I was watching one of my daughter’s favourite programmes, StormChasers, with her yesterday, and in one fairly chaotic scene an excited group of storm-chasing twenty-something meteorologists is trying to work out what’s going on with a wall cloud and where a possible tornado might be forming.
Man A speaks without comment.
Man B speaks without comment
Woman A speaks.
“What do you know, girl?” says my daughter.
There follows a fairly long lecture from a fairly aghast me regarding how the woman in question is a meteorologist and she is as qualified as anyone else in the car to offer an opinion. Just because she is a woman that does not mean that you have to run what she says through any strange and different filters to factcheck her, nor question what she says over and above what anyone with a Y chromosome in that car was saying.
To be fair to my daughter, the programme had fairly consistently undermined said woman all the way through — presenting her as Man A’s girlfriend first and then a meteorologist second, then making fun of her comments about seeing “pretty” rainbows in the day’s chasing beforehand, so Freya wasn’t alone in her attitude.
But it shocked me, it really did. I am proud to consider myself a feminist, my wife is too, and we’re bringing our daughter up in an atmosphere permeated with those values. She’s home educated, so she doesn’t have the school playground and classroom to have to negotiate mixed messages about what girls can and can’t do, but she also has her own gang on friends in the village where she lives (she’s currently Apprentice Urchin) and, as a child of 2016, is as immersed in global media (or at least those bits of interest to a five-and-a-half-year-old) as you would expect.
And this stuff is insidious. Even as someone who has championed woman’s rights for as long as I can remember, I don’t think I will ever fully understand how women are constantly undermined with a steady drip drip drip of negative images and stereotypes that extends from the cradle to the grave.
I don’t know where her comments suddenly came from, though in a world where Donald Trump hasn’t been thrown off the Republican ticket for glorifying sexual assaults, it could frankly be anywhere and everywhere. But in this house and with this girl, it’s not going to win. Children will be remonstrated with, media criticised, YouTubers castigated… we will pull apart the whole warp and weft of the entire rotten tottering edifice to prove that sexism is as based on bullshit and fear as any other form of discrimination, whether that’s homophobia, racism, ableism, or anything else.
A year or so ago Freya and I were in a soft play area and I was sitting having a coffee, when one of the mothers also taking advantage of the beverage facilities suddenly flew into the climbing area with a face like thunder and proceeded very forcibly to tell her son that he must never say “You can’t do that because you’re a girl” to this little girl (Freya) or anyone else ever again and he would be in for a world of trouble if she ever caught him doing it.
Freya was largely oblivious to the whole thing, she just thought he was being stupid at the time and was in the process of ignoring him. But we need more of that. Because, unless it involves genitalia and fathering children or weeing your signature in the snow, he’s as wrong as all the rest of them.