Pink glitter and power tools: implicit attitudes are stubbornly pervasive

Even though it’s 2016 and we know an awful lot about stereotypes, we still have them. But one of the most disturbing ones is how women are perceived. Feminism still has a considerable way to go. There have been some high profile examples of female stereotypes recently, thanks to the high profile the Olympic Games in Rio commanded and the commentator blunders that have happened. But also with recent events in France demonstrating quite how specifically women are being marginalised – in an era where we all know better.

John Inverdale needed Andy Murray to remind him about the Williams sisters (for anyone who knows anything about tennis this is the slip of the century), Laura Trott’s incredible achievements were belittled when a commentator suggested her equally successful fiancée was asking her what’s for dinner. Helen Skelton’s amazing commentating at the Olympic pool was undermined by comments about her clothing (she wore a dress, shock horror!).

Phelps and Ledecky article

The article about Katie Ledecky’s first gold medal commented on her nail polish rather than her achievement.

Gold medal female athletes were relegated to a sub-heading in papers that gave the main headline to a male athlete who got silver, or they were described in the context of their husbands. I’m sure their husbands are very supportive, but their achievements are theirs alone, and should be recognised as such.

And Simone Manuel became the first black athlete ever to win a gold medal in the pool – and the San Jose Mercury news made her share this historic moment with Phelps with the headline “Phelps shares historic night with African American”. I’m not belittling Michael Phelps’ achievements, he’s a phenomenon when it comes to swimming. But he’s won a lot (a lot) of gold medals, Simone’s achievement was, by contrast, far more important to splash across the headlines.

Simone Manuel

All these women are remarkable and all are worthy of praise and exposure in their own right, either for their achievements or for simply breaking down centuries old barriers. How have we got to a place when sensible commentators and the media factory that comprises our news outlets make slips like this in 2016? Why are we not beyond this yet? We could blame implicit attitudes, we could say ‘oh well, it’s just how it is’, but it’s 2016, we know better so why aren’t we doing better?

Credit to the media with regards Laura Trott, they’ve pictured her solo since the initial reaction around those early comments, but it’s not the apology, it’s the fact that it was an automatic leap in the first place. It was automatic thinking, these heuristics in our brains which assume that women make the tea and the men go to work. The implicit attitudes that are hard to shake.

The stereotypes are changing, but it takes time, and they’re not going to be leaving us entirely just yet, women are still seen in terms that are ‘relative’ to men. Not maliciously, not deliberately, just automatically, implicitly. Just look at the ‘throw like a girl’ thing that appeared last year.

The problem is that the female stereotypes are so engrained in society. We might all look at these stereotypes and recognise them for being misogynistic and outdated, but that doesn’t stop them from persisting. There is an increasingly vocal movement now, which is slowly squashing stereotypes and promoting equality, but it is very slow work. Because it takes time to change people’s views.

Now, some of you may be reading this and thinking stereotypes aren’t still about, and it’s a lot of fuss about nothing. OK, well let me ask you the following questions:

  1. In clothes shops where would you find the following:
    1. A sparkly t-shirt
    2. A pink t-shirt
    3. A t-shirt with a superhero on
    4. A blue t-shirt
  2. What colour are men’s and women’s disposable razors?
  3. Christmas is around the corner, what would you expect to see marketed to men? And to women?
  4. Have you ever been accused (or done the accusing) a woman of having PMT when she’s angry? (For the record, a lot of women don’t get PMT, at all, we’re just pissed off at you.)
  5. Ask us if we’ve experienced being ‘wolf whistled’ at while walking past a building site (no, we don’t see it as a compliment, it’s damn creepy)
  6. Ask us if we’ve experienced delivery men cracking jokes about ‘fellas’ helping with flat-pack/lifting furniture and us not ‘damaging our nails’. (Seriously, that’s my toolkit ready and waiting).
  7. Ask us if we’ve been called ‘emotional’, ‘crazy’ and ‘irrational’ when we refuse to put up with a situation and argue back. (For information, that’s like adding kerosene to a fire).
  8. Where do you have your keys when you walk home from the pub later at night alone?

male and female brain

There are still ‘paths’ and ‘boxes’ that both men and women are expected to fit. Advertisers work with what is already there, they perpetuate the stereotypes.

bin your litter campaign


MoneySupermarket have had a go at busting some stereotypes. There were complaints about the big strapping man dancing in hotpants and heels. Apparently it was too sexual and it was distasteful. Now, I can see the too sexual element, but I don’t see how it is distasteful. The interesting part is that they simply got a man to do what would be seen as ‘normal’ for a female model. And suddenly there were complaints. Fortunately they knew they were challenging stereotypes and simply out another, this time a builder took a turn at dancing, which was just as good. They hadn’t forgotten the guy in heels though, as the follow-up advert has both of these men doing a dance-off. It’s just fantastic, and a big win for stereotype busting.

wonderbra advert

The boobs are not the issue here, she’s selling a bra, boobs should be expected. It’s that statement that shows sexism. Cooking is not a female-only domain, it’s a thing you do to food if you want to eat it hot. And it has no place in an advert about bras.

