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.
I stumbled across the book ‘Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls’ when a good friend of mine sent me a link on Facebook. We had met for a coffee earlier that day and had discussed my blog and potential topics I could write about. That evening I clicked on the link which took me to an engaging YouTube video: ‘If Cinderella were a guy’ (https://youtu.be/p4OyCNctKXg), which was promoting the book. The video led me to research the book further and, finally, write this post.
The concept of the book is genius: 100 true stories about extraordinary and inspiring women, both past and present, who have changed the world. The women range from Elizabeth I to Venus and Serena Williams and from Malala Yousafzai to Amelia Earhart. The ‘If Cinderella were a guy’ promotional video changes Cinderella to Cinderfella, ending the story with the caption ‘You wouldn’t read this to our boys, so why read it to our girls?’. As I watched the video I found myself nodding with agreement and thought back to the fairytales I was read as a child; princesses being saved from towers or being controlled by wicked stepmothers: women were all too often submissive. I can think of very few examples of strong, independent, successful women who could be seen as true role models.
At first I questioned the title of the book; ‘Rebel Girls’ didn’t seem right. What was rebellious about becoming a tennis player or being an American rock singer? If the concept of the book was to promote these achievements as attainable and the norm for women then surely labelling them as rebellious defeated the object? And then I got it. They were rebellious as they defied their gender stereotype. These women stood out in patriachal societies and did things that no one expected them to be able to do. They proved, beyond doubt, that women should not be confined to the private sphere of the home and should be in the public sphere taking on roles, responsibilities and challenges once dominated by men.
‘Goodnight stories for Rebel Girls’ promotes female independence, ingenuity and integrity. It shows young girls that their gender is not a barrier to success and, no matter their race, religion or sexual orientation, they are able to be whoever they want to be. The authors of the book, Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, say that this is the book they wish they read when they were younger: I couldn’t agree more. There have been numerous news stories recently about young girls having less confidence than boys. Boys are surrounded by stories of superheroes whilst girls are often read books about princesses. ‘Rebel Girls’ is a step in the right direction in its quest to boost confidence and self esteem whilst highlighting to young girls the outstanding achievements of strong women.
If I am lucky enough the have a little girl she will definitely be reading this book at bedtime.
Buying birthday cards is something we all frequently do. We try to match the card to the person: their hobbies; their sense of humour; their favourite colour. This process is easy for adults due to the wide range of cards available. However, when buying cards for children, especially when wanting a card with an age on it, this process becomes confusing.
It is my cousin’s daughter’s 4th birthday at the start of May and I went to buy her a card. When standing in front of the array of cards the lack of variety was so noticeable; cards aimed at boys were red and blue with pictures of dinosaurs and cars whilst the cards aimed at girls had shades of pink and lilac with pictures of princesses and flowers. There was a clear divide with girls’ cards to the left and boys’ cards to the right. I stood looking for a while to see if there was an alternative to this gender stereotyping but, alas, I could not find anything different. I chose a card that was the lesser of many evils; a yellow number 4 with a dog painting pink and lilac flowers.
The choice of a birthday card is only something minor and many of you reading this may believe I am being too politically correct and sensitive. However, please consider one of these situations. You have a son who is a talented dancer or artist and has no interest in cars, football or dinosaurs. You have a daughter who loves superheroes, football or trains but hates the colour pink. Which card do you buy for them? You can, of course, pick an appropriate card that matches their interests; after all the choice is yours, you don’t have to follow societal conventions and norms. However, we have been conditioned to look at those two rows of cards and automatically, subconsciously, decide which are for boys and which are for girls. Viewpoints are changing, barriers are being broken, but maybe shops can do something very simple to help: mix the cards up!
When discussing my blog with a friend, she showed me a picture of a pair of sparkly, red heeled shoes. Now my friend wasn’t giving me fashion advice or trying to subtly suggest that I needed to dress in a more feminine way: the shoes were actually aimed at babies between the age of 0-6 months. Appalled, I decided to need to research this further.
After trawling the internet I came across several websites that are selling these shoes in a variety of colours and prints. The most notable, ‘Pee Wee Pumps’ (https://peeweepumps.com/), sells shoes with soft, collapsible heels and pointy toes that are designed for baby girls to wear before they can walk. Further investigation took me to the ‘about us’ section of the website which emphasised the shallow and arguably immoral branding of these products. This section of the website opens with the statement:
“Fashion-forward moms love to dress up their little girls with the cutest bows and outfits, and are always looking for the perfect pair of shoes to complete any outfit.”
In this sentences lies the problem: these shoes are aimed at women who are extremely fashion conscious and self-indulgent. The women who would buy these shoes are almost treating their daughters like dolls: your child is not there to ‘dress up’. There is a distinct different between a child who is old enough to choose their own clothes and shoes selecting sparkly, feminine products and a baby, with no choice, having this thrust upon them. A baby between 0-6 months needs little more than baby grows and practical clothing. The amount my four month old nephew dribbles, I see little point in spending money on expensive outfits!
The ‘Pee Wee Pumps’ brand has received much negative media attention: the company has been blamed for fuelling the sexualisation of young children. The shoes have been described as ‘horrid’ and ‘sick’ with many people calling for the brand to be banned. Founder of ‘Pee Wee Pump’, Michele Holbrook, has stated that the shoes were created to meet the “current and ever-growing popular demand for ‘high-fashion’ in infant apparel”. Demand from whom?
With society becoming more and more image conscious, the babies of today will grow up in a world of selfies, social media and filters. Parents should be doing all they can to protect their children from becoming obsessed with the way they look rather than fuelling this from such a young age.
Dear Daily Mail
I am writing regarding your front page on Tuesday 28th March which included a picture of Nicola Sturgeon and Teressa May with the caption ‘Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!’. I am aware that you have received much media attention and criticism regarding this matter and I wanted to take the time to express my deep concern for the message your newspaper is presenting.
When driving home from work today I heard commentary on the radio condemning the headline and the subsequent article that made similar comments including that their ‘pins’ were their ‘finest weapons’. I have to admit that I assumed that this was written by a man; it did not even enter my head that a woman would choose to objectify the two most influential women in Great Britain in this way. On my arrival home I learnt that this article was in fact written by a woman: Sarah Vine. I was appalled. I immediately questioned why a woman would choose to lead on this highly important story with this tone.
Your later attempt to passify the outcry fell on deaf ears; referring to Vine’s comments as ‘lighthearted’ emphasises your inability to give the public what we want. We do not want our politicians objectified and we do not want important news stories to be made light of. This is a turning point in British history and the public want facts and educated opinions rather than trivial, sexist comments. As a historian, it both upsets and worries me that making comments about female politicians’ bodies and clothes is printed in our national newspapers, let alone making headline news. As a high school teacher, it concerns me that young people are subjected to this media coverage. Young girls are suffering more than ever from a lack of body confidence and mental health issues due unrealistic media expectations: you have a duty of care to ensure that your coverage does nothing to exaggerate this growing problem. It is bad enough that, due in part to media coverage, young women and girls already have poor body confidence, without the issue being reinforced, or even amplified, by today’s message that no matter how successful you are as a woman, you will never be more than the sum of your body parts.
Your response to critics telling us to ‘get a life’ is appalling: listen to the public and hear our disgust, do not ignore us. Vine’s comment of ‘that’s just what’ tabloid newspapers do is equally ignorant: you can make the news more accessible without causing outcry and offence.
I have no doubt that you will continue to report the news in the blunt and obtuse way that you always do but please be aware that this will always be met with scorn and criticism.
The Gutsy Gay