(First published in The Dominion Post and on stuff.co.nz, May 31.)
I am writing this column as a member of a despised minority. I will be 68 next birthday. I’m fair of skin and male of sex.
To put it another way, in the language of “progressive” millennials and people who, with no sense of irony, describe themselves as liberals, I’m male, pale and stale.
There is no more crushing condemnation in the 21st century political lexicon. To be male, pale and stale is to be racist, sexist, bitter and selfish. Don Brash and Sir Bob Jones are prime examples of this wretched form of humanity. I am too, albeit of a lower order of celebrity.
It goes without saying that I can’t help being old. I can no more control the ageing process than I could dance the prima ballerina’s role in Swan Lake. Neither did I have any say over my ethnicity or sex.
Perhaps if I’d been born six decades later I might have been encouraged to decide for myself what gender I wanted to assume and to alter my sexual identity at will, regardless of physiology. But I’ve been a bloke all my life and it’s a bit hard to re-invent myself at this point in my life cycle.
Having said that, I’ve been happy being a male and never felt any desire to have it any other way. Nor have I felt ashamed about it, which is not to say I’m not regularly appalled by the behaviour of some of my fellow blokes.
Moreover, I don’t hate or fear women and have never felt that I was in competition with them, still less perceived them as a threat. So I’m not sure that I deserve the implied accusation that men like me are by definition misogynistic.
The women who have been closest to me throughout my life have been stroppy and strong-willed. If I preferred women to be submissive, I’ve been either desperately unlucky or spectacularly unwise.
But never mind all that. I’m stuck with being a bloke, just as I’m stuck with my skin colour and my inexorably advancing age. Yet I, and others like me, now find ourselves regularly being pilloried for having the temerity to express an opinion about things. It seems we’re expected to shut up.
Let’s unpick that phrase “male, pale and stale”. The first thing you notice is that it explicitly criticises people on the basis of their skin colour.
Ah, but that’s okay, because we’re white. And as I heard a moronic talkback host assert recently, only minority groups – i.e. non-whites – can be subject to racism.
You can forget all that warm, inclusive talk on the Left about celebrating diversity. The embrace of diversity mysteriously stops short of ageing white blokes. We’re the one demographic cohort against whom it’s permissible – in fact fashionable – to display undisguised and often venomous bigotry.
In any other context, attacking people on the basis of their age, sex and skin colour would be labelled a hate crime, but no one should expect the Human Rights Commission to take up our cause.
Being white and male, we are seen as being in a position of power and therefore unscathed by discrimination and immune to insult. And if we are discriminated against, we’re expected to suck it up because … well, because we deserve it.
Ageing white males are considered fair game because we’re seen as having enjoyed privilege for too long. Now the tables have turned and we’re expected to pay the penalty by keeping our supposedly rancid opinions to ourselves.
This treats freedom of expression as a zero-sum game where one person’s right to speak can only be achieved by silencing someone else. But that’s not how free speech works.
In any case, if white males dominated newspaper opinion columns in past decades, as has been alleged, then any imbalance has been more than redressed. The media today is awash with comment that uncritically embraces the “progressive” agenda (there’s another word that’s used with no sense of irony) and sneers at anyone who stands in its path.
Am I pleading for sympathy here? Not a bit. We curmudgeonly tuataras can look after ourselves. All I’m doing is highlighting the double standards of social justice warriors who shriek with outrage at any perceived slight against a favoured minority group, but pile in for the attack when it’s an old white bloke who’s on the ground getting kicked.
One last thought. Today’s angry social justice warrior has a funny way of turning into tomorrow’s crusty reactionary.
One day the people who rant about ageing white men will themselves become old, and they can’t discount the hideous possibility that they too will morph into conservative dinosaurs, because by then they might have learned a few things about life, politics and the human condition.