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What amuses, annoys, concerns or otherwise interests me – Noodlemaz

Battling sexism

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Recently there have been yet more stories centred around sexism and misogyny in our culture. I’d like to discuss two that have interested me this week.

At least they got the apostrophes right..? Via guardian.co.uk

At least they got the apostrophes right..? Via guardian.co.uk

A battle won

Today, thankfully, there has been some Good News! A rarity, it sometimes seems, and something to be celebrated. Congratulations to the Science Museum and everyone who spoke up about Boots separating their children’s toys by gender, and including the sciencey ones only in the boys’ section.

Other retailers have binned this outdated, damaging stereotyping behaviour so, while it’s unfortunate that it’s taken a company like Boots so long, it’s good to see them following suit.

“…It’s clear we have got this signage wrong, and we’re taking immediate steps to remove it from store.” – Boots

Yes, it’s wrong. I’ve said so before and will continue to be angered by needless gender separations in stores for e.g. toys and magazines.

It may well be a bit of a chicken and egg situation. So they say they organised it with the separation because of “customer feedback” – parents want to find toys for their boy/girl easily? They can’t just browse a toys section and pick out something they’d like?

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photo by Andrew Holding

To be honest, that sounds like it’s parental stereotyping at work. I’m not going to buy dolls for my boys or cars for my girls, that wouldn’t be right. Well, parents, I implore you – consider your child as a person, irrespective of their genitals/chromosomes, and encourage them in what they enjoy, what they find fascinating, whether you think it’s “gender-appropriate” or not. Be better.

Unfortunately there are other stores – such as Morrisons and Clarks (see image) – who continue to separate toys like this, and it’s frustrating for some parents. Read more in this article by Andrew Holding.

Edit: I have also contacted Wilkinson regarding their toy section that I spotted in Stratford recently. Through this I have discovered this excellent Twitter account, LetToysBeToys! They even have a petition.

A new conflict

You may also have heard that the Bank of England is suggesting that Churchill replace Elizabeth Fry on our £5 notes, which would likely come into effect in a few years, in 2016. This would leave no women on our banknotes. If you really think people are so stupid that you have to point out that the Queen is a woman, you are entirely missing the point. If I must explain, the figures on our notes (apart from the current monarch) are there because of their achievements; their contributions to society and UK progress. Not because they were born into a royal family. So be quiet.

At first glance, this might not seem like the worst thing. The figures on our bank notes change periodically, when we have to redesign the notes to counter fraud. Elizabeth Fry has been on £5 notes since 2002, and we had Florence Nightingale on £10 notes from 1975 to 1994. But they are the only two women, and replacing Fry will erase all acknowledgment of female achievement from our notes for some time – unless one of the others is redesigned with a new female figure at the same time.

Today’s BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour episode included a discussion on the banknotes decision (8 mins long in the link). Plenty of female candidates were pointed out; that most won’t have heard of many of them, despite their amazing work (for example, Beatrice Webb, economist and co-founder of the LSE), is surely reason to increase visibility of forgotten female influences in our history.

Wut about the menz?

I do not accept the argument that history has recorded men as the winners, therefore we should accurately represent that. Here and now we are trying to create a more equal society (well, some of us are) and part of that is doing what we can to correct the mistakes of the past. Acknowledge that sexism and misogyny are alive and well, and used to be even worse – so let’s pull the suppressed achievements of women out of the dark and show them to people living and growing up now. Similar instances of just that include the edit-a-thons in which people have dedicated time to editing pages to give due credit to women, for example in the history of science.

This is important for young women (and men) – to realise that gender is not a barrier to achievement, despite what the history books may show. These little sexist acts build up, and while lacking female role models on banknotes may be a little thing in isolation, it’s one of many that add together to give young people the message that women are underachieving and undeserving of recognition.

I do not agree that striving to have at least one woman on our notes, giving some small recognition to the contributions of approximately half of the population that have been systematically erased, is overcompensating or being unfair to men. Striving for something closer to equality instead of extreme (pro-male) bias, whether that bias be “historically-accurate” or not, is not overcompensating, only pushing for equality. That’s feminism, it’s not asking for no men to be recognised, only to make a positive change that will address an imbalance.

Aside from the gender balance issue, there are other reasons we might object to putting Churchill in particular on our notes (thanks to Liz for pointing that one out).

This will depend on your view of what our currency is for. If you think it’s simply a leaf out of the history books, then this is unlikely to bother you.  The Guardian have picked up on the story and are running a poll. If, however, you would like to object to the removal of all female achievers from our bank notes, you can sign the petition. Also follow @weekwoman and @TheWomensRoomUK on Twitter for more.

