Week Woman

A Pox on the Patriarchy

Where Are All The Women?

Post by @dani_beckett

A few weeks before Christmas, I found myself on a train sitting across from a lovely family of mum, two kids (a boy and a girl) and grandma. The toyshop-sign-boys-girls-t-007grandma proudly presented her grandchildren with some books she’d bought them for the journey. “Excellent,” thought I. I grew up with a book permanently glued to my hand so it always warms me to see children being encouraged to read. My glee was short-lived, however, as I saw Grandma Dear hand the books over; “This one’s about a princess,” she said as she gave her granddaughter a sparkly pink hardback. “You can colour in her the ball gown she wears to meet the prince.” Next up, the little boy… “this book’s all about a spaceman. See if you can put together his rocket ship.”

Of course, I didn’t say anything. I just tweeted angrily about it and resolved that for my friend Ben’s Christmas presents I was going to buy him a selection of children’s books that challenge gender stereotypes. (Ben is a teaching student and, although I trained as a teacher myself, I momentarily forgot how annoying it is to receive classroom related gifts for every special occasion as if the moment you decided to become a teacher, your friends and family switch their imagination on to autopilot. I mean, we would never do this with any other profession – could you imagine giving a doctor a stethoscope for Christmas or being a hairdresser and waking up on your birthday to discover that you’d received nothing but shampoo?)

So, off I march to Foyles, cash in hand. Yes, I was actually spending cold hard cash, not just recycling book tokens. I had high hopes. Foyles, my home from home, the land of books where you never get thrown out for just browsing for two hours, even when they catch you smelling the paperbacks. Foyles would sort this out. Nothing could stop the dream team of me, thirty quid, a free afternoon and the loveliest bookshop in the land.

And, as is often the case, the higher the expectations the more bitter the disappointment. I watched in despair as the shop went in to what can only be described as melt down. The first assistant I asked blinked at me in confusion then frantically went in search of the girl off of children’s books before he scuttled back to Sci-fi. She wasn’t sure so passed me onto her manager. Four shop assistants later and all I got was ‘”er, have you tried The Paper Bag Princess?” (she upcycles a vintage bag then rides off, solo, into the sunset on the back of a dragon.)

“Yes, lovely, but do you have anything else that’s been written in the last 20 years?”

More blank looks. Off I trundle. On my own. No dragon.

And it’s not just our little girls who are growing up surrounded by images and stories of fairy princesses and helpless damsels. When they get older, become women, it doesn’t get any better. These sort of gender stereotypes are being reinforced everywhere we look. It’s so entrenched in our society that it passes us by, unnoticed, on a daily basis. And that is bloody annoying.

We can clearly see that the pitiful proportion of women in Parliament (only 22%), the 17% gender pay gap and the mere existence of Nadine Dorries are terrible for women and the conspicuousness of this compels us to fight to change it. But what about all the other places where this happens? The sexism that young women are exposed to every day? Who’s doing something about Question Time (28% women contributors) and Mock the Week (18%)? Is anyone even noticing this? Is anyone noticing the festival of men we see hosting our comedy and current affairs shows? Why is nobody calling out darling old Jonathan Ross on hosting a television show where one week, I shit you not, the only female out of a line up of eight guests was Miss Piggy?

And this crap sucks for the guys too. Just take the Boots Christmas advert where a gang of girls sneak in, in the dead of, night to take the piss out of some poor hopeless little bloke before thrusting a load of bubble bath and hot sodding water bottles into his arms. Because, hey, the boys are just rubbish at presents aren’t they ladies?

No. Just no. I look at the men and women in my life and they are nothing like this warped reflection advertisers would have us believe. Mums go to Iceland? Oh, do they? Fuck off.

But why does this matter? We’re working on Parliament aren’t we? Having a stab at getting the girls mentioned in the primary and secondary curriculum?

This isn’t enough – gender balancing by legislation is all well and good but it must must MUST be coupled with sorting this shit out at the most basic level. The stuff that boys and girls (and the grown up boys and girls too) see every day is what forms their opinion. We have to break this narrative long before those boys and girls grow up to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There are the role models out there. We all know that. But it’s our job to put them front and centre so that the feminists of tomorrow (the boys as well as the girls – but that’s another rant for another time) can grow up to realise their potential and be whatever and whoever they want.

