A recent poll among small children found that the majority of them didn’t think Santa could be a female because “she’d get lost delivering all the presents.” Now, I hate to bring you down with my outlook on Christmas, but if there is a more depressing state of the nation piece of news out there at the moment, I don’t know what it is.
I took a training course on unconscious bias last week. It was a three-hour long discussion, partly on how these biases come about, but mostly how to recognise that you have them and what to do about it. It was pretty interesting, if only because it reaffirmed what I’d thought already – that every time I object to something that I find sexist or limiting, I get told “oh it doesn’t matter, it’s just a bit of fun.” Well here’s the thing. It does matter. It starts to instill your unconscious bias.
E came home from nursery the other day wanting to always wear one of her dresses because she’d been told several times that day that she looked like a princess. I was in agonies – the number of times she’s been told she’s clever, that she can do so many things, that she’s got something right but it’s her appearance someone has decided is important. Her nursery worker looked a little surprised when I responded to their princess comment, telling her “you’re more useful and clever than a princess.”
She’s still so small and I know I shouldn’t get hung up on this, but if the seed planted that her appearance is more important than anything else at three and a half years, how will she be when she’s a teenager? Anorexic? Submitting to requests for sexts? Putting herself down, miserable and nervous?
Let Toys be Toys, the organisation that campaigns against sexist ordering of children’s toys, published their latest research last week. They examined television advertising to children. You may not be amazed to hear that the adverts directed at boys were all for action, challenging and, sometimes, aggressive toys, while girls were offered more passive, caring toys and roles.
Again, these are all little things. But here’s the impact.
A recent study conducted by charity The Young Women’s Trust has found that in comparison to older women, women aged from 16-25 are far more likely to believe that certain professions are out of reach to them because they’re female. A quote:
For example, 89% of older women said that an ICT technician was equally suitable but only 65% of young women. Similarly 86% of older women said that a care worker was equally suitable but only 63% of young women. Additionally, over 30% of young women think nursing and caring are better roles for young women than young men compared to only 13% of older women. 52% of young women think that young men are more suited to be electricians, compared to 26% of older women.
The report suggests that the strong gender divide that still dominates the workplace is a strong factor. The lack of respect or pay for women’s traditional role is one factor, as is the lack of respect or reduced job prospects for part time workers or those with caring responsibilities.
It’s not just girls who are affected by this. Unrealistic expectations of what men do also limit and sometimes damage young men. My old mate Dadblog wrote this week of silly things people say to him as a result of their own limited expectations. I was so pleased to hear this month that my nephew had been awarded a prize at school for being kind – it’s just this kind of small gesture that I’m sure can do so much good, teaching him that kindness is a manly human trait and not ‘girly.’
So what do we do? For a start, fight the stereotyping (E’s gifts have NOTHING pink or blue or the word girls on them. They include a doctor’s kit (neutral packaging – thank you Jojo Maman Bebe) a camera (neutral packaging, though Vtech do also do pink and blue boys and girls ones, tsk) Lego, books, pyjamas and art materials. Hopefully these will all fire her imagination and not limit her.
Second, have a look at these unconscious bias tests to see where your own biases fall. It’s quite interesting – you can skip the questionnaire before and after if you wish.
Beyond that, I don’t want to preach. But it’s something to ponder over Christmas and beyond.