Tag Archives: feminism

Pretty as a picture?

You’ve got to feel sorry for poor Alexander Carter-Silk, the senior partner at a law firm who was taken to task by a strident feminist when he mistook the business networking site LinkedIn for a dating website. It’s an easy mistake to make. In response to a connection request from human rights barrister Charlotte Proudman, he messaged back, ‘I appreciate that this is probably horrendously politically incorrect but that is a stunning picture!!!’ The hapless Carter-Silk – whose over-zealous use of exclamation marks surely reveals his benign intent – was promptly outed by Proudman on Twitter for his sexist behaviour. Can’t a lady take a compliment?

Carter-Silk gave his online audience an insight into the subtle workings of his legally-trained mind when he sought to clarify his intentions: ‘Most people post pretty unprofessional pictures on LinkedIn, my comment was aimed at the professional quality of the presentation on LinkedIn which was unfortunately misinterpreted.’ Let’s gloss over Carter-Silk’s sloppy comma splice and incorrect use of a subordinate clause, not to mention his gutless refusal to accept responsibility for the offence he caused. Could he just explain why he acknowledged that it might be viewed as ‘horrendously politically incorrect’ to make what was, after all, an innocent observation about the professional quality of Proudman’s photograph?

As Proudman rightly pointed out in her response to Carter-Silk, comments like his are a means of exercising power over women and detracting from their professional achievements. Objectifying a woman for her appearance is just one example; I could cite many instances of blatant sexism from my own working life. Once, at a job interview, a recruitment consultant enquired as to whether I was married. When I asked why this was relevant, he explained that my husband might be annoyed if I had to work late. On another occasion, a senior civil servant suggested that a post in the Department for Education would be ‘a nice job for a lady lawyer’, the implication being that HM Treasury or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office were strictly for the chaps.

There are a thousand other ways in which women are judged, stereotyped, undermined and silenced at work. Those who say they have never experienced workplace sexism might consider how often male colleagues have talked over them or ignored their presence at a strategy meeting or a client drinks party. When women are sidelined in this way, a small internal voice whispers that it’s because they have nothing interesting to contribute: must try harder. By contrast, the standard male response would be simply to turn up the volume.

The subtle, pervasive nature of the attitudes revealed by such incidents is the reason why idiots like Carter-Silk need to be called out. I’d like to think that he has now been reprimanded by his firm and that his fellow partners will seek to distance themselves from his comment. Knowing how the law works, though, I fear this incident will simply bolster his client following and furnish him with an amusing dinner-party anecdote (cue much male guffawing at the humourless feminist who dared to speak out). In the meantime, he might want to take some advice from a PR consultant on how to frame an apology, as well as a refresher course in the basic rules of grammar.

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What stinks more than pink?

My sons’ Sunday morning swimming lesson is a time I look forward to. It’s a guilt-free half-hour in which to read a book, catch up on emails or stare vacantly into space as I sit at the poolside, drowsy in the chlorinated heat (and, let’s be honest, often slightly hungover). But recently, my reverie was interrupted by another spectator stomping self-importantly into view with ‘Pink Stinks’ emblazoned across her T-shirt, and plonking herself down on my bench. She was surrounded – as she must surely have anticipated would be the case – by small girls in shocking pink swimsuits.

Maybe it shouldn’t have annoyed me as much as it did. Any sentient being who occasionally opens a newspaper can’t have failed to notice the backlash against the so-called ‘pinkification’ of our daughters’ childhood. I’m no fan of fuchsia and I broadly agree with the arguments put forward by the anti-pink campaigners, who object to the crude stereotyping represented by gendered merchandise. It’s increasingly hard to find any item marketed at girls that doesn’t come in a shade of salmon – or anything marketed at boys that does.

Indeed, I’ve long suspected that the cult of prettiness – bolstered by the baffling range of pink clothing and accessories available in the shops – encourages a form of female self-absorption that ultimately limits girls’ range of interests and risks shutting down their opportunities. By contrast, many of the boys I know seem less self-regarding and more outward-looking in their passions – which in this household include football, Minecraft and the endless regurgitation of facts about the world. (Yes, that was a crass generalisation, and of course I’m biased – I have sons.)

Nevertheless, it scarcely needs stating that the problem isn’t the colour pink, but something more insidious about the expectations to which girls are subject and which they all too frequently internalise. One small example. The girls’ high school I attended as a teenager ran a joint debating club with the boys’ grammar school over the road. Before each debate, the toilets in our sixth-form block were three-deep with girls preening in front of the mirrors. At the event itself, the boys would deploy their arguments cleverly and confidently, while most of us girls, it shames me to say, remained silent at the back of the room. We were too self-conscious to pay proper attention to the train of argument, let alone speak out – and there wasn’t a pink accessory in sight.

My objection to the mother at the pool wasn’t just her failure to recognise that pink is merely a recent symptom of this chronic malaise. It was that her message, viewed in context, seemed unnecessarily aggressive. Her T-shirt, I’d guess, was worn mainly to show other parents how radical she was. None of the children was in a position to argue back; the six-year-old girl sitting beside me, who’d emerged happily from the changing room moments earlier in a frilly pink costume, seemed perplexed by her father’s mumbled explanation. Isn’t a child entitled to feel confused when one group of adults markets piles of pink junk at her, while another group finger-wags about how she shouldn’t be buying any of it? And is there no room left for a girl who – er – just happens to like pink?

So, what stinks more than the colour pink? How about this: making a small girl feel uncomfortable about her appearance by wearing a provocative slogan at a children’s swimming lesson. If the woman at the pool calls herself a feminist, she really ought to change her top.