Gender stereotypes

September 22, 2010

This is such a brilliant article.  Please read it, particularly if you’re a parent.

Over the years I’ve been driven mental by the difficulty in finding presents for my nieces that don’t fulfill the idea that all little girls love pink, sparkly stuff.  Some girls do like it very much, but I suspect that many girls like it because it’s all that they’ve been given and because they have already been made to feel that they ‘should’ like it.  I really applaud parents who let their kids develop their own preferences.  My older sister Pip has five children: four girls and a boy.  Two of the girls are twins and I think they demonstrate the value of child-led preferences very well – Jaime has always been a girly girl and a big fan of pink, and that’s fine – but her sister, Olivia, spent her childhood obsessed with Bob the Builder and with no real interest in stereotypically girl-friendly stuff.

A few years ago I fell out with a friend because of this kind of thing: he couldn’t get over the fact that I didn’t agree that it was ‘right’ for the mother of a child to be the primary child-rearer and the one who stayed at home.  My view was that each couple should decide this for themselves and that, in many cases, it could be that the father is far better suited to the role.  I don’t know why my former friend was so threatened by this concept, unless it was because he and his wife had a very traditional arrangement and he didn’t like the thought of it being questioned.  I have little time for the argument that small children always prefer their mothers in times of strife – logic suggests to me that this may well be because they’re accustomed to their mothers being the first port of call, hence the preference.  If the mother wasn’t there I’m sure that the father would be equally capable of providing comfort. 

And I really, REALLY hate women who deride their husbands’ attempts to do child-related stuff: all the ‘oh, he’s hopeless and he can barely change a nappy’ comments.  Such a load of rubbish, and usually the strategy employed by women who are a little defensive about ‘only’ being a mother (which is nonsense in itself – being a full-time stay-at-home parent must be flipping hard work and nobody should feel defensive about making that choice).  Those comments are a great way to make a man feel like he is totally incompetent and shouldn’t get involved – and then the women in question complain because the parenting load isn’t shared.

I often think about gender issues (yeah, I’m a real bundle of laughs, me).  For example, I would love to raise a daughter to believe that, despite popular opinion, a woman’s value isn’t calculated by judging her appearance.  However, how would I reconcile that when I’m the one who wears makeup every day, and not Tristan?  Perhaps I’d have to convince Tristan to wear makeup as well, or give it up myself?  I don’t think Tristan will ever agree to that, although I’ve held suspicions about him being a secret eyebrow plucker for a very long time.  Seriously, his eyebrows are perfect.  It’s not natural.  He must be ducking along to a beauty salon when I’m at work.

Anyway, I was not a very girly girl as a child.  I had one big doll and one Barbie-type doll (and I insisted on the horse riding version), but my favourite toys (before I got a pony and everything else was left behind) were a wooden train set, a set of Lego (hospital Lego, which was awesome) and my teddy bear, Little William.  And I have grown up to be a woman who is very feminine, so it’s clear that I didn’t need to be programmed from youth.

I’m rambling now.  But this is interesting stuff, I think.


Angry people

September 16, 2010

Anthea linked to the blog ‘angry people in local newspapers’ yesterday and I’ve added it to my list of sites to visit every morning.  It’s full of odd photos and stories pulled from local newspapers.  As somebody who regularly looks at the local newspaper we receive (and very swiftly put into the recycling bin, unread) and wonder “who actually reads this and why are these stories featured”, this blog is awesome.

Tony Blair’s memoirs

September 1, 2010

I have no great interest in politicians as individuals and am unlikely to buy any ex-PM’s memoirs, but in the case of Tony Blair’s effort (all over the newspapers today) I’ve come over all ‘literary critic’ because the extracts are a bit of a worry :

Despite their personal relationship, Blair admits that from the moment he was told of her [Princess Diana’s] death, he was “trying to work out how it should play”.

“I know that sounds callous,” he reveals. “I was genuinely in grief … but I also knew that this was going to be a major national, in fact global, event like no other … I had to work out how it would work out.”

‘I had to work out how it would work out’?  A firmer hand needed by the editor, I think: that’s a really clumsy sentence and sounds like it was written by somebody with a limited vocabulary (which obviously isn’t the case).  ‘I had to work out how it would unfold’ would have been better, or ‘I had to work out what might happen’.  Give me the manuscript and a red pen and let me get to work, Mr Blair.

