Feminine Sports and Other Nonsense

Here are some things that have been said to me by my 4 year old daughter, and by friends’ daughters of similar ages to their parents: 

“Boys don’t do ballet do they mum? They only tapdance”

“Football is for boys”

“Boys can already play football at school, it’s too hard to join in” 

And said to a friend’s daughter: “You can’t play tag with us because you run too fast.”

(There are many more of these and variations on the theme). 

 

Here are some observations: 

There are virtually no women represented in the National Football Museum. 

There is hardly any women’s sport on television, and women’s successes in sport (women’s cricket anyone?) can pass by unnoticed. 

You don’t see schools’ girls sports (hockey or netball) on television. 

Advertising of sports and toys reinforces gender stereotypes.

Girls do less exercise than boys. 

Girls’ shoes (school shoes and otherwise) are not made for running around or climbing trees. 

Our Sports and Equalities Minister, Helen Grant, suggested that women who are put off by ‘unfeminine sports’ should be encouraged to try ballet or cheerleading. [And I refer you back to my daughter’s comment ‘boys don’t do ballet, do they mum?’ 

 

How we play when we are little affects how we play when we grow bigger. I don’t know about you but I am pretty self conscious about trying something new, and about not doing something well. It comes as no surprise to me that joining a group of children who play football faster, better, more confidently, more knowledgeably is a hard thing to do. It comes as no surprise to me that joining a group of children in a ballet class that is for girls is a tough thing to do if you’re a boy and want to fit in. 

 

It seems that sports brands such as Nike and Adidas have been leading the way in marketing sports to women. It’s not about being feminine or segregating sports yet further. More of this please. Because how we (parents, teachers, grown ups, marketing companies) talk to our children about gender matters. 

 

 

 

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Walking a Different Way

I’ve been doing lots of walking since my operation. I am told this stimulates the nerve that was being squashed for the last 2 years, and so this is a good thing. I have walked round the block (a lot), I have walked to and round nearby parks and I have walked along the Fallowfield Loop, which is nearby. It’s a lovely walk, lots of trees and is pedestrianised and flat. The pedestrianised bit is great because it means I can listen to my audiobooks without passing traffic making me miss essential parts of the storyline, and the flat bit is great because have you noticed how many bumps, lumps, stickyuppy bits and weirdly angled pavements there are? 

Then yesterday I came across this news story: http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/image-released-hunt-serial-phone-6184422

It turns out that a young man is targeting women and girls walking along said flat, pedestrianised route to steal their mobiles. 

On today’s walk I found myself feeling suddenly nervous as I approached the loop and walked past it instead. I walked to the park and walked round that instead. I found myself walking a different way because I felt too nervous to walk down the path away from the traffic. I found myself justifying my choice to myself; that feeling nervous was not a way to relax into trying to walk further; that with my headphones on I couldn’t hear when someone was coming up behind me; that being mugged for my phone or starting in surprise would not be good for my back, let alone my nerves, that…. [insert your own reason here]. 

I feel angry that not only is he taking phones from girls and women, he is also – of course- taking confidence away from us, and not just those he has targeted. This is not a new observation nor a new occurrence. I want to say ‘fuck you’, but instead I’ve changed my route. And as much as I understand my own reasons, I feel kind of disappointed with myself. 

Why Aren’t You Angry?

Second blog post of the night, while I distract myself from looming surgery. 

I came across this blog: Feminist Female Comedians Agree There Are Different Kinds of Rape

http://thejohnfleming.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/feminist-female-comedians-agree-there-are-different-types-of-rape-in-edinburgh/

At first I was speechless. 

Then I was depressed. 

Then I was angry. 

(Short aside: The previous emotions don’t get replaced they get added to).

There are so many things to criticise, point out or rant against that I’m almost not sure where to start. I see from the comments that a reassuring number of people have known where to start and have written their own blog posts and made their own observations. I’ll add one or two of my own. There is a sentiment almost expressed at the beginning that I agree with: “Why can’t we just be people?”  Unfortunately she immediately undermines this sentiment with everything she says next. She treats women like idiots and men as rapey animals who can’t help themselves. 

Here’s a comment from Laura: “…there’s some dude that’s gonna want to fuck you.”

A key word for me in that sentence is ‘want’. A guy can want to fuck someone all he likes, and that is a very different thing to actually doing it without consent. That then turns from ‘fucking’ into ‘raping’. 

Here’s another comment from Laura: “You gotta be careful and it’s up to you to own that responsibility and keep yourself in safe situations.”

Arguably it is also up to the man to own the responsibility not to do any raping. 

And here’s the question, there are many, many people who agree with every word these ‘feminist’ comedians said; why aren’t men more angry about this? Why aren’t men appalled at being portrayed as animals (literally in this example) who cannot use reason, emotion, intellect, decency when confronted with the female form? 

There is a quote that went round twitter this week, from a mum whose son had had some sex education at college. It was this: ‘Consent is too low a bar. Hold out for enthusiasm’. 

What a fantastic sentiment. Hold out for enthusiasm. 

 

Humourless Feminist (or More Aware Than the Rest)

Do you know about Lewis’s Law? It was a sentiment coined by Helen Lewis (Deputy Editor of the New Statesman), who said that the comments after any article about feminism show why we still need feminism. 

