What was the best thing about Boaty McBoatface? That it was gender neutral, says Samantha Baines.
Ladybirds have a hard time. All those bloke ladybirds (yep, they are not all ladies) are forever flying into windows to prove their masculinity and combat being defined as women as a species. And hey, while we are at it, it’s just not true that Gameboys don’t cry.
I was asked to chat on the radio recently about gendered words (Bridget Christie wasn’t available) and it got me thinking about how big a part of language and everyday choices gender has become. Yes, gendered words are useful for learning French but apart from that why do they exist? Do we need them? Why is it Mother Nature? Father Nature is just as important: we need him for free lifts to parties.
Products are becoming more and more gender specific. We are shown gender defined products – rattles, water guns and dolls – from such an early age that it can affect our identity. Heaven forbid our little girls play with something that isn’t pink! Did you know that if your little one is a budding scientist you can buy her a ‘microscope for girls’ – it’s purple and pink and means she’ll eventually be paid less.
There are also ‘blenders for girls’; we need different blades for blending all those rainbows and glitter sparkles while men only blend mud and strength, obvs. And when your little boy grows up and tires of camouflaged guns he can use ‘man-sized tissues’ because of course all men are huge and are known for producing notoriously large amounts of snot. Men can also moisturise but only after they’ve been mountain climbing and rubbed their faces on rocks. I believe we all have the right to silky smooth skin, no matter our gender.
“How can I say if pink really is my favourite colour when it has been rammed down my throat from age nothing. Stop ruining pink for me!”
It’s not just products: gender also apparently defines our hobbies and interests. A man wrote to me after my radio appearance and explained his frustration at having gendered magazine sections where ‘men’s magazines’ include science and photography whereas most ‘women’s magazines’ are to do with parenthood and celeb gossip.
Well, I replied, magazines are given the same name as that string of bullets you put in a gun so they should probably all be for men anyway. After all, women only need to read so we can tell how many cups of flour to put in our fruit loaves.
We are constantly being told how to think, choose and what to enjoy based on our gender rather than our tastes and personality. Perhaps this harks back to a society where there were clear rules to follow; men did war and women did homemaking and there was fighting but excellently organised caves. Constantly reinforcing gender stereotypes is just silly when we know that all women aren’t simply dieting celeb gossip whores who only wear pink and men aren’t steely giants who understand logic and spanners and spit rather than cry.
How can I say if pink really is my favourite colour when it has been rammed down my throat from age nothing. Stop ruining pink for me! These heavily gendered words and products also mean that for anyone going against the prescribed gender norm it isn’t just an emotional conviction, or simply your taste, it has to be a physical choice every time you go to the supermarket or the newsagent or buy a microscope.
Times change. Gender definitions change. As gender is becoming a more fluid concept our packaging and language should be changed to reflect this. Maybe Mother Nature could just be nature and could stop appearing in so many patronising tampon adverts. Maybe girls could use the same microscopes as boys and perhaps male-female couples could share blenders; that’s love, guys (guys: another gendered word).
Men might wash their hair even if their shampoo doesn’t sound like a car engine; boats could have topless men carved on the front and vehicles no longer need to be named after women – they had the right idea with Boaty McBoatface, at least it’s gender neutral. One day maybe instead of comedienne I could be called a comedian, which sounds a lot less like something they made up on Countdown because they had too many vowels.
So, you bunch of gender neutral cats, let’s reclaim our Nature McNatureface and just do want we like, no matter the colour of the thing or the sticky out body appendages that might get in our way.
PS: I wrote this and then I painted my nails pink… because I wanted to.
Samantha Baines is at the Edinburgh Festival this year: 1 Woman, A Dwarf Planet and 2 Cox, 3.30pm Pleasance This, Pleasance Courtyard 3-29 August (not 6 August).
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Comedian and actor who can't tolerate dairy. Has won some things (mostly raffles) and strings words together for Time Out, The Guardian and BBC Radio London. Photo: Steve Ullathorne.