As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, I’ve been known to yell at lovingly challenge my friends and relatives from time to time about everyday sexism, about the little comments and jokes and assumptions we make about men and women that simply aren’t true, or certainly do not apply to every male and female in the world. It’s something you don’t notice until you notice it, but once you do (and you probably will after reading this so you’re welcome and, also, my apologies) it’s crazy how much it comes up every day; how often we say something or do something to perpetuate the stereotypes without even realising we’re doing it.
In this country we’ve come a long way in terms of gender equality, and I’m not for a second saying that these stereotypes or words we use are as damaging as, say, domestic violence or the gender pay gap or the level of female discrimination that still goes on in developing parts of the world. However, your words and thoughts have power to reinforce beliefs about men and women that can be really damaging.
A lot of people laugh at gender-based jokes not because they are necessarily true or funny (often they aren’t) but because we recognise the reference. No one making a “women love to buy shoes” comment is saying anything new, and so we laugh because we’ve heard that one before and subconsciously want the crowd we’re in to know we get the joke. And it’s just a joke, right?
But what if you’re a woman who doesn’t like to buy shoes – are you still a woman? My Mum hates shoe shopping, but as she gave birth to me I’m pretty sure she’s female (I mean, I don’t remember it exactly but I’m informed there were witnesses). And a lot of female stereotypes don’t apply to me at all. I don’t eat a lot of chocolate (dairy intolerant), I am not the cook or cleaner in our house (thank the Lord) and I have absolutely no ability to multitask. So when anyone makes a “women, eh?” comment about any of these things, I’m excluded from that joke – it doesn’t apply to me.
So does that mean there’s something wrong with me then? Am I not a real woman unless I like to talk about my feelings and swoon over my dreamy dreamy man? At the very least it makes you feel left out, but at the other end of the scale those “rules” for men and women, those two rigid categories, can be critically damaging to someone who doesn’t fit neatly into either box. Wouldn’t the world be a kinder place for people with gender dysphoria, or people who didn’t identify as either male or female, if we weren’t so obsessed with gender in the first place?
And then there are a lot of stereotypically “girly” things I like. I enjoy pretty flowers, I love a good old fashioned rom-com and I cannot park to save my life. But if any comment gets made about these things I still get annoyed. These things aren’t true because I’m a woman – having boobs does not naturally give you a tendency to enjoy peonies and vintage Hugh Grant – that’s just a coincidence. And you know who else all the above applies to? My Dad. If you want to talk gender stereotypes, then that man – the beer-drinking UKIP voter who didn’t like me double-barrelling my name because “that’s not right” – is, in fact, the biggest woman I know.
And the funniest thing is that gender stereotypes tend to get magnified in church circles, which seems the oddest place in the world to think people only fit into two categories. Don’t we believe in a God with infinite knowledge and creativity? Wouldn’t he give each of us likes, dislikes, personality traits and abilities in a whole host of different combinations? Shouldn’t we celebrate those differences in recognition of the crazy, brilliant Mind from which they came?
In that spirit, here are some subtle gender word bombs to watch out for:
1. Ladylike – What people mean by this is “elegant” or “classy”, and usually it’s used to uphold good values. I got told off for not being ladylike when I said that ironing is, and I quote, “complete balls.” Now, I grant you that’s not the nicest or most delicate way to phrase that sentence, but what has being a lady got to do with it? Would it have been OK for a man to say that phrase?
2. Manly – Beer, catching spiders, hitting things with hammers – why do we call these things “manly”? Usually we mean brave or confident or practical, why can’t women be those things too? Last time I checked, oestrogen did not limit your ability to put up shelves.
3. Don’t be such a girl – This gets said to blokes for a variety of reasons, but particularly when they are being emotional or wimpy or cautious. Let’s just clarify: there’s nothing wrong with a man expressing his feelings, and saying any negative quality is “girly” is just super offensive.
4. Pink vs. Blue – Fun fact: different colours for different genders only became a thing in the 20s, and pink used to be the colour for boys. In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart highlighting gender-appropriate colours for girls and boys according to leading U.S. retailers. This was to make parents buy a whole new set of clothes and toys if their second kid was a different gender, instead of re-using the same stuff from the first (yay, capitalism). Red was seen as a fierce colour and pink was a watered down version for mini-men, while blue was seen as delicate and dainty for pretty little girls. It flipped in the 40s and 50s, and though no one knows why, some suggest it came from the Nazis branding gays with pink triangles in their concentration camps (yay, discrimination). The point is, it’s all meaningless (but by enforcing the pink/blue thing, you may be inadvertently supporting Nazism and Donald Trump…)
So to finish off, here is one of my favourite videos, from one of my favourite feminists:
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti