Erstellt am: 20. 5. 2012 - 11:59 Uhr
Pretty in Pink
“Feminism – the unfinished revolution”
A Reality Check Special, Saturday, 12:00
When my daughter was born, I was utterly confident that I wouldn’t fall into that old-fashioned gender trap of dressing her in girlie clothes and only giving her dolls to play with. As a child I had played with my father’s old matchbox cars and trucks and I had visions of a perfectly rounded daughter who would have dolls AND lego, wear dresses AND scruffy jeans. I thought it was all down to me, my influence, setting an example as a mother.
How wrong I was.
As she grew into a toddler and started expressing desires and making decisions, a distinct pattern emerged, one of the colours of pink and purple and dolls of all shapes and sizes, from Baby Born to Barbie. Her first bicycle was pink, bedclothes had to be pink, clothes were (mainly) pink, the bedroom wall had to be painted pink. As I had not knowingly encouraged these choices in any way, I was convinced that here was proof that girls are just born like that. My assumptions were enforced by the fact that my friend’s little boy had, again apparently without any deliberate input from his parents, developed passions for dinosaurs, cars and football.
A new sexism?
Reading Natasha Walter’s book "Living Dolls: the Return of Sexism" was a bit of a revelation. It turns out that parents only play a small role in the world of influences shaping our children’s behaviour. And it would be premature to believe media reports that highlight scientific research indicating that the preferences and aptitudes of the sexes are pre-programmed by nature. Walter paints a rather depressing picture of how the media have lapped up only one side of the scientific debate. We are fed articles and reports about research which “confirms” that men and women are biologically built to be good at different things. There happens to be a whole host of studies which show the opposite, but these are noticeably absent from our news sources. The danger, says Natasha Walter, is that this growing determinism sets us on a path which leads us away from recognising the need for activism and politics to level the playing field.
Another – rather disturbing – aspect of recent developments concerning women and their opportunities is the hyper-sexualisation of our culture. As Walter says, we can see this everywhere, “from the magazines and the newspapers we read to the music and film industries. And of course behind a lot of this is the easy access to pornography through the internet… Images which were once seen as beyond the pale, have now come in to the mainstream of society”. Walter recounts her observations during her research into a growing trend which sees young women desperately trying to win “Babes on the Bed” contests as a foot in the door to success and fortune; vividly describing degrading testosterone-laden scenes in lap-dancing clubs where men are the spectators, and all-but-naked young women the objects of their lust.
Many would argue that young women these days are free to choose. The feminist movement, says Dr Beate Großegger from the Institut für Jugendkulturforschung, has evolved from a movement in which women focussed on emancipating themselves from a constricting system to one in which the emphasis is on the freedom to choose one’s identity. But being free to choose presupposes an availability of different options and opportunities. In the case of young women chasing a career in ‘glamour’ modelling, Natasha Walters rejects the “it’s their choice” argument, pointing out that today’s society has left them very little to choose from. “The mainstreaming of the sex industry has coincided with a point in history when there is much less social mobility than in previous generations. No wonder, then, if the ideal that the sex industry pushes – that status can be won by any woman if she is prepared to flaunt her body – is now finding fertile ground among many young women who … would never imagine a career in, say, politics.” All this is not to say that to be a feminist means rejecting enjoyment of fashion and cosmetics. “But there is a huge difference,” writes Natasha Walter, between taking pleasure in such pursuits and believing that the only route to confidence and power for a woman lies through constant physical vigilance.”
We – and our children – are enveloped in an environment which moulds our perceptions and expectations. Shops are full of all manner of things colour- and design-coded for girls and boys. Not just clothes, but cups, plates, school bags, pens, stationery, sports equipment – you name it, there’s a girl and a boy version of it. And as we contemplate how to bring up our children, we must also consider the attitudes that dictate our adult behaviour. As Natasha Walter puts it, “If we are honest about the ways in which women may be held back from seeking power, status and money not because of their innate desires or abilities, but because of the expectations in the culture around them, we begin to see again why it is important for us to look at how social factors still create inequality. We will never challenge the ways that women’s freedom is still constrained if we simply acquiesce in the idea that women are biologically programmed to fit in with the most limited stereotype of femininity".
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