Tag Archives: women’s rights

Take Me Out: a feminist’s dream?

ITV dating show

Take Me Out. It riles me. It grates with all my principles. It makes me feel embarrassed. Most of all, it makes me fear for the giant steps that women are currently making through campaigns such as This Girl Can and No More Page 3 (if you ignore the childish and aggressive behaviour of The Sun with regard to the latter). If I have these concerns then why do I continue to let my 6-year-old daughter watch Take Me Out? It’s all about the lessons she can learn.

“There’s a boy and a girl and if they switch their light off they don’t like him and then there’s one person left and they go on holiday to Fernando’s.” That’s how a child sums up the premise of Take Me Out, ITV’s 21st century (apparently) dating show. Simple, innocent, unquestioning. Of course, it’s great Saturday night entertainment and along with many other forms of entertainment where women aren’t given credit for having anything other than breasts, make-up and a desperate desire to meet Mr Right, many would say that it should just be treated as a bit of light-hearted fun. (Which brings us back to Page 3.) But as with many media portrayals deemed harmless and fun – think back to the racism in British TV shows in the 1970s – the potential for lasting damage, particularly on impressionable minds, is serious.

Why do I let my daughter watch it? Because her cranky mother with her feminist leanings sits next to her and provides a social commentary. Hands up – I enjoy the show. I enjoy it not because it makes me feel good about being a woman in 2015 but because of the constant amused disbelief it generates. It pleasurably raises my hackles and gives me full licence to pontificate to my daughter about everything that is wrong with the programme.

You shouldn’t judge people on their looks alone

In the last episode we watched, the majority of the girls switched off their lights on first sight of the man. What a blast to his self-esteem. We all form an immediate opinion of people based on first impressions – that’s normal – but we have to learn to recognise that shortfalling and then think beyond it.

“Won’t those girls who switched off their lights be really sad when they find out what a nice, interesting man he is?” I venture. Her argument was that the rules say you’re allowed to switch your light off in the first round – “No likey, no lighty, Mummy”. A rule’s a rule and I should probably be proud that she respects that.

It takes some effort to explain to a 6-year-old why it isn’t acceptable to judge someone based on how they look; they are still taking the first steps in developing empathy and mostly they are the centre of their own universe. Yet it doesn’t hurt to prod them in the ribs with a not-so-gentle reminder of how cruel TV ‘entertainment’ can be.

“Look mummy, she’s got trousers on”

As we watched the parade of girls at the beginning of Saturday’s show, I started to tut (quite rightly) about how they’d forgotten to put some of their clothes on. My daughter countered that the studio was probably quite hot. Fair point, but I went on to say how much better they would look dressed a little more … elegantly. My daughter told me that I’m not as stylish as the girls on Take Me Out. And they’re at least 20 years younger than me, dear daughter, and, as they are single and in all likelihood childless, they have a disposable income to deploy on looking ‘stylish’.

All is not lost though. When my daughter pointed out that one of the girls was actually wearing trousers (skin tight but at least no flesh on display) I congratulated myself with unashamed smugness that some of what I’ve preached might just be sinking in.

Fortunately, my 3-year-old son has no interest in Take Me Out. If he did then, yes, I would let him watch it too. And, yes, I would be equally keen to point out its inadequacies to him – perhaps with more vehemence than with my daughter. Part of that is that, whilst inequality continues, women are in dire need of help from men. It’s not up to women to fight alone but it will take more than Ed Miliband and Benedict Cumberbatch wearing t-shirts with slogans to force change from the roots up. Perhaps Take Me Out is another small step to educating the men and women of the future, providing we’re savvy enough to use all that is bad about it to do good.

Objects of desire

Fragile box

I have been slightly disturbed by a recent thread on a mums’ online group. The discussion was about the attractiveness of a local delivery man – his doorstep appeal. Sizzling, apparently. The type of fella you’d want to be answering the door to in your nightdress. Maybe letting your dressing gown slip open as you drowsily open the door at 7am. Desperate housewives having a bit of a giggle. All good, clean fun, right?

