RSS Feed

Tag Archives: gender

Gender Schmender – how the world denies our daughters

Posted on

When I was a little girl, five or so, I had a desperate desire to be called Eric. You can’t be Eric, the world said, with incredulity! Fine! I replied! I would be Girl Eric! (No one mentioned there was such a name as Erica.) And for quite some time I corrected people if they dare say Lucy; “It’s Girl Eric, actually.”

And then there is my little one. Ramona really does love a plane. When we are out and about if she sees one fly past it really gives her fits of giggles, she’ll point and squeal and fall about in stitches. What is going through her little mind? Is it total glee in simply spotting something so random in the sky? Does she think it’s kind of like a duck? (She is obsessed with ducks.)  Is she taking joy in the scientific conundrum of human defeating gravity? Ramona also passes many a happy minute chugging her little trains along, crashing her cars together, exploring the carpet with her little tractors.

That’s how we roll, Ramona and I. PAH! Boy things?! Boy names?! Whatever!  We don’t care about your gender constructs!

Of course, I could use these as an ideal example of how girls just simply aren’t hardwired to do and be the things that we always associate with girls. See! Look at Ramona! She loves planes and trains and automobiles as much as any little lad! 

But I’m not going to, as it is this kind of personal anecdote, albeit from the opposite angle, that perpetuates myths around the differences between boys and girls

. I have been slowly working my way through  the epic book, Pink Brain, Blue Brain by Lise Eliot. To put it simply boys and girls are born with slight differences, but it is very much how we treat them that determines their choices and “gendered” personalities eventually – often by the age of two. Robust research like this should be enough for us! But it isn’t. It is as if we want there to be a great divide between our boys and girls.

The truth is this divide isn’t actually there originally  – but the chasm between their future prospects IS.

It is curious having a little 17 month female who acts more “male” then her male chums. Ramona is the toughie- leading the climbing expeditions, throwing herself fearlessly down slides while they look on, trembling. She is so hardcore she has even BROKEN HER LEG! HA!  I am working hard to make sure that her gender doesn’t define her at any point- trying to show an equal interest in her micro machine play as her cabbage patch kid tea parties.

It is particuarly curious knowing that were she to wake up tomorrow age 20,  she would not only be defined by her gender but she would be absolutely limited by it.

A report released last week showed exactly how stark the pay inequality is between men and women in London, and just yesterday as I flicked through Stylist on the tube (Oh! The LUXURY of browsing a mag whilst on public transport as opposed to convincing a toddler not to suck every surface/pick chewing gum off the seat/ run out of the doors!!) I came upon some rubbish info about the English female Footy team – despite their MASSIVE success, they are NINTH in the world (male team is 7th) yet get around 1% of the pay of their male counterparts and occupy only 5% of the media coverage.

Playing football proffesionally wouldn’t really be an option for Ramona, tomorrow. (For lot’s of other reasons too, of course, namely that her Kiwi dad would go nuts.)

We have had quite a few tradesmen in lately, doing jobs on the house, and I say men because they are ALL men. I am sure something so subtle as this provides limitations on our daughter’s futures too. And just to cement it, as if the message isn’t coming in loud and clear, old Lego go and release a new package for girls where they can chose from such  wonderful hobbies as baking and visiting beauty parlours – and all featuring many shades of pink. (The especially sad thing is how far they have retreated from their excellent gender neutral stance of the Eighties.)

Gosh, it all gets me pretty ragey actually. To look at my little daughter and know that her chances of realising any career ambition, or getting access to more physical lines of work,  are slimmer than her little male counterparts.

To look at myself, and know I missed out on simply being Eric.

What can I do?

I can email Lego about their ridiculous new line.

I can try and employ more female tradespeople.

I can reflect on my own language and play with Ramona – encouraging those areas that are naturally not quite  as strong in her female brain.

I can take more direct action, like that time I did vandalism.

Do I reject all  pink/ princesses/ and beauty?

How do you do it? Do you take some hardline approaches because the default is to exacerbate the differences? Part of me wonders if this is what needs to happen. I would love to hear from you.  

Advertisements

Vandalism for my daughter’s sake

I was sitting on the train today and scoped out the poster above my head for a leading political rag. The cartoon depicted a husband reading a business paper and the wife in the doorway heaving in a load of shopping. My blood boiled, I grabbed a pen and in full view of the packed carriage scrawled “for the everyday male chauvinist” under the title. A second later I wished I had written “The 1950’s called; they want their sexist sterotypes back” but I didn’t have any Tippex on me.

It has been a while since I have taken any direct action in the name of gender equality. The last time was at the Salvation Army Headquarters in New Zealand when I took down the framed photo of William Booth above the plaque “Founder of the Salvation Army” and replaced it with Catherine and William- for she is the oft overlooked brains behind the outfit. That was really quite tame and courteous and about 6 years ago.

But since becoming a mother I have seen the world with fresh eyes, and Ramona is growing up in place with more limitations and adverse expectations due to gender then I was, that is for sure.

It’s in the quite superficial things – when I was a kid, everyone wore brown and orange, nowadays you have to work really hard to find colours other than pink and blue and shapes other than butterflies and tractors (and flipping heck, Ramona would look brilliant in a little brown and orange number.)  But also in the wider story -when my mother was bringing me up she had a consciousness about gender inequality, it was a fight being fought. Now we say we are “post feminist” and to oppose porn or point out subtle sexist messaging is to be too prim or politically correct. And then there is the not so subtle messaging – one of the UK’s biggest menswear shops, Topman, bringing out some completely misogynous  tee shirts– and the chorus of “Why all the fuss? We are post-feminist!” greeting the initial furor (Even the comments on that incredible Guardian piece reveal this – mostly arguing about whether the slogans were funny or not. WHAT THE HELL?)

I don’t know if it was the Topman t-shirts story knocking around my head or the fact that I am reading Female Chauvinist Pigs that moved my anger at that poster into action but I know that I vandalised it for Ramona’s sake.  (Ramona made me do it!) I don’t want Ramona to grow up thinking that women shop and men read buisness newspapers; I want Ramona to have a host of female role models in politics or the engineering industry,  to be able to walk around without feeling that her body is a commodity, to get paid as much as her male counterparts. It is great that the Topman story went big but there are a million everyday things that don’t even get addressed at all that make all those things much less likely to become a reality in her lifetime.

So this is me now –  never without a big black marker pen (and a bottle of Tippex for those moments when the wit arrives too late) to start addressing those little things. Any other mothers out there want to unleash your inner vandal?