Did you know that today is World Book Day? I found out on Tuesday, when nursery asked if I would like to send Daughter dressed as her favourite literary character. We plumped for the bedtime bunny in Goodnight Moon, a delightful post-war book which ends each day for us (I can recite it in my sleep). The fact that this involved a pair of pyjamas and some ready-owned bunny ears was a bonus.
Come today, however, Daughter was tired and grumpy, and would not wear her bunny ears. At nursery, I saw children in Gruffalo suits and home-made SpongeBob SquarePants sandwich boards; and I dropped off Daughter, in her pyjamas. They were clean on this morning, I promise.
Tomorrow is International Women’s Day. My inbox has been ringing throughout the day with messages from businesswomen about how they will be spending the day. I will be picking up my car from the garage, which is rather prosaic; but I will at least have baby swimming in the morning, a real highlight of the mummy/Daughter week.
I recently attended a focus group with Frugi, previewing the company’s AW13 clothing range for babies and children. I wondered aloud why bright blue dungarees were labelled as boys’ clothing, when I’d be quite happy to put them on my daughter. “Lots of people say that,” said director Lucy Jewson, “and I don’t disagree. But our sales figures say otherwise – it’s pink that everyone buys.”
While on maternity leave, I came across a website called Pink Stinks. I thought this was a bit harsh – I don’t mind pink, just not all the time, and preferably not pastel. OH also noticed a pink prevalence when buying Daughter’s last birthday present from a well-known high street toy retailer: “It’s all pink, plastic and princesses,” he sighed, before buying the single wooden toy in the shop.
Perhaps a more serious part of International Women’s Day is the consideration of how women live in other countries, and the celebration of strong role models. I’m all for that. Over the past year, I have been struck by the serenity of Aung San Suu Kyi, and thoroughly admired the fortitude of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by Taliban supporters for daring to campaign for women’s education. Her positive attitude on coming round from surgery should be an inspiration to all.
I often attend networking events at which I’m asked to promote my job to young people – tell them what I do, why I love it, how I got where I am today, etc. At a recent do, a male counterpart looked rather dejected. It turned out he worked in a traditionally masculine industry, and had spent much of the morning surrounded by all-girl groups who he assumed were a lost cause.
He was probably right, but I thought it a shame that, as his field is one supposedly crying out for more women to redress the balance, he hadn’t been better prepared by his employer to encourage those girls to apply, and to tell them why it’s as much their world as his. I was even more disappointed when, following some gentle probing, I discovered views that I thought went out of fashion with the ark. He felt that the onus was on women to shrug off male banter, and that those who didn’t weren’t right for the profession. “You can’t change men like that – you just have to fit in,” he said.
It saddens me that a generation of young men still see life this way. It’s the equivalent of saying “If you can’t stand the heat …” or “Get a sense of humour, love.” The idea that a woman might be forced to leave a job, not because she’s no good at it but because she feels intimidated and unsupported by colleagues, seems plain wrong.
As a student barmaid 20 years ago, I recall being the subject of sexual attentions. One man regularly had me in stitches. “Ooh Kirstie, I’ll make love to you, but not while you’re wearing those socks,” he would say. I didn’t mind that – it was a light-hearted gag, no harm meant. But the guy in the back room who told me I had nice breasts, and then proceeded to stare at them, was different. When I asked a male colleague to serve him, I was told in no uncertain terms: “If you can’t do the job, you shouldn’t be here.” It probably didn’t help that as a university student, I was considered la-di-da. Class and gender – the double whammy. Posh bird.
What it actually boils down to is bullying, and collusion – you fit in, so if doesn’t affect you. But if people took a stand, we could stamp out these attitudes for our children, and our children’s children.
Am I a feminist? If that means being a person with rights and opinions, who wants to be treated the same as others, then hell, yes. I’ve told girls they can do anything they like – no doors should be closed because of their gender. But sometimes I wonder whether I’ve got it all wrong. Thanks to our Suffragette ancestors, women today have it so much better – but we’ve still got a long way to go.
On the plus side, Frugi plans to categorise its online shop according to age, so you can decide for yourself whether your two-year-old wears flowers or dinosaurs. It’s a small but significant step towards equality, and I say “aye” to that.