When I was little, one of my favourite outdoor games was Come On Eileen. If you didn’t play this yourself then I feel sorry for you. It was totally ace. It basically involved re-enacting one small segment of the video to Come on Eileen by Dexy’s Midnight Runners. I would march down the cul-de-sac, pushing my doll’s pram (I was Eileen, obviously), then my brother and his mates from down the road would jump out from behind a bush and start harrassing me in the cheeky ragamuffin style of Kevin Rowland and his fellow “runners”. I can remember playing this in the pouring rain and it was still bloody brilliant. Certainly way better than the Falklands War re-enactments we did on other occasions (my brother and his mates were soldiers, while I got to be “war secretary”, which basically involved sitting on the kerbside waving my arms around, doing pretend typing).
When we were indoors we would play doctors and nurses (not the rude version – or am I confusing this with mummies and daddies?). Naturally my brother was the doctor and I was the nurse.* I didn’t mind this; he might have had a pretend stethescope but I had a cool upside-down pretend watch. This was fine at the time, but on reflection the consistent gender stereotyping bothers me. After all, I have two sons – I don’t want them to think they couldn’t do either job (I mean, maybe they couldn’t anyhow – they might hate blood, or grow up to be total misanthropists with no interest in the “caring” professions – but hey, it’s the principle).
In adulthood, I’ve always assumed that “girls are nurses, boys are doctors” was a thing of the past, particularly now that more women than men qualify in medicine. I was therefore amazed when, in Sainsbury’s a couple of years ago, I spotted that the dressing up outfits in their TU clothing range included doctor’s outfits for boys and nurses outfits for girls. Proper, in-your-face traditional sexism, without a hint of irony in sight – just what you need when you’re in search of some pesto and a multipack of non-laddered tights. In a rare fit of activist arsedness, I decided to email the company. Wanting to sound extra-authoritative, I signed the email “Dr [my name, which happens to be A GIRL’S NAME]”. I then waited eagerly for a response.
The answer I got certainly surprised me, in that it was an immediate apology and a promise to change the labelling. Result! Go me! I did, er, subsequently find that Pink Stinks were also campaigning about this, so that may have had something to do with the change of heart. But still, I like to think it was my random, half-arsed powers of persuasion, and not a group of women being organized, articulate and committed, and gaining the backing of the national media, which helped to set things right (I mean, Pink Stinks took all the glory for this, but what about my email? What’s the fucking point in being a feminist if there’s no fucking glory? I tell you, next week I’m doing men’s rights).
In any case, there was one thing in my response from Sainsbury’s that Pink Stinks might not have got. The nice Sainsbury’s man noted that it must have been “particularly upsetting” for me to witness their error given that I was “a female doctor”. Which of course I found funny, cos I’m not a proper doctor. But then that set me thinking. Medical roles may be essential, but shouldn’t we want children to grow up experimenting with a variety of career options, not just regardless of gender, but also regardless of whether said roles are of any fucking use at all?
So I emailed back my own response:
I am in fact a female doctor of philosophy, specializing in literature. I note that in your doctor outfits you only seem to be considering the medical variety. Might there not be a market for a broader range of doctor outfits? For instance, my own “typical” dress would be simple for you to put together. I do in fact already wear a lot of Sainsbury’s TU items (although I like to “mix it up” with some designer pieces from New Look and Dorothy Perkins). Would you be interested in expanding your dressing-up range in this direction?
I never did receive a reply. Some people, they just don’t care.
* In an attempt to be more precise regarding job titles, my brother was in fact “the insultant”. By strange and appropriate coincidence, our teddy also ended up in “defensive care”.