‘Don’t fire the woman who told me to stop kissing my girlfriend’

Allyson MacIvor’s tolerance of intolerance at a Jack White gig is a social-media lesson for all

Lesbian kiss: Jack White posted this photograph of Beatles fans in 1964 to express his disappointment at Allyson MacIvor’s treatment at his Edmonton concert. Photograph: Mirrorpix/Getty

Lesbian kiss: Jack White posted this photograph of Beatles fans in 1964 to express his disappointment at Allyson MacIvor’s treatment at his Edmonton concert. Photograph: Mirrorpix/Getty

 

Something extraordinary happened in Canada the other day. Two women were reprimanded at a Jack White concert in the Alberta city of Edmonton for having a snog.

One of the women, a musician named Allyson MacIvor, says she was told by a young usher who put her hand between them that “this is not allowed here”. The women were “marched” to the manager’s office – and the manager immediately and profusely apologised. “It was very violating and invasive,” the understandably shaken MacIvor said. “It’s not something I’d ever imagine experiencing, honestly.”

MacIvor, despite not having yet come out as gay on social media, felt strongly enough that she took to Facebook to vent how “speechless, disturbed and sad” she was. “During the final encore, one of my favourite songs of all time, I grabbed my friend and kissed her… a fun moment on a beautiful night. We were immediately interrupted by a young Rogers Place worker, who pulled me to the side, away from my seat, waving her finger disapprovingly, saying ‘that’s not allowed here,’” she wrote.

MacIvor said she and her friend would like to go to a Fleetwood Mac concert, thank you very much. But she asked if the usher could come too

You know, by now, how it played out from there. The post vent viral. There was an explosion of justifiable outrage. Jack White said he was disappointed, and dedicated a song to the couple at his next gig. The venue apologised publicly, offered free tickets and a meal, and said it had “absolute zero tolerance for any form of discrimination” and would take the “necessary steps”.

But none of that is the really extraordinary part. It is what happened next that the rest of us should pay close attention to. MacIvor said she and her friend would like to go to a Fleetwood Mac concert, thank you very much. But she asked if the usher could come too. “I would love to get to know this employee on a more personal and deeper level than the events that just happened,” she said.

She also made a plea to save the employee’s job. Firing her, she said “is the last thing this situation needs”.

Contrast that with what happened a few days earlier to the hapless editor of Waitrose Food magazine, William Sitwell, who had to resign for the considerably less offensive act of slagging off vegans. Sitwell responded to a polite and respectful pitch from a freelance journalist for a “plant-based meal series” with a glib and lame attempt at humour: “how about a series on killing vegans, one by one. Ways to trap them? How to interrogate them properly? Expose their hypocrisy? Force-feed them meat?”

It wasn’t remotely funny. It was very unprofessional. But it shouldn’t have been a firing offence, not even when he was representing a corporate client. The freelance journalist, Selene Nelson, by her own admission, wasn’t particularly offended, and responded in a (much cleverer) joky manner. But then she went to Buzzfeed anyway, with all of the entirely predictable consequences for his career.

Lots of people, vegans and meat-eaters alike, argued on social media that it was entirely justifiable to fire Sitwell. Not because they thought what he said was so unforgivable – most people seemed to get that it was an eye-wateringly poor attempt at humour. And vegans, although they have to put up with a lot of, I’m sure, very tiresome slagging, are not a protected or vulnerable minority. They’re just people who chose not to eat animal products.

What people were most outraged about was his rudeness, sense of entitlement and stupidity. It might be part of a pattern of behaviour, they speculated. Best to fire him just in case, the argument went, a line of reasoning dangerously close to “no smoke without fire”.

We could all learn something from MacIvor’s tolerance of intolerance, at a time when people’s lives can be destroyed for an ill-conceived tweet, an offensive joke or an offhand remark betraying an underlying attitude that many people, sometimes quite rightly, find offensive.

The rationale fuelling so much of our desire for a public lynching these days seems to go that it’s not that what the offender said or did is so egregiously terrible that they deserve to never work again. There is frequently no such sense of proportion, no matching of the punishment to the crime. The very fact that they “think” like that is enough to merit their obliteration – a validation that sounds alarmingly like thought policing.

Few people would have objected if MacIvor had demanded the usher be fired for actions that were rude, embarrassing, hurtful, on the face of it homophobic, and in violation of company policy. But her appeal for compassion and a conversation instead was far more helpful than that single head on a plate would have been. It was a reminder of what society is losing sight of in this era of the insta-outrage: nuance, compassion and tolerance. We’re often so busy shouting from the sidelines that we’ve forgotten what a conversation is. Long hours alone, swiping, retweeting, liking and commenting, has made some of us lazy, sloppy and disengaged. It takes much less work to demonise, shame and silence than it does to listen, understand, educate and remember that everyone is human and that we all make mistakes.

Listening is hard. Nuance is hard. Tolerance is hard. But without them the quality of public discourse is cheapened, and we all lose out

It has become fashionable to moan that we’ve lost the art of apology, but it must be hard to hold your hands up when a mob is baying for your blood. The actor Rebel Wilson reminded us how it should be done this week, when she graciously and humbly apologised for claiming, on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, to be the first plus-sized woman to star in a romantic comedy. Over three tweets, first paying belated tribute to the plus-sized actors who have starred in romcoms before her, including Mo’Nique and Queen Latifah, she said she was deeply sorry.

“With the help of some very compassionate and well-thought out responses from others on social media, I now realize what I said was not only wrong but also incredibly hurtful. To be part of a problem I was hoping I was helping makes it that much more embarrassing & hard to acknowledge,” she wrote.

She added that she regretted blocking people who criticised her on Twitter because “those are the people I actually need to hear from more, not less.”

Listening is hard. Nuance is hard. Tolerance is hard. But without them the quality of public discourse is cheapened, and we all lose out.

Unfortunately, not everyone sees it like that. After her story went viral, MacIvor was abused on her own Facebook page for not leaving “this little bitch... laying on the floor of the arena with her jaws broken”. In some quarters there is no tolerance for tolerance.

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