What If Pets Were Sexist?
What can I do about it? Society is sexist, and innocently sexist at times. How can I help children feel that it is OK for them to be a girl who likes dinosaurs or to be a boy who likes to dress hair? How can I do that if their family is trying to push them towards dolls or football? What can I do to lessen the terror felt by a father when his son wants to dress as a Disney princess in class for half an hour? What can I do to make a mum think twice about mentioning that her daughter is assertive and how she knows it can be overbearing for other children? What can I do when I don’t have children of my own? What can I do when this discredits the childhood experience I had just because I don’t have a child on my own? What would I do if my mum called my dog a ‘tart’ again for wearing his fancy baby blue striped harness complete with huge bow?…
I’m asking for help. I want to address gender stereotypes in a way that connects with adults. I would like to show how they effect children’s moral, self image, job prospects, family life, and so on. It is so intertwined in all aspects of society; how do I find just one area to focus on? How do I as an illustrator, visually engage with my target audience? Especially when I constantly feel I need to be able to academically justify myself at the risk of missing my audience.
In December I attended a workshop held by Digital Innovations at The Shed, Manchester. The workshop was designed to help you generate ideas and to open you up to working collaboratively. An example they based the workshop around was how to get more women into tech. We broke down the problem into different sections but tackling gender stereotyping early kept cropping up. There were so many comments on why there are not so many women in tech; not enough role models, not being known as a job for women, not knowing the different types of roles within tech etc. The guy helping facilitate the workshop commented that this actually wasn’t a straight forward example to use as the more we spoke about it, the more it became obvious that it was a ‘wicked problem’. The issues and complications were completely intertwined with gender stereotypes and roles within society covering all stages of life from childhood through to adulthood. Funnily enough, the women outnumbered the men in the workshop and I felt that helped add weight to the issues that hold women back from tech as we were all saying similar things.
At the end of the workshop we were asked to storyboard an app. I found this really helpful and from the workshop have come up with an idea to help open up ambitions for young children. I have tried contacting the Digital Innovations team as it was suggested to contact them and collaborate on ideas (as I have no app making experience). Not heard back as yet, will try again now the holidays are over.
A series of small reportage illustrations of conversations I have either been involved in or have witnessed regarding gender issues and stereotypes within society. I am using these as conversation prompts and would like to hear from anyone who would like to talk about them or even if anyone would like to know more of the context of the conversations or more about my research project.
I watched episode 1 of The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds and there was one incident that has made me feel uncomfortable since watching. The children were involved in a bean bag race. The rules were explained and demonstrated to them and they were told under no circumstance were you allowed to touch the bean bag whilst it was on their head, this was cheating. The children were asked who would want to be team captains. Two of the boys squabbled over this before another joined in. The camera did not show any of the girls volunteering themselves. The teacher chose Charlotte to be the first captain much to Jack’s dismay and he loudly protested. The teacher proceeded to call him forward to be the second, much to Nathaniel’s dismay. Charlotte and Jack went on to pick their teams which predictably amounted to one all girls team and one all boys team. The scientists, Dr Sam Wass and Professor Paul Howard-Jones, state that this is common at this age. The race begins and instantly the boys cheat by holding the bean bag to their heads whereas the girls go slower in order to keep the bag stable. The winners are then announced as the boy’s team. The girls are visibly disappointed and the boys are jubilant in their victory. The girls are then quizzed on what they thought happened. Tia says she believes the girls should have won as the boys cheated. Charlotte is asked who cheats the most and why. She says the boys because they are ‘boyish’. Lola’s response upset me the most as she said that the girls will never win. Boys have bigger brains and girls have smaller.
Later Tia chases Jack round to talk to him about how she is upset that the boys cheated and won and how Theo has said that the girls can win next time. Jack isn’t interested and continues to celebrate the win and tries to ignore her. Tia is persistent and obviously disappointed at his response to her and the injustice of the situation. Jack becomes frustrated with her and begins to growl as his language skills are not as advanced as others in the group. Tia behaviour is then described as unfair by the scientists as it is obvious that Jack is a sensitive boy and he must be frustrated with not being able to communicate his feelings.
