The good thing about being ill – which I hate and would much rather be in my normal routine – is that I can catch up with my blogging. This morning I’ve managed to sit up rather than lie down and later I will attempt to get up (one step at a time) but in the meantime here I am.
Yesterday’s Observer carried a story that the government is going to give parents of girls some advice on how to parent them so that they grow up to be more ambitious. The government is apparently concerned that we aren’t bringing them up right.
This follows hot on the heels of Jo Swinson MP last week telling us that we shouldn’t be telling our daughters that they’re beautiful; that we should be telling them that they’re clever instead. Thanks for the advice, but I think I’ll do both. Like it or not, everyone’s self esteem can be boosted by complimenting them on their appearance – this actually goes for men and boys too.Why can’t we just be nice?
I love advice like this. (For love: read roll eyes and say FFS!) For a start it always comes from Tory governments who tell you in opposition that they favour a small government and scream “Nanny state!” in alarmist tones at the slightest hint of anything like this. I know Swinson is a LibDem but it’s an increasingly meaningless term these days.
Second, it would be easier to take this kind of thing seriously if the government had a better role themselves in promoting women and taking their ambitions seriously. However, they have the lowest number of women in ministerial positions and appear hell bent on screwing over the rest of us with the impact of the cuts on women. (for stats please see here: the Fawcett Society’s website.)
I’m not sure I need advice in how to bring E up to be ambitious. At playgroup we were given a sheet to fill in about our hopes and dreams for the future. Many people’s read with things like “lots of love and laughter” and so on. Mine read “First woman on Mars!” before adding things like plumber, a good reader and finally lots of love and laughter. And yet, this week I’ve been thinking about my ambitions and where they went, for a separate project. It certainly wasn’t my parents who discouraged me – they did all they could to help me along the path I’d said I was interested in. Instead, I do remember a conversation with a teacher at school who I told I wanted to be a journalist and he looked at me like I’d said I wanted to fly to Mars. It had an impact on me – there was no encouragement or suggestions for development, only a blank stare. My teenage self confidence levels were pretty low for a number of reasons and I didn’t go ahead and ignore him like I should have done. I drifted.
So perhaps I do need to make sure my ambitions for E go on and on. I guess the trick is knowing where to draw the line so I’m not pressuring her into things she doesn’t want. But again, I’m not sure that this is just something that parents of girls need to be aware of. While I know statistically there’s a lot of evidence that women don’t make it to the top, this kind of government advice gives the tacit impression that they’ve got boys right. From where I’m sitting, that doesn’t look likely. I have just typed a long paragraph leading on from this but I’m not sure I’ve got that right either so I leave it to you to judge instead.
It strikes me that these kind of statements and ideas are well meaning but it’s the kind of thing they want to do that nibbles around the edges rather than actually tackling a problem head on. We do value body image above brains in this country, we don’t have a good track record of women in positions of power and influence. It would be great if these problems could be tackled. It’s just that I don’t think these bits of advice will do anything at all to help.