But turn the tables and is it so funny? Imagine a thread on a dads’ forum talking about a delivery woman: “Should’ve answered the door in my pants!” “Wouldn’t mind posting something in her box!” Suddenly it sounds less harmless and much seedier. Why is it okay for women to do to men what they don’t like done unto themselves? Is one of the benefits of being the ‘weaker’ sex that we can harangue men in a non-threatening and therefore acceptable way? Look at the ad with the Diet Coke man cutting the grass – tossing him the shaken can to open is equivalent to making a woman climb a ladder to look up her skirt. I’d like to see whether an advert like that would avoid complaints.

I’m not aiming criticism at the people who commented on the thread – I certainly want to be able to go into town without wearing a flak jacket – but it made me think about the double standards that operate in a society that is (hopefully) striving for equality. Perhaps turning the tables on men is a form of empowerment – an attempt to redress the balance of power by taking men on at their own game. After all, gender equality is about creating a level playing field. Do we therefore say, yes, it’s fine for women to talk about men based on their appearance and sex appeal alone. If we do, then at the same time we should be reaching for the topshelf in the newsagents and ripping the protective wrapping off the men’s magazines – right? It’s only fair after all. Either we agree that it’s acceptable to treat women and men like this, or we agree that no one should be reduced to the status of a mere sexual object.

That’s an awful lot of questions. I don’t have the answers and, yes, maybe I should take a hike and go and burn my bra someplace else. I am sure the delivery man – high up on his pedestal – is in no danger of being chased down and ravished by a pack of mums so to that extent it is harmless. But I wonder how he would feel if he read what was being said about him. Perhaps he’d be delighted and his testosterone levels would surge. But perhaps – and there’s a good chance – he would feel uncomfortable and more than a little embarrassed by the attention he’s received.

Am I a failed feminist?

Girl picking flower

I think I’m a feminist. That’s not me pushing back my chair to stand up and make a guilty admission. What I mean is that I think I’m a feminist but probably don’t meet all the requirements, if such rigid requirements indeed exist. I’m interested in the issues and barriers affecting women and will gladly step up on a soapbox or two. Is it terrible then that this afternoon I helped my 5-year-old daughter get ‘dolled up’ for an evening out at the theatre?

This afternoon was special. It was the last afternoon we had alone together before the start of the new school term. With a trip to the theatre with her dad planned for the evening, I decided to treat her to an afternoon of pampering. Or, as it turned out, I gave her a bath and painted her fingernails whilst she watched back-to-back episodes of iCarly. We chose a dress (pink) and a cardigan (sparkly) for her to wear out, selected some of her less tacky jewellery and packed a little handbag (the one that was “more like a grown-up’s”) with a purse, tissues and plasters (of course). Finally, I helped her apply a little bit of eyeshadow and some lip gloss. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, or, in this case, freebie make-up sets from a well-known brand of kids’ shoes are.

Did I do wrong? No. Am I betraying my feminist tendencies? Possibly. I think it’s highly unlikely that our afternoon will send her in the direction of wanting to be a glamour model rather than a rocket scientist. Equally, I doubt that she will be left thinking looks are more important than anything else. What we did this afternoon was for her. She’s not interested in what other people think when they look at her. (And I hope that will long continue.) She’s interested in how things make her feel inside. Doing what she sees Mummy doing made her feel more grown-up and thus independent, things most children hanker after whether or not we agree with or support it. It wasn’t about feeling more like a ‘woman’ (with the negative connotation that women are defined by make-up and fashion), it was simply about being on level pegging with an adult. If taking a razor to an imaginary beard could have had the same effect, she probably would have done it.

I’m very much against thrusting toys at girls that could narrow their aspirations. We fought the tide of pink in our household and were eventually overwhelmed. But rather than call wildly for help from a sea of sparkly plastic, I’ve hoisted myself on a boogie board and ridden the wave. Pink paraphernalia, make-up and glitter aren’t going to put my daughter in a pigeon hole from where she can’t see the stars. There are things in our world far more powerful and pervasive that will try to inflict such damage. What matters is her having confidence – the ability to define who she is by herself, rather than be defined. If the biggest enemies to achieving this were the colour pink and a bit of nail polish then the need for feminism would have ceased to exist a long time ago.

Pretty in pink: is my daughter doomed?

 Yellow Moon
Photo credit: Yellow Moon

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.

It’s all about balls

Ball pond

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.