The whole scenario disturbed me. After some of my research reading, I have become aware of the vocabulary and they way people speak around and to do with girls and boys. Boys behaviour has often been excused or justified and girls are often apologised for in a way to quieten them. Jack was described as a loveable rogue and Tia was described as confident and that she can be a bit much for people at times. I do not understand as yet to why the boys were allowed to win when they had cheated. Even the scientists describe the boys as finding ways around the rules when the film shows them breaking them, not compromising them. It was not stated that this happened to test the reactions of the children, even so, as it was stated at the beginning of the documentary, this is a pivotal stage of their life, I feel it very unfair that they would allow the girls to see that the boys win regardless of them upholding the rules. I am deeply saddened that one girl at 4 years old believes that boys have bigger brains and this is why they will always win. I wonder how she has come to believe this.
The rest of the programme is touching and enlightening to how friendships are formed and skills are developed through play and personalities are nurtured. I do plan to contact the scientists to see if the way the game planned out was an experiment or was it something that happened naturally at the time.
Today I visited Mothercare and Smyths toy store. I thought with it being half term and Christmas round the corner, now would be a good time (or crazy time) to go.
The first thing I notice as I walk into the Mothercare store is the sign on the wall; Clothes for Girls. This season’s colours (and pink of course!). There is the usual array of pink and blue and frills and super heroes when somewhere to the side of the clothes section I am met by the My K range. These clothes are not the kind I expected at all. They are obviously mostly unisex and refreshingly black, white, and grey. They are punchy with illustrative designs and gender neutral slogans. I must admit that there were plenty of other clothes that were not so fixed on the usual gender colours but these were so strikingly different. I came away from the store interested in them and would look into the brand when I went home later.
Even bottles are gendered now…
Smyths left me as disgruntled as I expected but with a couple of glimmers of hope. Most toys came with a pink version, just to make sure the girls would be interested in it. Like the pink magic set, or the pink digger, or the pink glitzy sparkly science sets labelled ‘brain activators’. The thing to be celebrated here is the fact the pink versions actually cost the same as the other; that will change later in life, grab that while you can! Just as I finished taking a picture of the Neon Science set, a man picks it up and says to one of his children that one of the others would “really like this as she is into science and that. Neon Science! And it has all the girly stuff too. Neon nails and that”. And that… There were a few silver linings were there were a boy and a girl on the box of items that would of usually been seen as gender specific. Hurrah for Bosch who possibly had the most gender neutral packaging that I had come across in Smyths.
I was also troubled by the disproportionate representation of white children to children of colour. This resonated across both shops, including dolls of colour and children pictured on the front of boxes. Over the ground floor in one of the stores, I counted three.
I wanted to make this to point out, again, double standards. There is a stigma attatched to a woman who has children to different fathers. I have never heard the same be said about men who have children to multiple women. I have heard comments be said about women by both women and men and have personally witnessed the panic of a friend who got caught pregnant again and the panic was because of this stigma not because of the stability of her relationship. Whether this comes about because it is mostly women who then take lead parent in the children’s lives after relationships break down, or not, it takes two, so why is it only the women who are frowned upon?
This image challenges the gender expectations of children and why certain toys and colours are assigned to each gender. I also chose to use the image of a young, black boy as I thought his pose could be read as feminine. I then used the head of an albino girl and the legs and glove of an asian girl. I wanted to test the suggested sex of the subject in the image based on body language and what we see as feminine dress with the trousers and the hair with it being short. I also deliberatey composed the image without using images of white children as princesses are mostly white and look a certain way. I wanted to use the trash pile that the child stands on as princesses are written as living in castles and kingdoms of wealth.
‘There is one, the Frog Princess, but all the most famous ones are like Cinderella […] a typical princess- blonde hair, white skin, blue eyes, pink lipstick – perfect girls. It makes it seem like black people aren’t as popular. You don’t see a punk princess, you don’t see a princess with tattoos, you don’t see a black princess, or a Goth princess with baggy jeans on and a normal jumper and normal weight, but then people would say that’s not a princess.’
* Girls worry about being fat, because people judge them a lot.
* My friend’s sister was getting bullied and being told she’d be better off if she had an eating disorder so she could get thinner. She was 13.
* Guys look at Tumblr girls and Tumblr girls are meant to be perfect- that’s the whole idea. The girls on the internet are perfect…They need that idea of perfection […] if you don’t have a thigh gap you NEED to get a thigh gap.
* I remember being embarrassed about my thighs aged six […] I remember girls comparing their bodies in the toilet in Year 5. I must of been about nine.
* When I was about 9 years old, my Dad started calling me ‘thunder thighs’. I’ve never felt comfortable in shorts ever since.