Friday, 29 November 2013

Sexism and gendered child-rearing

Today’s related news story, surely a contender for the “statement-of-the-obvious of the year” award: “Sexism is daily reality for girls…”

Fortunately there are and have always been challenges to the dominant ideology in this context as others, as in the current campaign “Let Toys Be Toys” which has chalked up a number of successes. 

                                                               Sexterotyping : A Long History...

Among the texts denounced and attitudes demolished by MaryWollstonecraft (“Writers Who Have Rendered Women Objects of Pity”, ch.5 of  VRW*), is this from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, quoted on p.178 of the Penguin Classic edition: “Boys love sports of noise and activity; to beat the drum, to whip the top, and to drag about their little carts: girls, on the other hand, are fonder of things of show and ornament, such as mirrors, trinkets, and dolls: the doll is the peculiar amusement of the females; from whence we see their taste plainly adapted to their destination...” (Emile, 1762).

Mary, by contrast, contended that “a girl, whose spirits have not been damped by inactivity, or innocence tainted by false shame, will always be a romp.” She was clear about the tendency of Rousseau’s ideas: “To render [the person of a young woman] weak, and what some may call beautiful, the understanding is neglected, and girls forced to sit still, play with dolls, and listen to foolish conversations; - the effect of habit is insisted upon as an undoubted indication of nature.”.(p.179 in same).

* Mary Wollstonecraft:  A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, edited with an Introduction by Miriam Brody,Penguin Classics (1985) 1992. 

“The pernicious tendency of those books, in which the writers insidiously degrade the sex while they are prostrate before their personal charms, cannot be too often or too severely exposed.”  - VRW p.193 (Writers Who Have Rendered Women Objects of Pity).

Woolworths didn’t get where it is today without a bit of gender stereotyping!

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