My name is Amy and I work as a manager at a children’s attraction. Since starting as a team member 3 years ago I have been promoted three times which I feel illustrates that gender is definitely not an obstacle to women’s development within my company. Our senior manager is a woman. Our regional director is a woman. One of the top three highest earners in the whole organisation is a woman. No glass ceiling in this company!
Despite the unbiased structure of the business when I was asked to think about gender and how it affects my life I realised that I do routinely encounter casual sexist thinking in my life at work but also witness how pre-conceptions of gender are changing in children and parents.
We did a fancy dress day and one of the burly, hairy guys on my team forgot to come in dressed up. The only thing we had spare was a bright pink ‘princess dress’ complete with tiara which we jokingly offered to him. Without even blinking he took the dress from my colleague and came out for a catwalk show 3 minutes later. He wore this outfit all day despite ridicule from various team members and guests. Similarly, a female team member that one could only describe as someone you’d usually see on the cover of Vogue came in dressed as The Hulk. To my delight, she had not gone for the ‘sultry’ Hulk option i.e. scantily clad with green stockings and suspenders, but instead a full body suit complete with muscles, green face paint and a wig!
An area is designed for ‘girly girls’. This consists of lots of pink things, hair brushes, cakes and flowers. A few days ago I had the joy of helping an 8 year old boy to design a pink and purple Scooby do and a multicoloured velociraptor while his younger sister played with cars – neither of which phased their mum or dad.
Another facility we used to offer was face painting. The queues consisted mostly of little girls. When asked what they wanted most said ‘a butterfly’ or ‘a princess’ or ‘flowers’. On one occasion, after about 10 girls left with faces like butterflies, a little boy was next in line and also wanted to be a butterfly. His mother laughed embarrassedly and asked him ‘Are you gay? Are you a little gay boy? No.’ (Turns to me) ‘He’ll have batman’. Now it is not my job to lecture parents on their parenting skills or how a comment like that could aggravate discrimination. I wouldn’t necessarily identify myself a feminist per say, but as someone who desires equality between all sexes, sexualities, races etc this offended and shocked me greatly. I spent the next 10 minutes shaking with inward rage at the fact that in my fear of offending the mother and my company’s potential anger losing a customer that I did not have the courage to speak up to the little boy and say that it’s ok for a boy to like butterflies too. My worry has since been that he will now grow up to think that if he likes glitter, he’s automatically ‘gay’ and that it is implied that to be gay is wrong. My faith in humanity was restored two weeks later when a woman brought her 3 year old nephew to have his face painted and was happy for him to be covered in spiders and flowers and glitter to compliment his purple glittery nail varnish that matched hers!
Part of my job is to play different characters, one of which is a professor. One day I opened the door to two men who I would say were in their late twenties/early thirties. One of them jumped and said ‘Ooh – I thought you’d be a bloke! That’s bad eh?’ I proceeded to pretend to faint when trying to pick something heavy up and asked in a ‘floozy’ voice whilst throwing my hand up to my forehead dramatically that I needed a ‘big, strong man to help me’. His friend laughed and saw that I was making a joke to prove a point and played along with it. At the end the gentlemen who had made the comment took me aside and apologised profusely for offending me. I explained that I was not necessarily offended, I was merely trying to make a point of his assumption and that lady professors not only exist but can have a sense of humour too!
I am very happy that this exhibition is being put together because without it I wouldn’t have sat and thought about how lucky I am to live in a country that has come on so far since Emily’s act. Although this exhibition is in part to celebrate the extraordinary sacrifice of a woman for women, gender equality as a whole for both sexes and transgendered men and women to me means influencing the youngest generations of girls to be proud to play with cars and dress up as a giant, green man without being described as a ‘tom boy’, and to encourage little boys to embrace their love of glitter and pink without their sexuality being questioned.