I was thinking quite a lot about being a woman today, probably because it’s International Women’s Day. I’ve just watched a short video about books, which demonstrates the relative proportions of books that 1) actually feature girls, 2) feature girls who speak and 3) feature girls who aren’t princesses, waiting for their prince charming.
The end of a video is a book ad, but I completely understand the sentiments behind it. Those sentiments effectively being – if girls never see female characters in literature who have aspirations, then they’re only being shown default, or stereotyped female characters.
I think it’s supremely important that girls are exposed to the idea that they can go beyond the stereotype and aspire to all kinds of things. I also read an article today, highlighting the ongoing inequity that women in Australia – a first world, privileged country – still face.
It clearly demonstrates the gender gap in pay, which briefly improved, but is now worse than it was in 1994. One of the issues highlighted in another article was that at least one of the reasons this continues to be a problem is because women continue to do the bulk of the housework and childcare, even if they are also working full time. Consequently, many women drop their hours back in order to cope.
What does this tell us? Not that women aren’t capable of working full time, but that some men avoid helping their partners, or avoid taking equal responsibility for household and childcare tasks.
Clearly this is part of gender stereotyping alive and well in the twenty first century.
Yesterday I went to buy new athletic shoes. I have large, wide feet. Women’s sizes rarely fit me, so as per normal, I ended up in men’s athletic shoes. This never bothers me, because an athletic shoe is simply an athletic shoe. However, while I was in the shop, I did try on a ‘woman’s shoe,’ mainly because the shop assistant thought there might be one that would fit. (He was wrong.)
I was struck, then, by the sheer quantity of pink shoes in the women’s section. The men’s section had a lot of different colours. The women’s section had pink or pink toned shoe after pink toned shoe. I’ve taken a screenshot of a popular sports shop’s colour chart for women’s shoes – you can see it below, with the corresponding men’s one on the right.
Apart from the predominance of black in both groups, you can see that pink features heavily in the women’s choices. Some might argue it’s discriminatory against men who wish to purchase pink shoes, but I see it more as a persistent stereotyping of women.
It’s a tiny thing, but it’s symptomatic of gender inequity across the board.
To illustrate my point further, I googled ‘girl’s books’ and took a snapshot of the top of the page of images.
Then I googled ‘boy’s books’ and took another snapshot of the equivalent page.
The plethora of pink is overwhelming. The lack of other colours is also obvious.The ‘boy’s books’ have a completely different set of colours, but the colours are much more varied. There could, at a stretch, be a slight preponderance of blue, but reds, greens, yellows and blacks feature regularly. If you look at the titles, you can see repeated themes.
If you google ‘girl’s toys, you get this.
And ‘boy’s toys,’ this.
Again, you see a sea of pink, followed by multiple colours. But even more problematic are the types of toys. The toys designated for girls feature princesses, homemaking, looking after babies, and makeup, with the occasional teddy bear. The toys designated for boys feature action heroes, things to build, and things that encourage physical activity.
Of course, I could have googled ‘toys,’ but in this world, toys are marketed in a very gendered fashion. Children are marketed to, dependent on their gender, and stereotypical expectations. When you consider that marketing starts from a very young age, you can see that even if a child is brought up in a family that values gender equity, subliminal gendered cues will still be absorbed via media and advertising.
There have been many strides made towards true gender equity, but still we lag. Women in privileged countries still have strides to make, but we’re still a long way ahead of women in less privileged environments.
Key to change, will be our ability to leave stereotypes behind, and to inspire our girls to look beyond them. Also key, will be changing the entrenched attitudes of some men, but probably more difficult, encouraging others who believe they’re already enlightened (and compared to many they are), to change the attitudes they don’t know they’ve absorbed – what I’d refer to as casual sexism.