I usually get up early, just before “Farming Today” and just after the extended weather forecast on BBC Radio 4. After my clock radio goes off, I sit up, take my vitamins and medication which I store in my night table drawer: this morning I washed them down with lukewarm Diet Dr. Pepper. Generally, two of my cats are waiting for me either on or beside the bed, their bright eyes expressing joy at the prospect of breakfast. When I peel back the duvet and stand up, they run ahead of me down the stairs: I can’t help but think of the Madness tune “Baggy Trousers” as my cat Thomas races to the kitchen. Upon catching up with him, I feed the cats, make coffee and switch on the television; usually I’m greeted by the BBC’s “World Business Today” programme. They often have on some anonymous luminary who is probably notable solely for being able to wake up at 4 AM cheerfully. He or she reviews the papers with two presenters who do their best to not seem overly fatigued.
There is a cumulative effect to such mornings: by the time the work week draws to a close, I find that it takes a bit more time for me to fully awaken, a tad longer is required before there’s no sleep in my eyes and there’s clarity instead of fog lingering in my brain. This morning the anonymous luminary’s words flowed in one ear and out the other. At such a time, I’m ready to have issues reduced to the intellectual level required by the average tabloid reader and simply happy when the weather forecast doesn’t indicate a heavy rain storm again. In other words, I was primed for the somewhat chummy and mentally untaxing BBC Breakfast programme.
I suppose there’s something genuinely humourous about a news programme that, for example, reports on milk prices by having their reporter visit a dairy farm. This is presumably to remind the viewers were milk comes from; the reporter’s obvious disgust and difficult trudge through a field whilst wearing sticky Wellies also probably serve as reminders that cows don’t excrete sunshine nor always give off the most pleasant aroma. However, it’s one thing to be silly and brainless, it’s quite another to indulge in casual sexism: this is what occured on this morning’s show during a feature about car parking. Apparently the mayor of Triberg, Germany, decided to allocate “easy” parking spaces for women and “difficult” ones for men. In response, BBC Breakfast asked this question: are men or women better at this?
This query disproves the notion that there are no stupid questions. Regardless of gender, we are each born with differing abilities when it comes to visual estimations and understanding of geometry. To suggest that one half or humanity or the other has a superior ability to reverse a Nissan Micra it is to oversimplify matters terribly: I am probably better at it than many men and women, but there are many men and women who are better at it than me. Contra to what the producers of BBC Breakfast and the Mayor of Triberg may think, the BBC ran an item earlier this year that suggested women are better at it than men. No doubt another study would say the opposite. What none of these “popular” studies talks about is the role of practice, which probably has the greatest influence; these adventures in research appear to be there merely to stoke cheap controversy.
BBC Breakfast didn’t make matters any better with their vox pops: some men proclaimed loudly that they were much better at parking than women, even if their other half was within earshot. One gentleman in a Land Rover stated his wife was superior to him. Another woman stated that women were better at it. I was glad when the item ended and moved on to security at the Olympics or the lack thereof.
I generally don’t write about sexism as it is not something I “feel on my skin”: as a man, it would be ridiculous for me to suggest that somehow I know precisely what it’s like to experience such discrimination on a day to day basis, or that I fully comprehend the pressures that society puts on women. I have sympathy for the idea that men can’t ever be true feminists precisely because of this gap in knowledge. I believe I have an inkling, little more: for example, I imagine that the waif-like body images that one gets just from watching television or reading the newspaper must make women feel as if they have to adhere to some impossible ideal. It’s no wonder bulemia, anorexia and the like are endemic. I see an item like the one about parking and imagine that a lot of people were just as indignant as I was.
As I sat there and finished up my coffee, I thought of my new niece, who will shortly be one month old. I can’t fully know what it will be like for her to grow up in modern Western society, but one quality I hope she will possess is a healthy sense of disbelief when other people try tell to her about her limitations. Her dad is fantastic at driving and parking, her mother is a confirmed petrol head who wants to acquire a bright orange Dodge Challenger: there’s no reason to believe she hasn’t inherited their propensities. There aren’t as many women in technology as men; but if that’s where my niece’s interests lay, there’s no reason for her not to go for it. I intend to give her an Meccano set as soon as she’s old enough; her dad and I will teach her how to build her own PC. My aspiration for her is that she grows up to be a feminist, because I hope that she insists on making her own choices in life rather than have the bounds of her imagination confined by societal norms and that she never has to kneel before the wagging finger of disapproval. Perhaps uncles, brothers, fathers and grandfathers can’t be true feminists, but we can assist feminism not just by denouncing the likes of BBC Breakfast programme producers but by also by proclaiming to our nieces, sisters, daughters and granddaughters that the only real confines on ambition are those imposed by the self. The others are constructs which may seem to have the force of reality, but when shown to be mendacious, should be made to dissolve into the morning air.
Breakfast with sexism was an unpleasant way to end the working week. Tomorrow promises much, not least it offers the opportunity to sleep through BBC Breakfast. I suspect my heavy hand will reach out from under the duvet tomorrow morning just after that boundary in time is crossed. It will rest on the nighttable for a moment, then reach for the radio and switch on “Saturday Live”.