I interrupt this broadcast with important news for all women out there. Are you fed up with watching dull documentaries about history that are just so last season? Bored of that Professor Cox who claims he was once a pop star but never seems to be in any of your issues of Closer? Television can be so tedious can’t it? All too often it goes a little bit above your head and deals with issues that quite frankly aren’t worth busting a nail over. Well fret no longer women of Britain with your tiny brains: ITV is launching a channel just for you.
I often have to check the date to see if it’s April 1st. This was one such occasion. But it turns out that ITV really are tuning into exactly what women want. Men have been trying to figure this out for years and ITV seem to have cracked it once and for all. ITV say ITVBe will focus on entertainment and “reality and non-scripted shows” which are, according to ITV bod Peter Fincham, “very popular with young women and housewives with kids”. That’ll be the two most vacuous sections of society then Mr Fincham? The latter certainly has plenty of time to put their feet up and consume meaningless drivel. I wouldn’t dare suggest that ITV are having any hand in perpetuating the myth that being a stay-at-home parent is a hobby and not a bloody hard job.
Hold on though. I say stay-at-home ‘parent’ but a stay-at-home dad would obviously be watching ITV4 “which aims to attract a predominantly male audience with its ‘cult’ classics and sports coverage”. ITV4’s Twitter profile describes it as “the channel for real fans”. Men can cope with that little bit more substance. There may be a fine line (certainly in my eyes) between a football pundit and an oranged-up cheeky chappy from TOWIE but men’s brains are clearly capable of better focus (at least for 90 minutes). Leave the shallow and the wishy-washy for the shriveled brains of us poor women.
And then there’s the name of the channel: ITVBe. It wisely implies that women should just be themselves. Really, you don’t have to pretend to enjoy Mastermind anymore. Just relax and stop aiming above your station by trying to absorb any meaningful information – stick with TOWIE. After all, you’re not capable of handling anything deeper than a layer of Shellac. When you can accept that, you will achieve peace with yourself and just BE.
According to government minister Jenny Willott in a debate today, pink toys are damaging the economy. Damaging it? Going by the number of pink toys in shops I’d say they’re supporting it. But Ms Willott was referring to something much more sinister and long-term. She argues that pink toys are steering girls away from careers in engineering and the sciences and therefore businesses are missing out on “vital talent”. Toys – and the associated stereotypes – are to blame for the gender gap.
This puts me in a quandary. I’m not happy with the way toys are marketed at boys and girls. Lego Friends leaves a bad taste in my mouth. However, I resent the suggestion that my 5-year-old daughter’s future success will be mapped out for her by the toys she plays. If I listen to what was said in today’s debate then she’s doomed! I might as well start my search for a rich husband for her now. Like many first-time parents, I started off adamant that pink plastic and sparkles were not going to become part of our household. Yet 5 years on, my daughter last night set up a mini hair salon in her bedroom and I happily let her brush my hair and smudge lipstick across my face. The pink flood inevitably sweeps into your home, regardless of how much parental sand-bagging you do.
Am I worried that she’s going to think she can’t achieve a professorship in astrophysics? No. Am I going to thrust Meccano at her and make her play with it goddammit? No, I’m not. Of course I’d rather she got a buzz from building a 6-foot replica of the Forth Bridge in Lego. Of course I find bottles of Princess Aurora perfume and hair braiding sets intensely annoying in the way they reinforce gender stereotypes -but my daughter likes them. She has a little brother so there are plenty of ‘boys’ toys and ‘girls’ toys in our house – she can play with whatever she likes. Giving children free rein to choose what they play with is positively advocated. If my daughter that day chooses her Lego Friends café over a Lego digger then who am I to stop her?
When I look at the toys she plays with that are supposedly ‘girlie’ I see much more than a future vision of her propping up a nail bar. Take Hama beads for example: fairly girlish, arty, pretty, plenty of pink beads for budding princesses. But there is so much more to them. As my daughter focuses intently for half an hour on making a flower I can see her learning concentration, patience, design, symmetry, maths (she counts the beads when copying examples) and science (the heat applied to the materials causes them to melt and fuse – well, you didn’t think I told her it was magic, did you?).
Sure, there are lots of pink plastic toys for girls that are useless and serve no purpose. That’s what the children of yesteryear used to call ‘fun’ before we forgot how to have it. My little girl learns through playing with things that make her happy. By being happy she feels comfortable with herself. Without that comfort she will never have the confidence to open her mind and imagine what she is capable of. If her first step on the road to becoming an astronaut is sticking stars on a Barbie picture then so be it.
I have a dream. I have a dream that one day no article about women and their careers will need to mention their beauty regime or their wardrobe. Today I clicked on a feature about a well-known woman in the media industry hoping for some nuggets of her wisdom. Indeed there were some, but I also came away knowing about her shoe preferences and skincare. Granted, in her particular field (fashion magazines) looking good is a sadly unavoidable factor. What bothers me is that in articles about women their appearance so often becomes part of defining their success. It’s hardly furthering the cause.
