Pay attention to detail next time you are in conversation with someone or listening to a presentation. Really listen. Do you ever hear the subtle, underlying messages that I heard today?
No teacher looks forward to a staff meeting; if you are in the profession you know the ones. Sat in a stuffy hall after a tiring day teaching, listening to things that you either already know or could have been put in an email. After one of the hottest days of the year this is the situation I found myself in today. First on the agenda was an outside speaker talking about how to support young carers.
In a sense, the topic of his presentation does not matter, it was the underlying gender stereotypes which caused irritation. I decided to carry out my own little test. As our guest spoke I began to notice him referring to ‘mum’ when giving examples of people who needed care. At the top of my notes pages I wrote ‘mum’ and ‘dad’. I kept a tally. In the 20 minute presentation our speaker referred to the person being cared for as ‘mum’ six times; not once did he refer to them as ‘dad’.
‘So what?’ I hear you say. ‘It’s just a figure of speech’. ‘Don’t be so sensitive.’ ‘You’re such a feminist.’
Sensitive: no. Feminist: unapologetically yes.
Why was it mum and not dad on every occasion? Is it that a woman’s role is to be the carer? Women are seen as the ones who do the cooking and cleaning, looking after their family. Maybe it’s because women have historically been submissive and need protecting. Could it be that it would be weak for a man to admit he needs help? Is a man less likely to need the support of others?
Whatever the reason, clearly no malice was intended. I am also fully aware that we all have some innate gender bias. However, if this is to change for future generations we need to challenge each other and think more carefully about the impact of, what we deem to be, insignificant comments.