13 comments on “Where Are All The Women?

  1. Penny Lawson
    April 14, 2013

    Hurray! I’ve been waiting for years to read an article like this one. In the name of big business, it seems more money can be made by defining boys and girls books (and toys, and clothes) on these traditional gender stereotypes. No wonder boys seem more likely now than ever want to be a footballer or a celebrity and girls seem to be sold the old princess, footballers wife, or celebrity girlfriend option. Feels like there is more pressure on my children to conform to narrow and unproductive stereotypes than when I was at school in the 70s/80s. Both sexes lack realistic role models in public eye and through media.

  2. sandra
    April 14, 2013

    Absolutely right that this is where it starts. Same as figures on marmalade jars were indicative of racism. Also Jonathon Ross always greets female guests with a slavering embrace and a comment about how “amazing” they look. Patronising and sexist yet most female guests look coy, flutter eyelashes and express gratitude for his appreciation. Eugh!

  3. Pingback: Where Are All The Women? | r2drivenimpala's Blog

  4. Leah
    January 22, 2013

    You’re absolutely right about the need for both institutional and social change, and I really like the way you put it.

    Have you ever heard of the blog Disney Princess Recovery? The author has blogged about some of the non-gender-conformist books she’s found for her daughter. Most of them are from the US but it might be helpful.

  5. cupcaketravels
    January 13, 2013

    I am a nearly-50 yo woman, I grew up with the absolute freedom to dream who I wanted to be… I got an extremely rude shock at the age of 12 when I learnt I couldn’t be a jet pilot (this was 1976) because “they don’t take females”. That idea had not occurred to me, but it was actually true. Much has changed thank goodness but much hasn’t. Turn off all advertising and “news” and bring up your children as human beings, however they want to be.

  6. mark
    January 13, 2013

    Ah, Chris, you beat me to the reply. Perhaps if we started with merely toys and images then the cuts and wars and secret courts would be replaced to a large degree with common sense leadership and diplomacy. All I do know is the way it is is not working and in fact getting worse in all 3areas of which you mention heathen. So isn’t it time to try something else if you want different results?

  7. Chris
    January 13, 2013

    Toys? How can you think this stuff matters? We have cuts, war abroad, secret courts etc. Your approach won’t change people’s lives.

    • Week Woman
      January 13, 2013

      And you think none of this is linked to how we bring our children up? Really? Come on Chris, you’re smarter than that…

    • Stilli (@stillicides)
      January 13, 2013

      Small change effects big change, so this stuff DOES matter. It’s easier to change the smaller stuff – and if you change a lot of smaller stuff, guess what? Bigger stuff changes!

  8. My Heathen Heart
    January 13, 2013

    Bravo for an excellent post!

    • Lizzy (@bizzymoon)
      July 28, 2013

      I agree..I loved this article and as a mother of three sons I struggle with people’s comments that stereotype my sons behaviour.

  9. tricialo
    January 12, 2013

    This is where it starts, children are growing up indoctrinated with these fiercely gendered messages and it’s worse now than it used to be. Try Letterbox Library for books and throw support behind toy and gender campaigners like Let Toys be Toys and Pink Stinks.

  10. mark
    January 12, 2013

    I’m beginning to come to the realization that this is the source of all stereotyping. First at such a base level as gender, after all the simplest difference for the struggle for power is the number 2. After that we can start adding all the others in. Racial diverse males, cultural, religious and so on, but if we all believe in the supremacy of one gender then we can pat ourselves on the back that we don’t hate the other males, we can just vehemently to the point of trying to kill them disagree because it’s just politics or economic. I think that might be one possible root of stereotyping of gay men in particular. I perceive them as not men and therefore am frustrated because they are not women either.

    It’s the advertisers and the marketers we need to get after, as well as the media portrayals of what is and isn’t acceptable for binary genderism. For Pete’s sake, just market a spaceman or a princess castle and shoe how much fun they are to play wit as and let the economic market decide who will buy them. I don’t need your viewpoint about what I think I’d like to play with-fully capable of deciding that for myself.

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