It isn’t the details of a person’s personal life encroaching on their professional life that grates. Successful people are created by who they are and not just by what they achieve at work. It is interesting to learn that someone runs 20km to work or spends their spare time writing poetry. These things maketh the (wo)man. What becomes annoying is the unnecessary detail, the detail that doesn’t contribute to an understanding of why an individual has achieved what they have.
I read an article last year about easyJet chief executive Carolyn McCall – only the third female boss of a FTSE-100 company – that I wish I’d saved, so refreshing was its approach. It made me hopeful about the portrayal of women in the media. Not once did it mention her appearance. There was no talk of her home life. She was defined neither by her looks nor by whether she had kids. Other than the startling fact about how few women feature in the FTSE, she was written about neutrally – not as a man or a woman but as a business person. In fact, the treatment that men normally receive.
The piece about Carolyn McCall proved that it can be done – that a woman can be portrayed as simply being damned good at her job with not one ounce of that success being attributed to (or at least mentioned alongside) how she looks. We don’t need to know where she shops, whether she waxes or which member of One Direction she prefers. It may seem remarkable to some, but having balls isn’t just the preserve of men.
Miley, Miley, Miley. She’s whipped parents up into a frenzy and perhaps not in the way she intended. Or maybe it was. I doubt she’s the easily led pop starlet that Mammy O’Connor seems to worry that she is. The whole Robin Thicke/VMA episode pushed boundaries (and bikini lines) just a little bit too far given the show’s potential audience. We now find ourselves in a ‘storm of controversy’ about the heavy dose of sex in pop music, and for that, Miley, I thank you.
I became a prude when the heavy responsibility of owning a 5-year-old daughter dawned on me. They get to an age when Nicki Minaj gyrating on the floor in neon can no longer be mistaken for an episode of the Teletubbies. The questions start. Then the imitation. And don’t get me started on the long-term effects on men’s perceptions of women, female self-esteem, etc, etc , etc. Phew, makes me so hot under the collar I feel like stripping off and putting on a flesh-coloured bikini – if only my principles allowed it.
Let’s be honest, it’s not a new phenomenon. There have been plenty of thrusting crotches (Presley, Jackson) in the history of pop music that have raised the eyebrows of parents fearing for their impressionable young. I’m sure crotches and butts will be thrusting well into the 22nd century and will continue to generate debate as to their effect on our morals. We need to accept that the pop world isn’t going to stop getting its boobs out any time soon. In the face of that, what we can do is develop coping strategies. What can you say to your kids when you find them with Miley’s derriere in their face or listening to what you thought was the radio edit? Here are some ideas, entirely palatable for the prudish parent:
“No, darling. Those people in the audience aren’t cheering her – they’re laughing at her. Silly thing has forgotten to put her clothes on.”
“How funny that they’re singing about their socks being on fire. A bit like that Bruno Mars chap singing about how those socks take him to paradise. He’d love M&S wouldn’t he?”
“I’m not sure why she’s rubbing her bottom on him like that. She doesn’t look very comfortable. It could be worms. Yes, yuck indeed.”
“Twerking? I’m not sure. Ask Grandad – he’s from Yorkshire.”
“What does she want? To go up her reward chart of course. She’s been a good girl.”
“I’m sure that Professor Poet and First Officer Ditty will cover what rhymes with ‘hug me’ on Rhyme Rocket. Let’s not speculate on it in front of your grandmother.”
Rather than beat our heads against a brick wall expecting immediate change, let’s take a step back and view the pop world with humour and disdain in equally useful measures. I hope that I can instill in my kids some sense that what they see on TV and hear on the radio is not aspirational. Let them laugh at it. My daughter needs to know that she doesn’t need to strip down to her undies to be considered attractive or successful or to be empowered. My son needs to understand that there’s more to women than their bodies and what they can do for men.
If entertainment wants to be overtly sexual and entertainers are happy portraying that then who are we really to tell them to stop. Let’s just switch them off. What would be sad would be if the blurred lines between entertainment and reality stopped generating debate and there became no lines at all.
Human beings are prone to acts of madness. We engage in activities that can to others seem pointless, reckless and downright dangerous. Many people would have been thinking this when they read about Diana Nyad. Earlier this month, Ms Nyad made her fifth (and ultimately successful) attempt to cross the Florida Strait from Cuba to the Florida Keys. Not in a boat, but by swimming 110 long, painful miles.
What possesses a 64-year-old woman to swim a volatile stretch of water brimming with sharks and jellyfish? To be honest, that’s not important. More important is what we can learn from her. What can someone who has such a strong desire to achieve a goal that they will persevere for 35 years and endure a skinful of jellyfish venom teach us? She certainly deserves to feature more highly in people’s minds (and the press) than a £300,000 per week footballer.
Nyad is a role model in the true spirit of the term: someone who inspires others to achieve their dreams whatever the discomfort required. She has no shortcuts to success. Neither celebrity nor money can help her. Ultimately her success is down to sheer hard work and preparation (with perhaps a dash of luck on the day).
In the dark days we are living in, we need to read stories of the apparently pointless. Far from being trivial compared to current world events, individual endeavours such as Diana Nyad’s remind us that the human spirit – and with it hope – still remains. We need such seemingly mad acts to keep us sane.