My 2-year old daughter and I were stuck in hospital for most of the day recently. It was long, unpleasant, boring and disgusting. So to pass the time I indulged in a little over-analysis, as you do.
We spent the day in the care of a nurse. A nice woman, maybe in her 50s, she was obviously very experienced and related really well to children (which, you’ll agree, is an important quality in a paediatrics nurse). She was accompanied by a student nurse, who was on her second day out of the classroom and completely clueless.
The senior nurse chatted away with us as she checked over my daughter and tried to put her at ease. “What’s your favourite animal?” she asked.
“A dinosaur. ROAR!” answered my daughter, without hesitation.
“Oh? Do you like ponies?”
Hey lady, the girl said she liked dinosaurs.
Anyway, something went a bit awry and the nurse was obliged to call the doctor. Like most of the hospital doctors one sees in such situations he appeared to be about 12 years old, but had the swagger of James Bond. The details of his doctorly duties are unimportant. What was interesting was that when he was done with us he said “if you need anything I’m sure the girls will look after you”, indicating towards the student nurse (who couldn’t have looked after a tamagotchi without supervision) and the senior nurse, twice his age, who could have wiped the floor with this young man. The girls. And for some reason we all smiled sweetly at him and kept our eye rolls to ourselves.
The man-child-doctor departed and, as we were in for the long haul, the nurse asked if my daughter would like to watch a DVD. She opened the DVD drawer and asked what she wanted to watch.
“Batman“, said my daughter (it should be noted that she was wearing Spiderman costume at the time, so this shouldn’t have been a surprising choice).
“Oh? Do you like My Little Pony?”
She said she wanted Batman, I thought, but for some reason I didn’t say anything. My daughter seemed to sense she had the answer wrong and she hesitated.
“What about Dora? Do you like Dora?”
“Yes” she said. My daughter doesn’t like Dora. She likes Batman. Why are we watching Dora?
These aren’t heinous acts of sexism. They are just little things. But little thing after little thing after little thing after little thing… and suddenly my daughter will be a woman who smiles sweetly when a man is patronising to his female colleague. Or a woman who lets herself be nudged away from what she really wants towards the more feminine, appropriate choice. Or a woman who subtly suggests to little girls that they should be girly and that “girly” means a very particular thing. A woman who perpetuates this idea of girliness for yet another generation