It’s a fairly nifty rule of thumb, and one that so far has turned out to be true (in my very scientific study of,  me, reading feminist articles when I want to – which is quite a lot, obviously). 

Take this comment piece on the Guardian’s website today: 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jul/21/renault-weather-duchess-of-cambridge

It is about the Renault Clio advert. This particular paragraph about sexism is one of the better ones I’ve read recently: 

“Here’s a handy recap: men still hold a disproportionately high number of powerful positions in politics and business, so sexism is an institutional problem. The world remains fundamentally unequal for women. That’s why it’s not particularly “humorous” or “fun” to portray them as erotic props to help you sell things. That’s why you need to think a bit harder about how you represent women in advertising and that’s why you should choose camera angles that show their heads as well as their breasts. Not a lot to ask.”

She’s right, it isn’t a lot to ask. And the comments underneath are suitably scathing about her being a humourless feminist, or have been removed by the moderator. I am a feminist.  Since reading the excellent How to be a Woman I call myself a strident feminist. others call me a humourless feminist. 

Yes, they may be right. But I wonder if that is because their sense of humour is a bit shit really, or because they are  not very aware about what it actually means to be a woman in 2013. 

Part of the reason I am a humourless feminist is because I clearly need to be. When I was a teenager in the 90s it felt like we were on the cusp of something. I remember reading articles in Cosmo magazine about how in the future women would choose not to change their name on marriage, and it would be as common to keep your maiden name as it would to change it (albeit next to an article about how to get your guy, and then how to keep your guy happy in bed, but let’s leave that one for now). I remember the introduction of the term Ms. I remember thinking that by the time I am raising children and I am in my 30s the world will look different for them. 

It does look different. We’ve gone backwards and it makes me angry. I remember being able to play with the same lego that my brother had (he was older, no gender comment there!) and not feel like I needed to build stables and kitchens out of pink and purple lego while he built spaceships. Is there a term for snowblind when the colour you’re being blinded by is pink?*

For the love of sanity, can we get some actual creative from marketing companies, who are brave and bold and recognise women as human beings? Is that too much to ask?

So for now, I’ll remain a humourless feminist, and I think those that label me as such are wilfully ignorant. 

 

*Let it be noted that I don’t hate the colour pink for itself. My daughter loves it too. I do object to it being the only choice (or the only colour out of bounds) because of gender. 

Only Teenage Girls Become Parents

http://www.politics.co.uk/news/2013/07/15/tories-call-for-pregnant-teenagers-to-lose-housing-benefit-r

No sooner had I published that last post than I found this link on twitter.

That’s right; take housing benefit rights away from pregnant teenagers, because the only reason they get pregnant is to get a house. Silly me for thinking there are a plethora of reasons a teenager may get pregnant.

Are we really suggesting, again, that girls are the only ones to blame for teenage pregnancy? Do we really have to go into all the reasons this is bullshit, again?

Boys are Better than Girls. Right?

It has become increasingly apparent to me how pervasive the attitude that boys are better than girls really is. 

From birth it seems to be unacceptable to buy boys dolls or anything pink. Heaven forbid someone might think they are a girl, or worse that they might enjoy playing with dolls and will be branded a ‘sissy’. In a message often repeated, boys are told not to be ‘girly’ in their play, in their emotions and in their attitude.  I’m not quite sure what is wrong with being ‘girly’, why this is deemed such a negative. I’m not quite sure why a boy playing with a pink guitar would be less acceptable than playing with any other colour of guitar. 

Given how early the messaging starts, from our friendly toy companies’ marketing departments (lego and play doh I’m looking at you – among others) to the grown ups in a child’s life, it’s hardly surprising that by the time our children become teenagers the messages have become so deeply ingrained that we struggle desperately to undo the conditioning. Those of us who try are branded humourless feminists and worse. 

In England, girls / women are no longer the property of their father until they marry and then become the property of their husband, women are allowed to work (even, shock horror, after they are married), women are allowed to drive, have their own bank accounts and own their own houses, choose whether they would like to be a parent or not and vote. 

I wonder whether this generation will be remembered for deliberately and consistently reinforcing the idea that boys and male qualities are preferable to the alternative in spite of how obviously damaging this is to both sexes. 

 

Tootsie and Brainwashing

I recently watched a video of Dustin Hoffman being interviewed about his role in Tootsie, and the fact that he cried when he realised he would not be a beautiful woman. In his words, he admits that he was brainwashed and missed out on conversations with interesting women because he would not have spoken to them because of the way they looked. 

The interview is honest, moving and all too true: http://www.themarysue.com/dustin-hoffman-tootsie/

Today in PMQs the Prime Minister commented that Andy Murray was the first Brit to win Wimbledon in 77 years. No, David Cameron, he wasn’t. Virginia Wade won in in 1977. Even with only a C grade in GCSE maths I can tell you that 1977 – 2013 is not 77 years. 

John Inverdale commented on the women’s tennis that Bartoli would never be a looker. Indeed, not only made that comment for himself but made the comment as if it might have been her father who had that thought. Inverdale made no similar comments about the male tennis players. Arguably this is not because they are all stunningly beautiful men. 

As the parent of two small children, I find the fact that women (and girls) are either invisible or apparently to be pleasing on the male eye deeply troubling. It is damaging not only to women, but to men, who are brought up to believe that they are superior, almost from birth. But that’s another post.