Monday, 5 March 2012

International Women's Day - and (pink) princesses and princes

"Pink Stinks" its not just a website, its also statement which describes a phenomenon which has been troubling me for many years; International Women's day seems to provide a suitable prompt to make me voice my concerns so that they can be discussed and considered.

Much as I despise the abuse of the English language, so too do I despise the 'pinkification' - or rather colour categorisation of young women.

I am saddened and distressed to see girls dressed in pink, but more so when there are few colours to choose from apart from pink. I am saddened and distressed to see girls choosing to dress in pink (and not being ironic about it), and I  am saddened and distressed  when I hear young girls being referred to as princesses - this linguistic categorisation is as offensive to my ears as the rather more easily recognised (yet still not sufficiently challenged) 'tradition' of female genital mutilation.

I find myself half remembering Orwell's essays on the English Language, and wondering at the paralleled unconsidered acts of disempowerment committed as part of our daily ritual. I cannot celebrate any (unconscious) act of cultural disempowerment.

I believe that each child who is made a princess (or prince) is being denied those fundamental human rights of passage which step by step help us make the change from child to self-sufficient adult.

I believe the prince or princess who is adored, protected and idolised is also systematically being denied the everyday lessons and interactions which enable us to function as compassionate, caring, and sentient human beings.

The systematic (unconscious) categorisation and declaration of young females as 'princesses' is in effect a systematic act of disempowerment. Boys too are made into princes, and those individuals also are systematically disempowered.

I am troubled. We do not enter this world fully formed, we learn bit by bit to interact, to crawl, to walk, to utter, to converse. We learn - if we are lucky, that we are equal, and that every one of us is entitled to equal respect… or am I misguided???

I don't know by what miracle I came to adulthood owning such audacious thoughts. Perhaps it was a lucky accident brought about because my parents were children of a wartime era, which had no option but recognise the equal value of each individual, irrespective of social class or gender. Perhaps is was because I had a mother raised in the school of hard knocks, for whom the idea of daughter as princess was as unlikely as the prospect of wealth and lifelong happiness.

Perhaps it was this foundation combined with an adolescent reading list which was accidentally  literate, intellectual and left wing.

Perhaps it was an inevitable impact of the disadvantage of my mother's upbringing from a perspective of poverty recast into the perspective of the feminists and socialists of the early nineteen seventies. Whatever it was, there is something in my very being which believes that we *are* all equal. And I am troubled. Because when I see little girls being dressed in pink, and little buys being dressed in blue, I cannot think that for one it is no different than having a star tattooed into their flesh. And when the dressing continues into a colour coding through childhood and adolescence, I am still more troubled.

Simone de Beavoir spoke eloquently of the 'other', but her story of the 'other' was one which engendered respect.

I am troubled, when I see reported a family who have 'lost their princess' or see a little girl scooped up and forgiven the ordinary manners and social norms of every day life with an en-compassing 'my princess' I am troubled. I fear for the future of that small girl, I fear for the future of our society. Perhaps I will be dismissed - with another cliché - a middle aged women, a granny, an ageing hippy, what do I know of the modern world, or the ways things are. It was ever thus.  Move over and make way for the next generation.  But I am troubled….

I look at the few young women who come into computer science and I wonder why. I look at the female participation in higher education and I am impressed. I look at female achievement in schools and I see that they out perform young men. And then I look at the average salary after graduation and I see that women earn less. I look at the number of women in technical roles and they are under-represented. I look for women in executive roles and they are under-represented. And I am troubled….

And I want to do more analysis. Perhaps those clever women who go to uni, who come into computer science, who get jobs in business make choices, perhaps  they opt out, perhaps they understand that there is something valuable in the work life balance… but then would you not expect some young men to come to similar conclusions...

I am troubled.

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