Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Lacking a Y-Chromosome Doesn't Mean Lacking Intelligence

As as been amply demonstrated there's lots of things in this world that make me choke with rage. One of them is sexism. There's still a huge, bloody awful gap between the sexes, and yet the prevailing attitude seems to be that women are apparently equal with men now, and so we should just shut up and be grateful we're allowed to vote. "Feminism" is a negative word; you call someone a feminist and you're implying they're a man-hating lesbian bull-dyke; a bra-burning Germaine Greer 60s throwback; or Jo Brand. Yep, the male agenda has even taken the term "feminism" away from women and turned it from a positive statement about the right to be treated equally, and transformed it into a huge negative.

For varied and complex reasons, that are largely social, women earn an average of almost a third less through their working lives than men do (as written about here and here, as the tip of the evidence iceberg) . Baby changing facilities are in women's toilets; statutory maternity leave is 52 weeks, 39 of those paid, whilst statutory paternity leave is 2 weeks. Pretty much everything in general British culture, from statutory leave down to those fucking "mum's gone to Iceland" ads that make me scream at the TV (Why has mum gone? Why not ever one of the rest of the family? Are they somehow incapacitated? Why is it her job? What happens in families where there isn't a female care-giver present, do they just fucking starve?!) is geared towards training girls up to be mothers and housewives. "Female" toys are dolls and push-chairs and mini-kitchens and toy irons (Toy. Irons. WTF?!!) while "male" toys are guns and cars (i.e., the really fun stuff). And this is five decades after the feminist movement.

What made me snap about this recently was seeing a book entitled Things For Boys to Make and Do. This is a kids' activity book that has things like how to draw a spooky castle and how to make monster hand gloves. All well and good - but why, I ask you, is this for boys only? There is nothing inherent within these tasks that make them essentially male; it's all just social conditioning. And it drives me crazy. I know men who aren't into sports and women who are; women who aren't into fashion and men who are; women who hate pink and men that don't like blue.... You get the picture. Publishing books and pushing these socio-sexual divisions on young, impressionable kids just makes it worse and encourages yet another generation to grow up believing that men and women may as well come from different planets.

There is a literacy gap between males and females; girls read more and girls tend to do better at school (which we are being punished for, essentially: when boys did better at school it wasn't an issue, nothing was said, there was zero effort made to bridge the learning gap between the sexes; but when the tables are turned suddenly it's a big issue, it's a "problem" and boys have to be given help and the whole fucking educational system has to be changed in order to accommodate male needs. Newsflash, fellas, you're already more likely to get a job, keep a job and earn more in that job than we lowly females are - so maybe you could just let us do well in school and leave it alone?!). However, I don't think "targeting" books for boys is the answer - things like the Dangerous Book for Boys just make the gap between the sexes wider, it doesn't encourage boys to read. Why can't books be written on a range of subjects (football, trains, ponies, fairies) and feature both male and female protaganists? How does reinforcing dated stereotypes of what girls "should" like and what boys "should" like make things any better? If a boy or girl has different interests than what is allegedly "normal" for them to have, and is struggling with their identity as a result, an increasing number of books showing them what they "should" be reading/enjoying is just going to make them feel worse.

I readily accept that there are (obvious) physical and psychological differences between men and women - but most of the differences in general personality and communication arise from social conditioning and the pressure to conform to the norm and to expectations. When I was growing up I maintained that I didn't want kids when I was an adult, and was always told (mostly in extremely patronising terms) that I would "feel different" when I grew up; i.e., that I would start to want children because I'm a girl and that's what girls want. Now I am grown up, and my feelings on the matter haven't changed - but I still regularly encounter people who, when the subject of children arises, insist that I'll change my mind and want kids. Why they hell aren't men subject to these social pressures and expectations? The drive to further the species is just the same in males as it is in females. And no, I don't think babies are adorable: they smell, they throw up on you, they cry - I don't get the appeal, I really don't. Toddlers are entertaining, and when they start speaking it's great (I like the Scrubs line), but the best part about working with kids or playing with young cousins is that when they start to cry, or they throw up, or they soil themselves - I hand them back to the parents and am not required to deal with the mess in any way.

All this pre-conditioning of children is driving me to breaking point: my friends in advertising say they use these stereotypical roles because their market research suggests that the stereotypes hold true (women cook, clean, tidy, nag and raise the kids; men play sports and get dirty and smell and snore and muck about like kids). However, people on the whole tend to follow what they feel is expected of them; and if you're routinely bombarded with these steretypes, then you'll believe them to be a true representation of what men and women are "really like", and so you'll play along with your expected role. If programmes, adverts, films and books showed men and women in wider roles, acting in different ways, then this could help reinforce the positive messages of feminism and help bring us towards a day when men and women are really equal. Is that so much to ask for?