I always thought of myself as a very moral child, aware of sexism and what it meant and when to call it out. I knew it was bad. I was brought up with a keen social awareness and equipped with the encouragement that I could do anything I wanted, and no one could tell me I couldn’t. My little mind was shaped with the help of ‘Girl Power’ and that girls were just as good as boys – better even. However, like a lot of children (and many adults), I now realise that my world view was slightly confused when it came to gender and sexism. While I was told girls could do anything, I witnessed a lot of criticism of them on TV, in the media, in magazines, in the street, especially pretty ones who wore short skirts with a lot of make-up and had no interest in sports. So I fell into a common trap of developing the perspective that these women were somehow “less”. They were stupid, ditsy, Clueless. They were stamping all over my naive attempts to show everyone that girls are just as good as boys. In my young mind, the types of girls who were as good as boys were the ones who were just like boys. The girls who screamed like a girl when the football flew past them on the playground were just ruining it for everyone. They were giving girls a bad name. They weren’t doing enough to show that they could be as good as boys. It was infuriating.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved dolls and all things pink as a younger child, and I also loved football and playing it. Imagine my delight we I got to fight the establishment in my epic struggle to make it onto the football team in my primary school. Unfortunately, it was a battle I was destined to lose when I was denied the chance to even try out (because of my stud earrings apparently, not because of my lack of skill). Far be it from me to question the logic of why it is safe for a 10 year old boy with one fashionable hoop earring to play football and not for a 10 year old girl with two small studs. So you can start to see where this confusion around gender identity came from. I liked things that were traditionally feminine, but as an older child felt ashamed of this. Girl’s things are for girls, boy’s things are for boys. But girls are just as good as boys, but girl things are not as good as boy things. Girl things are stupid, boy things are cool.
Perhaps this rather complex minefield is summed up nicely in the Pink song “Stupid Girls”, in my opinion one of the most horribly sexist pop videos ever (and I’ve seen ‘Blurred Lines’). In the video Pink, a seemingly strong role model for young women, sings about how girls who play with dolls, and wear high heels, and talk on their mobile phones while driving (a wholly female behaviour, apparently), are in fact, really stupid. The video even portrays a young girl as she navigates the internal struggle between choosing to play with a doll or an American football. Finally, after seemingly not wanting to be “stupid” (who does?) she prevails against the seductive luring of the she-devil on her shoulder with her silly dolly temptations and courageously opts for the football. Everybody wins! I assume the song and video were supposed to be somehow “empowering”, teaching girls that they don’t have to play with typically “girly” things; they can play with “boy” things (better things). In actual fact all the video did was add to the criticism of young girls and that everything they like is shit, and they are stupid. Because you can’t play with dolls and be intelligent at the same time, obviously.
So my confusion was a bit like that. I think I managed to keep a fairly clear perspective, though I often fell into the trap of holding women to a different standard than men. In my teenage years, I admit to chats with friends which often involved the sexual exploits of girls we knew in a less than positive light. Conversations we didn’t often have about the boys we knew. The words like “slut” and “tramp” might even had cropped up to describe girls we didn’t like, who we were jealous of, and especially who we felt (shock horror!) might threaten our young budding romances. I have to point out, this was not a regular occurrence, and I hope I managed to refrain from misogyny most of the time. But the fact remains that I, like a lot of people, internalised the sexism around me in the world and sometimes thinly veiled it as concern. Ultimately to my own detriment.
I’m not sure when I started to realise that I had been tricked. Duped by society into perpetuating a warped view of men and women. These are the perspectives we are shown when we open a magazine, or watch a certain music video, or follow a particular storyline, or absorb events in the news when they are portrayed to us in their skewed way. Whatever it was, I started to realise that the inferiority of women has become so normalised and ingrained in society that members of both sexes perpetuate it. Now I saw it. And it was everywhere.
If you’ve ever been lucky enough to swim in the sea, you may recall the nice, calm feelings of carefree weightlessness (you might not, you might hate the sea, but stick with me). I remember times when I’ve been enjoying a nice paddle or, less frequently, a swim in some of the lovely spots around my local coastline. The water is calm and seemingly empty of threat. Then you see one, in the distance, just one almost transparent jellyfish. Panic. So you try to get out of the water (because you hate jellyfish, obviously), and in doing so you realise there’s one right beside you. Shit. Finally, as you start to focus, you see that the bloody things are everywhere, all over the place and they have been this whole time. And then you realise that you’ve been stung.