A Pox on the Patriarchy
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 grandma 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.