Krb

mum

What do kids know about sexism?

Sexism and a seven-year-old is a conversation I'd rather not get into. How about you?

What do kids know about sexism?

My son knew Andy Gray's face from the television.

“Why is he on the front of the newspaper?” he asked me. "Has he died?"

I chose my words carefully:

"No," I ventured, 'He has been sacked from his job because he said something not very nice about a female colleague.'

"Oh," said my son, and turned his attention back to his games console.
 

I didn't want to have a conversation about sexism with a seven-year-old, but perhaps I should have done.  The truth is, though, I didn't know where to start.

In their own innocent way, he and his friends already make 'sexist' comments; I've heard about girls not being allowed to play with the Lego at privilege time because 'the Lego is for the boys'.

They giggle at the notion of girls playing football, particularly as one of their female classmates plays in a team at the weekend.  They are already of the mindset that football is for boys and netball is for girls.

I've had my son laugh like a drain in reply to the question "Did any of the girls go to the Lazer Quest party?' 'Of course not,"' he roared, 'Lazer Quest is just for boys!'

Despite all this, my son has grown up in a house where Mummy happily plays football in the garden, maintains her own car,  drinks pints of beer, does DIY and all the things one might find a dad doing.

But also, he has grown up in a home where casual sexism is somewhat rife. Unintentional, but present.  I often have a giggle with the builders at the top of my road when they yell comments as I pass. I don't take offence. I respond. And I'm not averse to making the odd sexist comment myself, because sexism, to me, seems a bit of a one way street: it only exists when men say something 'a bit near the knuckle' to a woman.

It was fine for us girls to phwoar over the Diet Coke man or Nick Kamen stripping down to his undies (I'm showing my age now) but not Okay for Virgin airlines to trade on their 'Still Red Hot' tagline last year.  Similarly,  it's fine for the mums at my school to leer at the firemen who turn up in their engine on fete days (a comment one year from the head of the PTA directed at the crew will stay with me forever) but they'd be in uproar if the dads carried on in a similar fashion if a bunch of nurses were to appear for a first aid display.

So I honestly do not know where I stand in telling my son what is and what isn't sexism. But if I had to cite recent examples, I would probably say a man making gestures like Andy Gray did while saying 'Charlotte, can you tuck this down here for me?'  is banter, whilst being caught off guard claiming  females 'don't know the offside rule' is just idiotic, ill informed codswallop. 

Or the kind of rubbish you'd expect from a man. Oops. Naughty, sexist me.

 

10 Comments

  • Small_blank

    admin

    Ready for Ten admin

    27 January, 2011

    This post made me smile Kelly! We couldn't care less about football in our house so this hasn't come up at all, but if it did I'm not sure how far into it I would go. I'm happy to explain that it's not nice to say unkind things about other people, reiterate how I feel about respecting other people etc, but not sure seven year olds really need a more in depth discussion on the subject. Tough one I'll admit.

    Leigh
    Ready for Ten Team

  • Linda

    editor

    Linda Jones, Editor

    27 January, 2011

    Thanks for posting about this Kelly - I was saddened by Richard Keys' comments where he referred to a woman as "it." I agree that the comments taken in isolation could be considered banter, and it's the sort of stuff you hear day in, day out in work places. I think when these two said: "Football sexist? Come off it love" was funny. I know these men are football commentators and not recruitment bosses but it has been a pretty desperate tale and they deserved much of the flak, especially if some of the other accounts of their behaviour are to be believed. I remember a mum I used to know who often told me how much she disagreed about women going out to work and how much importance she placed on scrubbing her own toilet, despite paying a cleaner. I told her to keep her son away from my daughters...:) I hope I have brought my daughters up so far to be confident and go off and do what they want and to never be held back by someone else's perception of their abilities because they are girls. But as you say they are surrounded by casual sexism...so much to think about.

  • Keris

    mum

    Keris Stainton

    27 January, 2011

    Really interesting article, Kelly. I asked about this on Twitter a few months ago in relation to sexist language in a TV show Harry was watching and was assured that kids learn more from watching the way their parents behave and interact than they do from the language they hear on TV or in the playground. I can only hope...

  • Jayne h

    mum

    JayneHowarth

    28 January, 2011

    Sexism is such a tricky subject, purely because what one person finds offensive, another just thinks it's a giggle.
    Context is so important; I worked in newsrooms for years and the humour there is as dark as can be. Sexist comments abounded (from both men and women) - but because they were all said tongue-in-cheek they were laughed off. We knew when something was a laugh and when something was said in all seriousness. If ever anything inappropriate was said, it was jumped on like a ton of bricks.
    I'm not condoning Keys and Gray and their outmoded views. But I wasn't there to hear the conversation; I don't know how serious they were. Keys comments about Karren Brady were quite funny, if read in the right context. If he were deadly serious, I would fume. Re the comments in the studio to the female presenter - yes, totally inappropriate and he should be reprimanded.
    So - discussing sexism with children? Yes. I have been up-front about it with my children.
    When my son said he wanted girls to go to his laser quest party cos they'd lose, I had a gentle word about his attitude. I've also had other discussions about it with my daughter. I think it's important for them to understand what sexism and racism are. If it's just discussed - rather than gravely addressed in some kind of summit - then the information is merely absorbed.
    Like Linda said, you just hope your children grow up to be sensible, confident adults.

