Difficult truths about gender difference, or why I am a bitch

In life there are always difficult truths which, however much we’d like to avoid them, we each have to accept. Such as: we’re all going to die. The ageing process is grim. David Cameron is a total knob. Such things cannot be altered. We just have to make the best of what we’ve got.

But if that wasn’t hard enough, there are other things — things which, if true, would make our lives a whole lot easier — which can’t ever be proven. Such as: everything will work out fine in the end. Everyone gets what he or she deserves. Women are mentally, physically and morally inferior to men. It’d be wonderful if these things could be demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt. Inequalities would seem to make sense. The world would feel a much fairer place. There would be no need to confront injustice because you’d know that, deep down, everything was as it should be. Alas, this isn’t the world we have, which leaves us with the choice of either pretending all is well or attempting to make things better.

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Message from a Woman, On Location, In the Workplace*

* Not really. I’m on the sofa at home.

“Women in the workplace” is a strange name for select committee inquiry, isn’t it? Hinting at novelty, it somehow suggests that “the workplace” is a strange place for women to be and that if there’s a problem to be explored, it’s to do with the presence of women, not with gender inequality nor discrimination itself.* Just women, being there. That’s the whole issue. Without them, “the workplace” would be simply “the workplace”. It’s not as though this has anything at all to do with men. Continue reading

Feminine power and age-old misogyny: The timeless duo

Feminism evolves yet the essential format of misogyny remains the same. At least, that’s what I think when reading this piece by Anne Lloyd, entitled Feminism is Dead, Long Live Femininity. Here is an article that ticks all the anti-feminist boxes (great for a drinking game – you’d be off your feminist face in no time). Seek and ye shall find each of the following familiar assertions:

  • feminism is too “outdated” and “aggressive”
  • women in the West don’t need feminism (compared to, you’ve guessed it, Afghanistan, where they do sexism properly)
  • feminism involves a woman “masquerading as a man in a man’s world” (no idea whether this applies to Afghanistan, though – let’s just forget that bit was ever mentioned)
  • yes, there are some crappy things happening here (i.e. not in weird places like Afghanistan), but change is already happening in and of itself (“albeit slowly”)
  • feminism is making women lose touch with their femininity (“because they have been cultivating a masculine version of power”, whatever the hell that means)
  • women need to go back to using the skills that are hard-wired in their nature (“accordingly to Julia Margo, a British authority on female skills, emotional intelligence and communication are far more important than brawn”)
  • women are in fact taking over (“today, in the West, we are moving into a woman’s world” – but not thanks to feminism, it would appear)

Blah blah blah blah blah (btw, I haven’t literally been having a drinking game with this – I’m irate enough on camomile tea). I have read this and heard this a million times before and still it gets to me. Indeed, my response is profoundly unfeminine; stupid ideas have a tendency to make me lose sight of those womanly qualities I need to hold dear (“compassion, intuition, multi-tasking, collaboration, receptivity, and creativity”, where are you now?).
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Girl children: Crap, basically, experts claim

I recently overheard the following conversation at a children’s birthday party:

Mum 1 [to heavily pregnant Mum 2]: It’s so great that you’re having another boy. Boys are so much easier than girls.

Mum 2: Yes, I know. Girls are such hard work!

At this point my gender-bullshit detector was beeping loudly, but I decided to say nothing. After all, I only have boy children. What do I know? Mind you, both of the women speaking only had boy children, too. So what the fuck did they know either?

We’ve all heard this conversation a million times before. Boys are so much easier, so easy-going, so calm. Girls are so fussy, so moody, so spiteful. Girl babies cry too much. Girls in the playground bitch about each other. Boys might kick the shit out of each other, but hey, that’s just them being boisterous. Basically, compared to boys, girls are crap.

Maybe it’s true. I mean, I have boys and I think they’re pretty ace. Perhaps if I’d had girls I’d be kicking myself for not having that abortion when I’d had the chance. But to be honest, I have no idea. Because I only have two children and there are billions of people in the world. How can I possibly use my two to make sweeping statements about what “girls” and “boys” are like? I know everyone else seems to, but I don’t want to join in.

My children are quite different from each other. The eldest is serious, studious, good at maths. The youngest is sociable, pretty, good at making friends. Or, to put it another way, the eldest is gentle, caring, good at looking after others. The youngest is boisterous, aggressive, good at winning fights. Do you see what I did there? It’s piss-easy to do this with any boy-boy, girl-girl or boy-girl pairing. The stereotypes will do whatever you want them to.

When it comes to sex and gender, it’s amazing the extent to which people will use a tiny sample to make massive generalizations. In Simon Baron-Cohen’s The Essential Difference, a whole chapter – called “Boy meets girl” – is devoted to allowing a mother to describe her one son and her one daughter. Because that’s what serious scientific research is all about, splitting a chapter up into two headings (Alex: cars, football, music and computers, then Hannah (Alex’s sister): dolls, cuddlies, animals and people), and allowing a mother to give various opinions on her own children who are not the whole world. It’s complete bollocks (okay, I’m not a scientist. But I have a scientist friend who says it’s complete bollocks and he has a dick, so that’s gotta be good enough for me).

I’m particularly pissed off about the degree to which gender stereotypes about children work against girls. This makes me feel a bit of a traitor as a mother. After all, I have boys. Shouldn’t I be fighting their corner? But then I’d like to feel in some way I am. I want them to grow up in a fairer world. I don’t want other people twisting what they say and do just because of the gender identity they have (and may not choose to have in future).

Anyhow, if I were to work from my own experience alone, this is how it would be:

  • Boys are ace
  • Girls are ace
  • My boys are the most ace, but they are also the hardest to look after, which suggests that I’m the best mum, too

Got that, everyone? Next time I’m at a party, that’s what I’m going to say.