My little girl is obsessed with bodies. I blame her uncle, a nurse, who had for a long time, a skeleton poster on his wall. Esme, at 3 1/2 knows more about anatomy than me. So I was surprised when after nursery one day when we were playing gymnastics and I commented ‘You are very strong’, Esme replied ‘Girl’s don’t have muscles Mummy’. Under further investigation it turns out one of her nursery friends, a boy, told her that girls do not have any muscles. Needless to say we chatted about what her friend had said, and concluded that everyone needs muscles to move.
On reflection (maybe this is my pregnancy hormones taking charge) I was really frustrated that at not even 4 Esme has seen sexism firsthand. I know, I know it’s quite harmless and is childhood banter. She was unruffled, and being the girl she is I am sure she will set the record straight! The incident left me wondering how on earth any change can ever happen in terms of gender equality when we are so steeped in it.
Esme and I talk about girls and boys a lot. She often asks me ‘why do you turn the boobie magazines around?’ following my ritualistic tour of the ‘men’s magazines’ section in the supermarket. She informs me that the toys marketed at ‘boys’ on tv adverts are for ‘boys and girls Mummy’. I try to affirm her in ways that don’t just relate to appearance (like being strong!). She helps me take the ‘boys toys’ sign down in the shop. And yet I know that in September, when she goes to school all this may be in vain. And what about when she’s a teenager??!!
I despair at how some of the young women I know and have worked with despite showing enormous potential, being articulate and emotionally intelligent, seem to just settle for boyfriends who hold these age-old sexist views. The nursery ‘girls don’t have muscles’ surfaces its ugly head in the relationships of so many young women. The teasing sexism that leads to the subtle control then the outright abuse and misogyny. Clever girls, passively accepting because their boyfriend has a car, or buys her presents sometimes and only looks at porn occasionally. Young women full of potential, giggling sillyly at sexist retorts in order to keep ‘her man’. I want to shake them, shout at them ‘Girls take a stand, don’t settle: show your muscles!’