  • Cathy cooper

    expert

    catherinecooper

    28 January, 2011

    It is tricky. Toby asked me yesterday "Why do mummies do most of the stuff in the house?" I told him I didn't really know, but once Daddy had finished renoavating the house it wouldn't be that way anyway. I still don't think Andy Gray should have been sacked though. Is there really anyone who NEVER says anything sexist, man or woman? I doubt it.

  • La_harrison
    Lesley Harrison

    28 January, 2011

    I wish all this gender stuff would just stop. Instead of saying something is sexist, how about just "patronising" or "ignorant" or "not nice"? I'm a woman that works in a male dominated field and has hobbies that are traditionally considered things for men too. I share most of these with my husband (although wen we're doing stuff online we don't let on that we know each other immediately).

    I've noticed that the people who act like jerks towards me tend to be know-it-alls to my husband too. So maybe sexist (or racist, or whatever-else-ist) adults aren't doing it out of anything as targetted as sexism - they're just a bit mean in general (or just having a bad day and said something without thinking how it would make the other person feel)?

    Kids do seem to categorise things, but I think a lot of that is wanting to make an excuse - "Lego is for boys!" means "I don't want to share", and a girl saying "Sparring is for boys!" means "I'd rather take a break from Karate and sit down and talk to my mates". I'm not a parent, but I've seen plenty of gender stereotype busting among kids I know - if a boy wants to play with dolls or a girl wants to get rough then a little self confidence seems to be all that's needed to break in to the relevant group.

    Just a few thoughts.

  • Alison p

    mum

    Alison Percival

    28 January, 2011

    I've been arguing with my husband over this all week - as I suspect many households have. I disagree that when Andy Gray asked Charlotte to tuck his microphone pack in for him that that was merely banter. I don't see why women should have to put up with being leered and leched at all the time like that. I don't think they were joking either about Sian Massey - that revealed their true feelings, their anger, their attitude towards women in general. I don't see why it's different if you're caught 'off guard' saying something. Ideally, it would be nice if what you truly thought and what you say were one and the same.

    Anyway, back to the question of children. We had the conversation too in our household with my son - who's older. He understood exactly and thought it was right they went. That led onto a conversation about how women and men are portrayed in adverts. i cringe at some of the adverts that portray men as dumb, incompetent fools and often wonder if the roles were reversed, there would be an outcry. When he was younger he used to say things like ' girls are rubbish, boys are the best' etc but there are lots of examples in his school of girls playing football and excelling at it and other strong role models.

  • English mum

    mum

    English Mum

    28 January, 2011

    Brilliant article. I've been having some healthy discussion with my teenage boys on the subject this week. I have to say that I agree with Lesley - one of the points I've made to my children is that - sexism aside - it is just plain rude and wrong to talk about people behind their back, more so if you're making derisory comments. Great point about women leering over firemen though - we forget it works both ways!

  • Linda

    editor

    Linda Jones, Editor

    28 January, 2011

    I've just returned from a work appointment with a group of men in the emergency services - there was lots of banter, some of it, if taken in isolation could be described as sexist I'm sure, but the jokey insults were also aimed at men, as they so often are, which I think comes close to the point Lesley has just made. I personally do think there is a difference though between instances like that and repeated instances from two men described as "dinosaurs" - someone has leaked what they said because they weren't liked. My dad is an ex football player and manager (nowhere near the level involved in this furore) and along with my mum, he brought me up to know anything was possible and I never knew there were people in the world who would have doubts about my ability just because I'm not a man. My girls are 12 and they are being brought up in the same way - but they do know the word sexism and what it means. They also have a dad who does all the ironing so that'll do for me. :)

  • Picture?type=square
    Claire H

    28 January, 2011

    Yes, excellent post.
    I've found it very difficult this week to not let my blood boil when I hear people defend Andy Gray's position. I too worked in a very male environment (also in television) and on a weekly basis I had similar jokes flung at me.
    Its NOT funny, its demeaning and just a crass form of bullying. As Jayne rightly points out its all about context, whether someone is in on the joke or not and this can be very subtle.
    I have talked to my teenage daughter about this and I don't think she fully understands - its something you have live through unfortunately. Hopefully this is it will make people will assess their behaviour and maybe it won't be something she will have to experience.
    And yes, we really should be teaching our sons.We are undoubtably very different beings with different likes and dislikes but respect for each other should be taught at a young age.

    Now Sky can we have some women's sport televised in full too please.

Post a comment

You must be signed in to post to Ready for Ten.

Haven’t registered? It’s really quick and simple.