There is progress being made in stereotype busting, but it’s still painfully slow. Girls do not all like pink, and not all boys like blue. Some boys love glitter, and nail polish, and heels. Some girls love combat boots and kick-boxing. Why are we expecting children to conform? Surely in 2016 we can let children play with what they want. Kids mimic their parents, if we want to bust stereotypes, we’re the ones who need to do it, kids genuinely don’t care what other people think they should do, they want to do what they like doing. End of discussion.

There are the emotions that come with being human, which men have been taught to squash down and ignore. In that sense women are luckier than men, we’re ‘permitted’ to express our emotions, allowed to demonstrate feeling. It’s only translated into a negative when it’s applied to men, because it’s then portrayed as being less than, somehow negative or perjorative to be demonstrating so-called female qualities.

I have called people out on some of the crap they were feeding me and been called crazy for my troubles. Charming. I’m not remotely crazy, as a psychologist I’ve a pretty good idea of what constitutes crazy and no, that’s just not me. Yes, I’ve done the tests (no really, I was a ‘normal’ control in a genetics study many years ago). I’ve contradicted people and been called emotional or argumentative. And that’s just this year, it’s 2016 for goodness sake. Women are as completely rational as men are; we’re capable of being assertive, confident, and unwilling to put up with bullshit. And if we do so we are not temperamental or argumentative just because we don’t agree with a male perspective. We are not emotional because we are angry. We are unwilling to tolerate bullshit I think you’ll find.

But equally, men are not supposed to be emotional, the stereotypes I’m talking about here belittle so-called ‘feminine’ responses and treat them as not manly, so therefore men are not supposed to cry, want to dance, enjoy knitting, all sorts of things. This is a kind of double whammy of stereotypes, belittle women and denigrate men who do so-called ‘feminine’ things. Such as Tom Daly and Daniel Goodfellow hugging when they’d won a bronze medal. They’d won a bronze medal at the Olympic Games for goodness sake, they were celebrating! Men hug all the time, and it’s considered totally normal. I suspect the media got their knickers in a twist because Tom and Daniel were wearing tiny swimming trunks. I saw no headlines when female beach volleyball athletes hugged. Hugging is not a female prerogative, nor is it inherently female. It’s an action to demonstrate an emotion. Full stop.

Overtly, everyone agrees that the stereotypes are ridiculous, and that they serve no purpose in the 21st century. Then everyone conforms to the subtle, implicit stereotypes without realising it. They buy something pink for a girl, ask you if you’ve found a boyfriend yet, get irritated you can’t make a meeting because you’re collecting your kid from school or call you crazy for pointing out they’re talking crap.

The explicit stereotypes were mostly fading, as new generations with different views from their parents takes over the major roles in society, this is something that will slowly fade. But why, in 2016, are women not free to wear what they want to, or be who they want to, without recrimination from both men and women? It’s called personal choice, everyone seriously, get over it. What women do is entirely up to them.

Women will always find a way to continue being ourselves. As will men. We are not defined by men, and men are not less if they display the same behaviours and emotions as women. Having emotions is a human trait, not a female one. Behaviour is learned from our environment. Knowledge is based on learning, not genetics and gender.

I hope my daughter grows up in a world where she doesn’t have to fight stereotypes. She loves her JCB construct-a-truck, and her ‘My Little Ponies’ – in fact the ponies usually ride around in the truck. Her attitude when something is broken is ‘Mummy will fix it’, because I usually do.

I hope she doesn’t grow up in a world where women are called crazy bitches because they speak their mind, are assertive, display intelligence, and call men out on their bullshit. It is so, so common; as soon as women speak their mind or point out the flaws in an argument they can be called all sorts of things: ‘opinionated’, ‘temperamental’, ‘argumentative’, ‘emotional’. If men do exactly the same thing they’re labelled ‘assertive’, ‘confident’, or ‘intelligent’.

anne hathaway quote

I hope she doesn’t grow up in a world where other people tell her she can’t do something because she’s a girl. She’s pretty incredible, she is likely to be able to take her pick of careers, and I honestly couldn’t predict where her interests and hobbies will fall, she finds almost everything interesting, bit like her mum really. Last Christmas she paused while dancing to Stevie Wonder in a pink tutu and announced “I’m just going to get my sword” (she meant her umbrella, which she uses as a sword). Because why not.

And if you’re wondering about the answer to question 8 above: girls carry their keys in their hands when they walk home from the pub alone at night, because they’re a weapon. Guys carry their keys in their pocket. Just think about that…



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