For a long time, surrounded by far more politically astute friends, I worried (in my spare time) about the fact that I almost totally failed to be rampant and outraged by lots of the -isms that my peers and friends knew lots about. It gnawed at me, for example, that I didn’t seem to be a feminist or even terribly worried by whether I was or not. To be honest I think I can look back now and say that the environment I was brought up in meant that I simply didn’t tangle with the ideas much; my mum was a total career women who has achieved everything in the academic world she set out to achieve. Even when I was 8 or 9 she was simply marching through the ranks of her university with apparent total disinterest in the accepted roles of men and women there. My dad was a SAHD in the 1980’s, doing school runs and looking after the toddler and the baby and getting people to nursery, toilet training and making us dinner. Because it worked, because the arrangement was the best fit for my family, it never occurred to me it was unusual – it was simply practical. And then I went to an all girls school, where the boys school down the road was academically inferior (if holistically superior!) and so my built in feeling was as straight forward as “I’m female and we do what we want”. I never questioned it. I didn’t go to a school or come from a home that questioned that. In the parts of my school where I was happiest, so long as you wore black jeans, docs and could rig up a stage lantern, your biological make up was largely irrelevant. I didn’t go on to university and so I didn’t get particularly subjected to debating societies or political discussion. I went off to drama school.
It was there I first met sexism in any real sense. I stood in the lobby one day as we received training on a job done by a person of authority in a theatre and my mouth dropped open as each of the boys was called to try first while the girls just stood and waited. I had never come across such a thing before. It was there too that I first encountered using sex as a lever; the amount of sleeping with people to get a job in theatre-land is hideous. I hated it – and I left.
For all my lack of political understanding of the whys and wherefores of feminism, which I fully appreciate is not to my credit, I think I do an okay job of displaying sexual equality to my children. Max and I have a very equal relationship where we play to our strengths, which means he cooks, shops, deals with the car and the bins and I make sure everyone is where they need to be with the right stuff, is emotionally nurtured, keep people clothed, pay all the bills and fill in all the forms (this is not, in fact, my strength but I have to do something to make up for not cooking or shopping!) and you know, have ideas and educate people etc etc. I can’t think of anything in this house which is done by one of us because it is a traditionally male or female job. We do what we are good at and the girls do what they are good at, which stretches from ballet to rugby and taekwondo in all combinations.
I have 4 daughters and a son to bring up and I cannot bear how much it limits us to divide things by gender. We’d be all the sadder and less well fed in this house if I cooked, all the less well exercised if Max hadn’t worked tirelessly to get a girls rugby team going and far less fulfilled if I was the only person who felt able to be at home with the children. Our life sharing, job sharing, skill based divides work beautifully and mostly totally harmoniously. It’s important to me, as it is to every woman I know, that all my children know that they can aim for anything they wish and that genderism and sexism are so outdated that they should not even have to deal with their perpetrators. I’m equally sure that had I felt compelled to be outside of my home, not with my children as they grew up and not a ‘home maker/full time mother/ child rearer” because of a political standpoint, I’d be all the poorer for it too. I love that I was able to make my choice to stay at home and bring up my children. I don’t regret a second of it or think any of us would have been better served by a different decision; to have felt obliged to become a career women because that was the path my schooling and home life pushed would have been utterly wrong for me.
So that’s all well and good. I’m very comfortable with how I fit with all that.
I have no idea if it is supposed to be funny. Or a clever marketing ploy. Or real. Or smarmy. Or perhaps the driver hasn’t noticed it’s there.
But in one fell swoop, as Fran and I stared in disbelief at the car in front of us, we saw just how far the world has to go in terms of respecting and understanding men and women as total equals who happen to have different sized chromosomes. Because for as long as ANYONE can say “it’s just meant as a joke” or “we just wanted a clever marketing ploy so people would notice us” it is just. not. over. It’s all very well for me to be comfortable in my personal role, my own family, the modelling we have built up for our daughters and son to take forward but I’m just being lazy. I don’t have the words or the grip of the subject to explain my distaste for that single smarmy little line of belittlement on the back of a businesses vehicle. And the very fact that I don’t is not good enough.
I don’t want my children to be adults in a world where that is still okay.
A good friend pointed me to the Everyday Sexism Twitter account. You might want to follow them.
As you can probably see, words failed me. I’m not able to articulate how I truly feel about what I saw. But I’m interested in what you think, so please talk to me.