muddleglum is offline
  8. Old Comment
    lewis's Avatar
    I agree with the sentiments posted above. In the light of all this, I do wonder about the moral and intellectual level of the HSS.
    Posted 06-Oct-2010 at 05:44 PM (17:44) by lewis lewis is offline
  9. Old Comment
    lifelinking's Avatar
    From the Winter 2010 / 2011 edition of Humanitie, Letters, P4

    We received some letters that objected to Tim Maguire's letter about his editorial in the Summer issue. Tim apologises unreservedly to anyone who was offended either by his response or by his original remarks, both of which were meant to be taken lightly.
    Posted 30-Dec-2010 at 06:31 PM (18:31) by lifelinking lifelinking is offline
  10. Old Comment
    An Englishman living in Glasgow once said to me he thought there should be a "Welcome to the 1950s" sign up at the border with England. That pea-brained and pompous response from Maguire is presumably the kind of thing he had in mind.

    What lewis said; these days the words 'moral' and 'intellectual' don't belong in the same sentence as 'the Humanist Society of Scotland'.
    Posted 30-Dec-2010 at 08:27 PM (20:27) by MollyMac MollyMac is offline
  11. Old Comment
    lewis's Avatar
    Disappointing indeed. I have read most of the new issue and it is pretty lightweight and also self congratulatory. It is also poorly written and I wonder about the proofreading, as there are grammatical errors in it.
    Posted 30-Dec-2010 at 11:03 PM (23:03) by lewis lewis is offline
  12. Old Comment
    Weasel words, not even directly from Mr McGuire. The issue of a national Humanist organisation actually understanding and presenting a consistent Humanist message is far more important than his non-apology.

    And you're spot on re proofreading, lewis. It clearly hasn't been.
    Posted 30-Dec-2010 at 11:31 PM (23:31) by Fia Fia is offline
  13. Old Comment

    Tim Maguire

    I was at a wedding as a guest and Tim was officiating. My friend, the bride, was late due to heavy traffic caused by an accident. To say Tim's true character, his smug, overbearing, full-of-self-importance attitude shone through would be an understatement. No-one loves Tim more than Tim.

    Have you seen the photo he displays, where he wears a t-short with the logo 'Good without God'? Smug beyond belief. He preaches about Humanists accepting people for who they are, unless of course you happen to be remotely religious. Check out his Facebook/Twitter pages, the guy is a walking double-standard.

    Smug, arrogant and downright loathsome.
    Posted 17-Apr-2014 at 05:25 PM (17:25) by Unregistered
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