Literary criticism aside; good on him for giving all of his royalties and profits to the Royal British Legion.  And to anybody who digs for an ulterior motive or sees the gesture a the sign of a guilty conscience at work (which certainly doesn’t seem to be the case, given that Tony Blair still thinks he did the right thing with regard to deploying British troops), I say the two things that I invariably say in the face of cynicism about the philanthropy of others:

Firstly:  Motives don’t matter when it comes to making a charitable donation.  If a celebrity donates money to a cause in order to get column inches or a company sponsors a charity to get positive PR, the result is the same – people get helped.  And people who need the help of charities couldn’t give a toss about the reasons why the philanthropic gesture was made.  People use this fear of how motives might be analysed as an excuse to do nothing.  In the UK I think that the horrible, cynical media has a big part to play in this – they love nothing more than to cover a silver lining with the grey clouds of their waspish criticism.

Secondly:  Nobody has a right to judge the philanthropic gestures of others.  In particular, I have noted a bit of correlation between cynical attitudes about philanthropy and cynical attitudes about charities in general: often, the people who bleat about the Beckhams giving money to a children’s charity because it will get them on the front of Hello magazine are the same people who will complain because the Chief Executives of large charities earn suitably large charities, as befits their role as the head of a large and complex organisation.  And in many cases I suspect that the cynics do nothing philanthropic themselves, and they make themselves feel better about their own miserable natures by criticising everybody else.  I appreciate that I’ve made a bit of a sweeping statement there, but (without naming names) I have personal knowledge of people who would fall into this ‘be critical and cynical about everything’ category.

Let’s face it, everybody could do more to help the less fortunate people in society.  Take me as an example: I donate money to charities on a monthly basis through my firm’s payroll giving scheme; I sponsor friends and colleagues when they take on fundraising activities for good causes; I’m a trustee of two charities; I’m heavily involved in the local operations of another charity; I’m a governor at a primary school; and I send my professional life encouraging other people to support good causes with their time, skills and money.  In many people’s eyes this might seem like a pretty decent effort. 

However, let’s not forget the following:  I get paid a decent salary for the work that I do; the volunteering I have taken on does not cause me any great inconvenience beyond giving up a few evenings every month for meetings;  the money that we donate to charities each money is a fraction of what we save into my pension and our ISAs (and a fairly small fraction, at that); and we don’t do anything more hands-on, like actually spend our weekends helping people.  I’m not down-playing what I do already – I know that it’s fairly respectable – but it shouldn’t give me the right to criticise what anybody else is doing or not doing. 

I know that I have made fun of celebrities for this very reason in the past, like when I read that the model Laura Bailey (who often mentions her charitable endeavours) spends £1,000 each time she gets a hair cut.  That’s a flipping expensive hair cut and she could do a lot with that kind of money, but again: I really have no right to judge her.  People could judge me just as harshly because I spent a lot of money on a posh handbag earlier this year and that money could have sponsored several children for the year, instead.  And now I feel quite bad about buying that handbag, thinking of it in those terms.  And also quite bad about judging Laura Bailey: after all, I don’t know how that compares to the amounts she might donate to charities every year, and in any event it’s none of my business.  And now I wish that I hadn’t written anything to out myself as occasionally cynical about the philanthropic gestures of others, but I’m going to resist the urge to delete the previous few sentences in the interests of demonstrating my point.  And as a lasting reminder to myself to not be such a dick in the future (in judging others, not in outing myself in this manner).

If anybody chooses to do something to help the wider world – by donating money, volunteering, working for a charity or whatever – we should collectively celebrate it.  We shouldn’t grumble about whether or not they’ve given enough money or why they might have done it.  That attitude is hardly likely to encourage more philanthropy, is it?

Boastful PM

August 31, 2010

Sometimes New Zealand really cracks me up. This article tickled my fancy: this quote from John Key (NZ’s Prime Minister) in particular:

“In the first instance what we get is personal relationships so if I needed to ring up the President of the United States I could do that and he would take my call.

“And that’s partly because I have developed a personal relationship from getting to know him at Apec or the nuclear security summit.”

He said that was true of other leaders too.

He was making the point that it is necessary for him to spend a lot of time abroad in order to develop good relationships with other world leaders, but I loved the way in which he sounded like a kid boasting about his cool friends.

Posh jokes

August 29, 2010

I really enjoy reading the Guardian and this comment piece helps to illustrate why.  A witty defence of the need for freedom to make jokes about things.

“It is true that cruel jokes about posh people have increased since the election. Our new leaders are pilloried as one-note toffs. This is unfair. Between them, David Cameron and George Osborne represent a wide cross-section of the Bullingdon Club membership.

Plus, of course, they have Nick Clegg for balance. Nick Clegg isn’t posh. He is probably the least posh son of a bank chairman ever to be captain of a tennis team at Cambridge. And he’s the MP for Sheffield. He cares passionately about the people of Sheffield and the problems Sheffield faces; whatever the future holds for Sheffield, Nick Clegg will never forget where he comes from. (Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire.)”

Very droll.