Bringing you regular rage against the patriarchy, drenched in sarcasm and capslocks #FEMINISTFRIDAY

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

Do you know what sex it is? Pink or Blue?

There has been a new addition to the family this week and in between the joy and the buying of unnecessary gifts, mainly toys that are too expensive and an absolute attack on the nervous system of a new born (one toy in particular was 7 different colours, had a horn, a rattle and  sang a song…), there were several moments of reflection.

For those of you keeping count or know me well, there are now enough of the next generation in my family to have a full football team or possibly a small, but effective, army. I intend for it to be the latter.

So, why would this be a topic of discussion for a Feminist Friday? Well, because sexism starts from birth, in fact, it starts from conception, and it’s first noticable when you start thinking about what colour you’re going to paint the baby’s room. Pink or blue? Or apparently, if you like to be gender neutral, it’s egg yolk yellow. How unfortunate. Equality, clearly, lacks interior design knowledge.

When someone asks a pregnant woman “So, do you know what you’re having?” You might as well respond with “I had the scan yesterday – It’s a blue!”

You should know, I have no personal experience of this. The only time I’ve ever been asked “So, do you know what you’re having?” is by someone in a restaurant where my response is usually just “Diet Coke and the lunch special”.

It’s not even cute.

I’ve defined myself as a feminist for a long time, since my early teens, but the issue of ‘Pinkification’ didn’t really bother me until these last few years. Even still, I consider it to be one if the low priority issues, far behind rape conviction, sexual assault, the gender pay gap….and many other things. That’s because I’ve always assumed that an intelligent individual wouldn’t succumb to the marketised colouring – in of childhood. Given a choice, I would think (hope) that parents would provide their children with a wide range of toys, books, clothing, films or whatever it is they are purchasing for their child. But what happens when you don’t have that choice? Well, a gingerbread baby is what happens. I should perhaps give this some context.

So a little boy was born into my family this week. Culturally, and much to my dismay, Muslim families tend to make a bigger deal of this than necessary. Que a chorus of older Muslim women professing that a boy is a gift from God, the wonder of continuing the family name and now there being a male to take over the responsibility. My sisters are a living, quite successful, example of this all being a little bit ridiculous and inaccurate. Regardless, a child has been born and that is something worth celebrating. As such, I run off to Clinton’s (other greeting card stores are available, so this one won’t be) to purchase the standard giant helium balloon and card, and I am smacked in the face by a tide of nauseating pink and blue merchandise. But I fight my way through the ribbons, the princess banners for baby girls and the cowboy ones for boys, to find….nothing, nada, zilch. I desperately wanted to find a gender neutral card and the closest I came, was a gingerbread baby (right), no balloons that simply said ‘congrats on your baby’. I had to make the decision right then and there; Will my nephew be type cast into what society deems a masculine colour at the ripe age of 9 hours old? I wanted to say no, but Clintons (and my mother) got in the way. I caved, I bought a blue balloon. I still feel dirty.

I may be writing this in a flippant (wonderfully witty) manner, but actually, when it comes down to it, it’s quite a big deal. It starts with a definition of a colour and soon becomes a definition of what a little girl should be; A pink balloon celebrating a birth, evolves into a Barbie, evolves into a pink dolls house, evolves into what her hobbies should be, which evolves into make up and then starts to define a journey towards womanhood. There’s a lot wrong with this – this tells us there is only one way to be a woman and that way is superficial.

  • What about the girl who likes cars or the colour blue – is she to feel less like a girl?
  • What about the boy who likes the colour pink – is he to be bullied?

    You can also purchase this with ‘Gold Digger’ and ‘Porn Star’ Only available in pink. Obvs.

Now, don’t read this as some sort of hatred of the colour pink. I happen to like that colour. But I also like the colour blue and cars, science, action films and sports (haha, no I don’t. Don’t be ridiculous). I am secure in my femininity to have a diverse range of likes, as any human being should be, but as more and more marketing is thrown at children in every ad break of their TV shows, will girls, and boys alike, have the same sense of strength in themselves to challenge what is being pitched as the norm for their gender?

Any girl or woman can, absolutely, paint her room pink, have floral bed sheets and the entire set of the Bratz dolls, but if she wants, not because that’s what’s in the girls’ section at ‘Toy ‘R’ Us”.

I asked my older nephew who is five years old what he thought of a toy kitchen (that had a pink roof) in a toy shop we were in and his response was:

“I don’t want that. That’s not boys’ stuff, girl’s like those things, buy it for her” (he points at his younger sister who 2 years old).

And all it took was some irrelevant pink advertising from birth to define his attitude towards ‘girl stuff’ by the age of 5.

I used to think this was a non issue, but when you think about the attitudinal effect it has on young people, it becomes, very quickly, a major issue.

I’ve learnt a lot about this from the Pink Stinks Campaign. Read more here.

