Inspector Gadget And The Politics Of Gender

18 Feb

“The Maddest Diversity Nonsense Ever”

Women make up 51% of the overall population in England and Wales. However, women’s representation in the major agencies which constitute the criminal justice system varies.

In the Crown Prosecution Service, for example, women represented 66% all staff on 31 March 2010. The Magistracy comprised 51% women in 2009/10. Women were just over 12% of senior judges. Data for the Probation Service indicate that women represented 71% of probation staff in 2009.

In policing, however, women are under-represented. They comprise just 26% of the 143,734 police officers in post (based on full-time equivalent posts) in 2009/10. At senior ranks, it was rarer still to find women officers. Only 13% of senior police officers were female.

Frances Heidensohn,  in her chapter on Gender and Policing in the ‘Handbook of Policing’ edited by Tim Newburn, argued that the police have had a clear awareness of gender, though it is understood in an explicit male way. She summarised police attitudes by pointing to the “world of old fashioned machismo” within which they function.

Old fashioned machismo notwithstanding, one might be forgiven for expecting rational human beings interested in equality to be concerned about any situation where women were not equally represented in the workforce. This is the concern that was articulated by Denise Milani, Director of the Diversity and Citizen Focus Directorate in London’s Metropolitan Police Service.

Earlier this week, she informed staff that she was “keen to learn staff views on the progress the MPS has made around gender equality”. To mark International Women’s Day 2012, she invited officers and police staff to be creative and record their views in verse.

Poems had to focus on the themes of recruitment, retention and progression in the MPS; creating a gender sensitive working environment; or successfully managing gender diverse teams. They had to provide the DCFD director with insight on the progress made with the ‘Gender Agenda’ and a offer a positive future vision for the MPS.

This poetry competition clearly aimed to sharpen the focus on the dynamics of gender within the Met. Responses have been illuminating, and show the depth of cultural resistance to gender equality within the Met. This has been well illustrated by the outpouring of neanderthal masculinity that has surfaced on Inspector Gadget’s blog.

The Inspector’s blog has been offering its subversive take on modern policing for 6 years. Gadget is thought to be a serving inspector in a southern English force, which he calls  “Ruralshire” in the blog. His Twitter profile accurately describes him as dispensing “weapons grade cynicism” and he claims (with some justification in terms of the blog traffic statistics) the title of “Britain’s most widely-read police Blogger”.

Gadget’s blog notes that it has chalked up almost 9 million hits, which suggests that his acerbic observations resonate with a very wide audience. His blog, he notes online, received the accolade of being  named one of Britain’s Top 40 blogs by The Times, who noted that his writing was ‘provocative stuff, and as an insight into life on the policing front line in 2010, it’s invaluable’.

Gadget cheerfully labels Milani’s poetry initiative as a “piece of utter nonsense”, while simultaneously acknowledging:

“I love this kind of stuff. It lends such credibility to my claims that senior officers are all mad, and they have completely forgotten what policing is all about.”

His comments do not quite amount to an admission that he hankers for a return to the days when police officers were men and women knew their place, but he is not far from saying so. He positions himself as a realist, unburdened with politically correct notions of diversity which in Gadget’s world appear to be a gross irrelevance in terms of the daily lived experience of police officers.

“I particularly like reading internal communications like this when I have just come in from a 10 hour marathon shift during which the local drunken yobs have been trying to give us a good kicking, or if we have been dealing with a fatal road crash.”

Alternatively, as that great paper of record, the Daily Mail, observes, “It’s enough to make the hard men of the Sweeney choke on their cigars and double whiskies.”

More than 500 comments have been added to Gadget’s blog in a short period. Clearly his views resonate with many. Stereotypical attitudes towards gender are given free rein.  Some of the all-too-predictable comments made included these:

From Jeremy Beadles Withered Hand comes the assertion that diversity initiatives are a kind of smokescreen for gay women to gain preferment: “A WPC friend of mine got invited to a similar women in policing conference and told me that in actual fact it was literally just a meeting for butch, man-hating lesbians to talk about how much they hate men and how they can use their sexuality to get promoted, and then tried it on with her.”

What these critiques of gender equality initiatives may lack in subtlety, nuance and reflection, they make up for in their strength of emotion. Two of the milder examples are from Taff Taff and Bobby.

From Taff Taff: “Anyone who seriously takes part in this competition is a twat who needs to be put into a a rocket and fired into the sun, I am sick of this type of shit.”

From Bobby: “That beggars belief. I am stunned at that. What a pile of shite. Walks off shaking head.”

The comments would have been incomplete without a man indignantly asserting that it is, of course, men who are the real victims of discrimination within the police.  An example from the many who make this assertion comes from Pathe: “No real research has been carried out into how men are discriminated against in the Police”.

Inspector Gadget adds a coda to his orginal comments: “I have just read the post again. I can categorically say that this is the maddest diversity nonsense we have ever featured on this Blog…  I would like to hear from more female officers to see what they think of this, in between making tea for the lads of course!”

The police have made considerable strides in the past two decades on the way in which crimes such as sexual abuse and domestic violence are policed. Even so, the response to Gadget’s blog suggests that the dawn of gender equality appears to be some way off. It clearly remains a live issue. There are a range of entrenched views and a cultural reluctance to acknowledge diversity as an issue.

Anyone who remembers Roger Graef’s classic ‘Talking Blues’ on police canteeen culture may conclude that, if supporting gender equality amounts to “the maddest diversity nonsense”, then two decades down the line from Graef’s original account, not a great deal has changed.

6 Responses to “Inspector Gadget And The Politics Of Gender”

  1. CCCP TV February 19, 2012 at 12:48 pm #

    But what does a gender equality poetry competition have to do with anything? It doesn’t reduce crime, it doesn’t arrest people, it doesn’t make the streets safer, it brings no one to justice, it doesn’t reduce bureaucracy and it doesn’t even ultimately do anything for gender equality.

