Last night I was on a glorious panel in London, along with the authors Holly Bourne and Holly Smale, and the journalist Anna James, talking to a sold-out audience about feminism in Young Adult fiction.
The evening, at Waterstones Piccadilly, started light, and was always fun, but at some point it took one of those turns, where suddenly it became a game-changer. We were talking about an issue that means more to us than maybe even we realised – the idea that women and men are equals, and they should be treated equally. The idea that women are not objects to be handled and observed, but human beings who should be valued.
The more we talked, the more passionate we and the audience became about our right to be heard. Our right to be valued. To be treated with respect.
We kept giving ourselves goosebumps. It felt very real.
Don’t judge us
There were so many shared emotions – things all of us have experienced. When we talked about how women are judged for their appearances from the time they are about ten years old until they die, every woman in the room nodded in weary recognition. Part of being female is constant judgement. It shouldn’t be. But it is.
When you’re judged on your appearance you begin to believe it matters. Ultimately, you can find yourself believing it’s all that matters, and you can find you’re contorting yourself into the unnatural box of someone else’s view of what’s attractive. That’s happening to very young girls right now.
In a recent article Slate Magazine mentioned research done for the new Barbie dolls, one of which is given a curvy figure, slightly smaller than the average woman today. Six-year-old girls playing with the average-sized doll told her she was fat. ‘Fat, fat, fat’.
SIX YEAR OLD GIRLS.
What are we doing?
When men support women in feminism, I hope they become more conscious of their part in this. Of how damaging it is to young women in particular. Awareness is the first step towards changing things.
I believe this can change.
The myth of gender equality
All of the writers on the panel have grown up in a world in which the theory of gender equality is all around us, but reality is something very different. That’s not to say things aren’t better than they were in the past. They are. My mother wasn’t allowed to go to university. Her parents literally never considered it. Her brother did go to university, and his life was very different – and much more empowered – than hers.
I didn’t have to live like she did. Things had changed between her generation and mine. At the same time, though, things still weren’t fair. I grew up being told that I could do anything while also being taught how to cook ‘for my husband’.
Sexism is still around in a thousand tiny ways. My husband and I bought a house together a couple of years ago. Both our names are on the ownership papers, both of us pay the mortgage. But every letter and email from the bank arrives addressed to my husband alone.
I am invisible to the bank.
Wash your own damn dishes
We live in a world in which women are prime ministers and presidents, and yet washing-up liquid is still sold to ‘make mum’s life easier.’ On Mother’s Day men are asked (by cleaning product marketing) to ‘Give Mum the night off!’
The assumption is still there that women are housekeepers by nature. Like having two X chromosomes means we really know how to make glass shine. The implication still remains that men are too busy for that kind of thing.
Just for fun, Google ‘Cleaning’ and see how many pictures of men come up. I just did it so I can tell you: Not very bloody many.
I have news for the people who make those ads and the companies that sell that washing up liquid: I’m crap at cleaning. And I’m not here to make the world shinier.
I’m here for something more than that. Most women are. Cleaning is not part of our nature. It is not in our blood. Cleaning is a job, and if you want someone to do it you ought to pay them for their labour.
Also, men make brilliant cleaners. You should sell to them, too.
Let’s change this
In Night School Endgame, I make my message to my readers clear – I want them to change the world.
I write books for young women who will grow up to be president and CEO. To be directors of corporations, detectives, and judges. The young women who will one day be older women, dominating the Supreme Court. And for the women who will one day run house cleaning companies as well as the corporations that make and market washing-up liquid.
And when the day comes that they run the world, all I ask is that those girls do something about the ridiculously sexist marketing campaigns.
I’m counting on you.
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