So, next time someone says they know it’s a boy, as they simultaneously buy a little blue blanket, discourage them, by explaining it might actually be a tiny, very clever, girl foetus sticking her middle finger up at you, because she knows otherwise you’ll paint her room pink.


Getting in on the political action

When women enter politics good things happen. Fact. Well, generally speaking, we’re going to ignore the Thatcher era for the sake of me being right.

My niece has finished her exams and is in the brief period between euphoria and the realisation that exams mean results…around 72 hours. As such, the conversation we had this Feminist Friday wasn’t easy. It was clearly seeped in remnants of red bull and adrenaline, as was evident from her stopping me half way through every sentence and asking “What did you just say?” or “OMG I have to tell you about something!” I presume both interruptions were related to a high-pitched buzzing noise in her head.

Regardless, even on her worst days, she’s good company. Today, she asked me about women in politics and why it’s talked about so much. Well, this is common sense; because not enough of them are in politics and when they do get there they are often scrutinised over their choice of clothing rather than their policies. When I told her this she rolled her eyes and shook her head. I like to think this is her exasperation at the unjust manner in which female politicians are treated. It could also have been the fact that I got caught up in the moment and shouted this very loudly and aggressively in a cafe and attracted attention. I think everyone around us got a side of feminist perspective on their plate along with their toasted Panini.

We continued talking about this for some time and she asked, what you would expect someone  sensible to, how can this get better? How can women be encouraged to enter politics as a profession? Well, I stand strongly on my idea that attitudinal change is where it (and most things) start, but there are more practical solutions, for example, All Women Lists.

Now, upon describing this to my niece, she reacted by assuming this was an unfair advantage and that all women should be recognised by their capabilities – that’s equality. I can’t blame her for this, I thought like this once too. But after debating (arguing) with someone a fair while ago, I understood it better and conceded I was wrong – a rare occurrence (see, good things can happen from debate). I used to have a problem with what is essentially ‘positive discrimination’ as an Asian woman, on two fronts. But than I realised why I had a problem with it. I was speaking from privilege. Speaking as someone who has had access to some successful opportunities and had some support in overcoming race or gender barriers and, quite frankly, someone who hasn’t had to deal with it to such a painful level that it would end my ambition; which it absolutely has for countless women.

Here’s the reality; whenever you mention quotas you hear “women should get there on merit not special measures, I respect politics too much for that nonsense” what this actually says is that you don’t think much of women.
This sentence assumes that only 22% (see below) of women have the merit to be in parliament today, it ignores that there is institutionalised inequality preventing those with the merit and ambition reaching the place they deserve to be. If it was as simply as merit and capabilities- why aren’t more women there already?!

Some of these highlights I may have chosen purposefully, you know, for the funnies. Can you tell which ones?

But are current (loose) measures even working? In a country where we have legislation on equality, we have mechanisms of support (albeit not used by all political parties) and we consider ourselves ‘progressive’; only 22% of MPs are female. That’s pretty poor. In fact, so poor that we come number 54 in the world classifications of women in parliament. If you can’t be bothered reading the list, I’ve put some highlights on the right. Read it. Done? Now read it again. By no means are we the worst, there are those countries such as Saudi Arabia, which, (unsurprisingly) have no women in parliament, but take a look at the countries ahead of us and you’ll be surprised at how much growing we need to do and how much preaching we should perhaps stop doing. (My niece especially liked this and apparently will now be quoting this to ‘look smart’, defeating the entire purpose of everything we are discussing. Bravo.)

I absolutely agree that mechanisms of positive action are needed, in fact more than the current “pick and choose” menu of measures is needed, but I do disagree with the assumption that they are doing the full job of equality. They are a band aid for a bigger and growing problem – an attitudinal problem that still exists in our workplaces, our streets, our colleges and universities and our parliament (the same attitudinal problem that doesn’t recognise that women face institutional barriers). This is a problem that legislation or tools of positive discrimination will not change. While we still need these mechanisms of positive discrimination they will continue to remind us of exactly how unequal our society is.

We need to combine them with campaigning, education, support for women leaders and challenging of attitudes.

But when women enter politics good things (on the whole) happen – equality gets further up the agenda, whether intentionally or not. This happens even when female MPs make the short-sighted decision to not discuss/debate ‘women’s issues’ or even equality generally, because they don’t want to be type cast. Well, isn’t that’s ideal, because the rest of Parliament, mainly white straight middle-class men, are of course, much better suited to discussing equality…

On a final note (and to prove I’m right) take a look at what’s happening in Liberia and Malawi– Equality is moving further up the agenda in the only two African States with female presidents.

Coincidence? I think not. Amazing? I think so.

But it’s not just for the sake of debating equality. Women bring a different, often more inclusive, form of leadership, they change the way debate takes place and they bring a more diverse range of expertise and opinions to the table. For these and so many more reasons; 22% is just not good enough, not for women and not for politics.


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