It was October. We were pushing Tiddler through Hillsborough Park. Progress was slow: Toddler was dawdling to one side of the path, delightedly kicking through piles of leaves.
There were some ‘big boys’ dribbling footballs up and down a cordoned-off rectangle of field. A bloke with a whistle shouted encouragement from the side-lines. As did one of the parents, somewhat too enthusiastically given that this was just the warm-up. The other parents looked bored rigid.
‘I hope Tiddler doesn’t get into football and need me to stand on the touchline every bloody Saturday morning,’ I said. ‘But if he did, I’d try to look a little bit happy to be there.’
While we were contemplating this, I glanced over to check Toddler. She, too, had clocked the football training. She had abandoned the leaves that had been so fascinating moments before and was legging it towards the ‘pitch’.
‘Or Toddler,’ I added hastily, hurrying after her. ‘She might get into football, too…..’
A friend was at our house. It was CBeebies O’ clock. The programme was Nina and the Neurons.
For those who haven’t lived, Nina is a blonde, slim pig-tailed woman with pink lipstick and a Scottish accent. She does scientific experiments in her TV studio. She takes kids on field-trips to see how dumper-trucks work, how bridges are built or why tongues are wet. She also sings a cool song, the main refrain being the words ‘Go Engineering!’
My friend says, ‘I’m sorry, but there is no way she knows anything about science and engineering.’
I don’t contradict.
Later that evening, I start to beat myself up for not contradicting.
So Nina’s pretty and can sing. But why the hell does that exclude her from being a scientist? In fact, I feel so strongly that I am going to look up Nina’s credentials and e-mail them over, so that my friend can see them for herself.
But it turns out that Nina is, indeed, NOT a scientist. Her name isn’t even Nina. She is Katrina Bryan and although she does have a degree it is not Bsc but BA. She is described as an actress (shouldn’t that be Actor?) known better for her role in Taggart.
I have to admit that my disgust with the BBC for faking (why were neither of the two female engineers I know, both of them excellent with kids, offered the presenter’s job? They are also blonde with pigtails, if it helps) and pleasure that at least they chose a woman. I shrug and move on to other things.
Last time I was at the opticians, I’d barely been in the waiting room ten minutes before a technician called me through to have my retinas photographed. He pressed a button and the image appeared on a screen. Being diabetic, I squinted at my own retinal vessels with interest. They looked OK to me. Unless that was a – but then the screen blanked out again and I was asked to sit back down in the waiting room.
‘The optician will show me those pictures, won’t he, when it’s my turn….?’
The tecnician nodded, impatiently. Of course.
And actually, my optician was a man, but I noticed that none of the other opticians consulting that day were male. Why had I automatically assumed the male pronoun?
And it’s not just opticians. ‘A man’s coming to look at out boiler today,’ I heard myself tell Toddler in preparation.
And a few weeks ago, I arrived at a veterinary surgery and my first job was to discharge an in-patient. I said I’d heard that the girls had enjoyed giving Rover lots of fuss while he’d been in hospital over the weekend. This was mostly true – except that the name of the nurse who had been predominantly looking after that patient, turned out to be ‘Johnny.’
The Tour De France made a fantastic weekend for Sheffield. The City was buzzing; the centre was full of art, street food and morris men (morris women, too). Excitement rippled; suddenly, you had something in common with everyone else in the bus queue, whether you knew them or not: ‘Where did you watch it from, then….?’
But there was another of those things that I didn’t talk (or even think) about until Becky pointed it out. She was pictured on Facebook, by the roadside, placard in hand: ‘Let Women Compete Next Time.’
How come I had never even wondered about the absence of women in the Tour? Obviously I wouldn’t even have followed the men’s event had it not randomly gone through my home city. Had a women’s race been advertised, had Team Sky Women’s stories been in our press, Toddler and Hubby and I would have been keen to watch female cyclists too. Surely it would make sense to make full use of the inconveniently closed roads?
But if you owned a TV channel, why would you want to show women’s road-cycling, if nobody wrote in demanding it? And it we didn’t grow up watching women’s cycling, why would we think to ask? And with no-one showing an interest in women cyclists, why would girls aspire to be one…..?
A man’s t-shirt read: You can only Date my Daughter if…… and the bullet points that followed included: ‘you hold doors open for her. You tell her that she is beautiful……’ and so on.
The man had two children with him: the other was a boy. Did the boy, I wondered, deserve respect and admiration from his partner, too? And would the man assume to police his son’s dating in the same way, as though he ‘owned’ him? Excactly whose permission does someone need in order to date a person, female or male…..?
The guy obviously clocked me staring at his chest because he caught my eye. ‘Nice t-shirt,’ I said, automatically.
I let him take a false compliment.
I always used the phrase ‘like a girl’ frequently, mindlessly, and admit that the recent Always campaign (http://www.always.com/en-us/likeagirl.asp) made me think. Another phrase I use is ‘man up,’ whether I am speaking to a woman or man. You don’t Always think about it, do you…..?
Two days after the PM reshuffled his cabinet to include some women (there is an election coming up, after all), the Daily Mail ran an article about it. Normally an article about the incomers would focus on their history, their policies, their ideas. But the Daily Mail chose to discuss their relative fashion senses, the clothing that they wore to parliament and the sizes of their handbags.
Worse, I clicked on this article. The Daily Mail think I actually wanted to read it. I didn’t even write in to complain about the spread. On one hand I am angry with myself. On the other hand, why bother…..?
Which brings me to the problem. The problem is: people like me. Sexism is commonplace, I engage in it and do not challenge it as much as I ought to from others.
I am disappointed in myself. I call myself a feminist, but women’s equality is an ideal I beleive in rather than something I expect to encounter: I perpetuated stereotypes and let inequality go uncommented on.
For all the good that it will do, I am commenting now. Be alert; keep your minds open. It doesn’t seem like much, not compared with some of our battles in the past, but it’s something that definitely shouldn’t exist.