Edit: spectacularly on-topic and brilliant is Suzanne Moore’s article today about successful women eschewing feminism as if they don’t need it and never benefited from it. I have had direct experience of this kind of sentiment and am very glad someone has hit the nail on the head with a piece like this.

Another edit: I have also had a rant about the banknotes on this week’s Pod Delusion. Indeed, it is worth acknowledging that Clydesdale bank do in fact have two women on their banknotes; Mary Slessor on the £10 note (bit of a double-edged sword; women’s rights yay! Christianity-spreading boo) and Elsie Inglis on the £50 note – an excellent physician and suffragist.

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Author: noodlemaz

I prefer to think of myself as a realist rather than a pessimist, but perhaps that's just optimistic. Honest, atheist, scientist, feminist.

7 thoughts on “Battling sexism

  1. I’m going to copy-paste this comment over from Facebook and leave it anonymous unless the author wants to come and claim it, as I think it’s a good point worth making, and wonder if anyone has something to add?

    “The problem is that there aren’t enough banknotes to have men, women, ethnic minorities, etc etc all represented. If you take it to its logical conclusion you’d need to ensure that a prominent person who identifies as intersex appears on the £10 note for about a year each century. There comes a point (and this may or may not be it; that’s another debate) where you can’t turn everything into a man/woman thing (I am aware that I am inevitably coming at this from a white male middle-class Anglo patriarchal angle). And of course if you had a vote for the most influential woman of the last 50 or so years you’d have Maggie on the notes. Hmmm.

    Ideally there would be loads of different notes in circulation, like there are loads of stamps and coins. But I suppose there are technical issues. You could also eliminate people altogether; after all, the greatness of people is a bit subjective anyway. That’s pretty much what happened when the Euro notes were designed; they took it even further by having fictitious buildings and bridges so as not to privilege the Brandenburg Gate over the Arc de Triomphe.

    I would suggest the idea of having the people on the notes being voted for by referendum, but then you’d have all sorts of trolling. Labour would want Nye Bevin, Tories would want Maggie, and a bunch of students from Imperial would hack the poll and get Postman Pat on there.”

    My possible response would probably include the fact that women are *half* the population whereas, say, intersex individuals are a small percentage, and also not identifiable by image so in the case of images-on-banknotes, might not be applicable? Not that I think the smaller the minority the less important they are, or anything like that.

    Ethnic minorities is a good point but again with ‘race’ not being an actual thing (from a geneticists’ POV at the very least), again not sure it’s a ‘category’ that should be actively addressed, but it would be good to see diversity of image where applicable individuals exist.

    Thoughts?

  2. How about a campaign to put Ada Lovelace on a banknote? The first computer programmer is pretty damn important.

  3. Well, since the situation’s come up, there’s a very strong case for James Miranda Barry on banknotes. Dr Barry became Inspector General of Army Hospitals and made enormous reforms in the medical treatment of soldiers.

    I quote in full the letter of Dr Barry’s doctor on the question of gender:

    Sir,

    I had been intimately acquainted with the doctor for good many years, both in London and the West Indies and I never had any suspicion that Dr Barry was a woman. I attended him during his last illness, (previously for bronchitis, and the affection for diarrhoea). On one occasion after Dr Barry’s death at the office of Sir Charles McGregor, there was the woman who performed the last offices for Dr Barry was waiting to speak to me. She wished to obtain some prerequisites of her employment, which the Lady who kept the lodging house in which Dr Barry died had refused to give her. Amongst other things she said that Dr Barry was a female and that I was a pretty doctor not to know this and she would not like to be attended by me. I informed her that it was none of my business whether Dr Barry was a male or a female, and that I thought that he might be neither, viz. an imperfectly developed man.She then said that she had examined the body, and was a perfect female and farther that there were marks of her having had a child when very young. I then enquired how have you formed that conclusion. The woman, pointing to the lower part of her stomach, said ‘from marks here. I am a maried [sic] woman and the mother of nine children and I ought to know.’

    The woman seems to think that she had become acquainted with a great secret and wished to be paid for keeping it. I informed her that all Dr Barry’s relatives were dead, and that it was no secret of mine, and that my own impression was that Dr Barry was a Hermaphrodite. But whether Dr Barry was a male, female, or hermaphrodite I do not know, nor had I any purpose in making the discovery as I could positively swear to the identity of the body as being that of a person whom I had been acquainted with as Inspector-General of Hospitals for a period of years.

    Yours faithfully,

    D.R. McKinnon

  4. Pingback: What next? Gendered Science Toys. | Purely a figment of your imagination

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