    I presume that you at least of some degree of formal education and must be reasonably intelligent, but if you cannot see why encouraging police officers to devote time to a enter gender awareness poetry competition is anything other than an utterly superfluous indulgence in vanity then you do not understand anything about what policing is for. Or do you imagine that this sub-primary school poetry competition is anything other than a self-indulgent circle jerk that has absolutely nothing to do with preventing crime and disorder?

    Denise Milani’s salary and expenses would pay for three new police officers. What would the public prefer?

    • Michael Teague February 19, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

      What the public may prefer (not least because more than half of the public are female) is that women are fairly represented.

      I understand your view that it would be useful to spend already limited public resources on more officers, not staff supporting the diversity agenda – not least because this is a time when police officers are facing the worst cuts in staffing in over a decade.

      More officers may be needed, but I would question whether they should be employed at the expense of staff supporting the diversity agenda.

      What has been interesting about the 700 odd comments (so far) on Inspector Gadget’s blog is they pinpoint that ridiculing the diversity agenda attracts vociferous popular support.

      In demonstrating this and highlighting the strength of entrenched views on diversity, Inspector Gadget has performed a useful service. But this debate is less about a poetry competition and more about the whole equality and diversity agenda.

      Commitment to diversity throughout the criminal justice system has been changing women’s position. It was not until 1995 that the first woman chief constable was appointed (Pauline Clare of Lancashire police) and there are clearly still strong views on gender equality.

      Certainly, there are more women police officers than ever before, and women have made some headway in progression to all levels of the police during the last decade. But it is interesting that 71% of probation officers are female, yet only 26% of police officers are women.

      Women still remain underrepresented in the higher ranks of the police. Home Office data also indicates that women may face barriers in gaining promotion to sergeant. More research is needed into this gender gap in promotion rates to sergeant to identify causes for this disparity (as well as barriers to promotion at all levels).

      Anyone concerned with gender equality may conclude this would be helpful.

  2. CCCP TV February 19, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    I think what people dislike about the diversity agenda within policing is that there is no connection between policing and the agendas and practices of various diversity departments.

    People hate diversity training not because they are racist or sexist but because they are made to feel that they are and above all because it is an utter irrelevance to the actual skill and practice of policing.

    Ask any section of the public whether they would prefer more frontline police officers or more civilian staff to push through the diversity agenda and it’s fairly obvious what your answer will be. Of all the roles and departments with the police I cannot think of one that is of less relevance to protecting the public and reducing crime than the diversity department. It’s a scandal that they continue to be funded while frontline policing is cut back.

    I don’t usually agree with most of the slack-jawed whinging that goes on in IG’s comments section but I do understand the contempt in which diversity departments are held throughout the police.

    • Michael Teague February 19, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

      I appreciated your characterisation of the “slack-jawed whingeing” that goes on and I do think there is real substance to your view that diversity departments are widely held in contempt in the police.

      However, the fact that a view may be popularly held does not necessarily mean it is therefore correct.

      While the language of diversity is well established in the higher ranks of the police, the many creative poetic efforts in Inspector Gadget’s comments section rendered it crystal clear that the language of diversity is not the only language that is used to discuss these issues.

      But the police service are no different to the wider society – and they are therefore just as susceptible to prejudice and bigotry as anyone. I would guess that elements of police culture and working practices are not specific to the police – they are doubtless common in many predominantly male professional organisations.

      Yet working with diversity goes to the core of the function of a police officer. After all, they have a responsibility to serve the whole community, not just individual sections of it.

      Regrettably, the criminal justice system overall (not just the police) has a poor history of valuing diversity by challenging discrimination. Good diversity practice does require the investment of resources, but arguably this may be money well spent, saving both in direct and indirect costs.

      I would argue it is a question of organisational culture – the assumptions and beliefs that police officers have about the organisation and its purpose, mission and values.

      You mentioned what the public might want in terms of diversity, but it could equally be argued that what the public would also want would be professional, objective police officers that police all sections of the community in a fair and equitable way.

      Police discretion is a key reason why understanding diversity issues is so important. Few other agencies funded by our taxes have such powers of discretion; not just about the decision whether to respond to an offence, but also how to respond, and what powers to use.

      Individual police forces must consider whether they can do more to increase applications from women, in particular to police officer posts, where there is the greatest disparity between levels of men and women; and also from black and minority ethnic women, who remain under-represented in the police officer population.

      • hmm February 22, 2012 at 2:09 am #

        In order to be effective a diversity department needs to be able to engage with those it feels need to change their behaviour. Suggesting a poetry competition really really isn’t the way to do that and mealy damages the reputation of the department without archiving anything. And no asking for comments in the form of battle rap or death metal lyrics is unlikely to have been an improvement.

        That anyone in the diversity department thought it a good idea either suggests that they simply don’t care about existing police cultures or are largely insulated from them. Neither of which exactly helps their credibility.

  3. Michael Teague February 22, 2012 at 6:48 pm #

    Got to agree with your comment that in order to be effective, a diversity department needs to be able to engage with people to change their behaviour.

    Initiatives aimed at reducing the amount of discrimination in the criminal justice are performing a useful role. If a diversity initiative, be it a poetry competition or indeed any other initiative, is experienced as patronising and unnecessary, and attracts widespread ridicule, that is an issue that needs to be considered when developing any future initiatives.

    You also make a good point about existing police cultures. It goes without saying that it is always better with such initiatives to take people with you if at all possible. The point, after all, is to get people to reflect on their behaviour, rather than to alienate them. That means starting where people actually are, rather than where you would like them to be.

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