November 2008

Just a quick one this time – I’m entertaining family for the weekend, so have less time to get irate about the foolish and shockingly outrageous things I find online.

And shockingly outrageous it definitely is, because the anti-choice campaigners are getting involved. Reported in the Guardian:

“Rawnie Chapman-Kitchin, 15, was aghast when her teacher compared abortion to Nazism”

Whatever happened to the good old days, when I thought that abortion was something I could rely on to be available if I needed it, when I thought that it could never be taken away from me?

I pity the young women in these lessons, that’s for sure.

Onwards, before I get too upset, and I find myself somewhere in the BBC’s education pages, looking with incredulity at the “news” that stereotypes can become a self-fulfilling prophesy:

“Professor Heidi Mirza argues that race-based statistics feed into racial stereotypes which can themselves become “self-fulfilling prophecies”. “

As she says,

“For example, people say: ‘Blacks are good at sport; Chinese are good at maths and make good food; Indians have good business sense’.”

This can mean teachers have certain expectations about pupils based on their ethnic group, she argues.

What can I say?

On one of the walls in my student union, there’s a group of four people – two young men, two young women – involved in different sports. Is it surprising that the one black person (a man) is pictured playing basketball?

That picture is relatively innocuous, although possibly not as thought out as I would have liked. But those kinds of stereotypes are everywhere – and some of them, as suggested in that article, can and do hurt.

Back to the Guardian for the last one for tonight, because I’m starting to feel in need of something fragile to break, and in the education section is a story of discrimination by a private school.

Unfortunately, this is not discrimination in the normal way that private schools do so well – that is, financial discrimination – but instead, discrimination of a somewhat nastier style:

“The school made the 13-year-old boy, who suffers from a connective tissue disorder, stand still in detentions lasting up to 40 minutes, rendering him unable to walk afterwards.”

Right now, I don’t feel I can analyse this is a coherent or non-expletive-filled way, so I’m just going to let the story stand on its own. For the moment at least, I have no words.

A warning here – this is one of my personal peeves.

The conflating of the two terms “girls” and “women” really bothers me. Perhaps it because I tend towards pedantry, or perhaps I’m just easily annoyed. Either could be accurate.

It’s bothered me ever since my (female) friends and I were asked by a pub bouncer: “can I see your ID, please, girls?”

Now, this part is pedantic, but I personally feel that there are two logical options; either I am a girl, and therefore not adult, and therefore will not have ID  – or I am a woman, and adult, and will have ID. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want to be addressed appropriately.

It bothered me when I watched The Apprentice back in April.

It bothered me when I couldn’t avoid watching the olympics – although that bothered me for other reasons too.

And I got angry with it again today because the BBC reports the following:

“Conjoined twins born to teenager

An 18-year-old woman gives birth to conjoined twin girls named Faith and Hope at a London hospital.”

Come on! Surely it’s not that difficult – you pick the way you want to refer to her, and you stick to it. Is she a “teenager”, or is she a “woman”?

Yes, I know that technically she can be (and is) both, but it frustrates me. I think because of the wording. When the birth is in the passive voice – when the birth is something that happens to her – she’s described as being a “teenager”. As soon as it becomes active – when it’s something that she does – she becomes a “woman”.

Is it a coincidence, this… infantilisation? I don’t know what else to call it, to get my point across. Too often, women, adult women, are described in ways that make them something other, something less. “Babes”, for example, or “little ladies” or “chicks” or “honeyz”.

I’ve never, ever understood that last one, by the way. Is it meant to mean that women are cloying, sweet and sticky? All the time? The mind boggles.

Fairly often, this happens when the women in question are presented more as objects than as people. FHM is a particularly odious example of this; counting all of the words I can find without moving from their front page, “girls” appears 12 times, “honeys” appears 6 times, and “women” just twice. Incidentally, the phrase “Ladyland” also appears twice; I’m not sure what this means, but it must mean something!

So, actually, I’m going to continue to have a problem with this particular usage of the word “girl”. Partly because I have a deep and abiding loathing of FHM, but mostly because of what it signifies. Because it feels so much that I am being disregarded. Because if a male 20-year-old was referred to as a “boy”, it would be a very deliberate insult. Because I am a fully formed adult, and I wish to be addressed as such, thank you. I would start talking about the way people lose my goodwill when they write to me as “miss”, but I fear this post would go on for ever!

Oh, and also – if we take this to its extremes, we get extreme nastiness, especially from the heterosexual-male-“unbiased”-viewpoint:

“I will not differentiate between the term ‘girl’ and ‘woman’. Thus, in my mind, the two terms are equal; ‘girl’ is equivalent to ‘woman’ and vice versa.

I am attracted to, and may objectify, women, and the media and my society will provide opportunities for me to do so.

Therefore, I am attracted to, and may objectify, girls, and the media and my society will provide opportunities for me to do so.

Right, now separate the terms ‘girl’ and ‘woman’. One now means ‘female child’, the other means ‘female adult’. See where the ick factor comes in?

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