How Mary Poppins Changed my Life - Women's Equality

How Mary Poppins Changed my Life

How Mary Poppins Changed my Life

When my husband and I got married, I'm pretty sure that we, and everyone else there that day, saw it as a joining of equals.  We walked down the aisle together - no "giving away". We wrote and spoke our own vows, talking of shared interests and understanding, caring and a mutual respect. 

We were then staggered by the impact that having our children had on this balance.  First there was the expectation that everything to do with the children had to be my business: people would walk past my husband to ask me what the children would like to do, or what they want to eat, or if they are tired.  Almost as if he didn't exist.

Then there was the idea that, the children were now the only thing that I was about.  Meeting friends and family, they would ask my husband about himself, his work, the latest sporting events, what's going on in the world.  Me, they asked "how are the kids doing?"  Almost as if I didn't exist.

Added to that comes the assumption that my husband didn't know how to look after the children - that it would be me taking a day off work when they are unwell; that Dad-taking-the-kids-camping-for-the-weekend would surely end in disaster.

As if wasn’t bad enough, there were massive gender differences experienced by our children.  Pink and blue clothes were just the start of it.  What toys they are expected to play with and the things they might be interested in are all determined by their gender.  People talk to them differently - they comment on her appearance “you look pretty” and ask him what his favourite football team is.  They are even allocated different standards of behaviour – what is deemed as naughty in a girl is explained away by “boys will be boys” in her brother.

Don't get me wrong, I know they are different.  But surely that difference comes as much from their individual preferences and choices, as it does from the number of X chromosomes they have.

Then one day, when my daughter was 5, we watched Mary Poppins.  In the film the children's mother is a Suffragette, and they sing a very rousing song about it.  My daughter asked me to explain what a Suffragette was, so I told her how it didn't used to be fair for women because they couldn't vote.  She didn't understand.  So then I said it was like if in school they were choosing what games to play, but only the boys got to have a say.  She understood.

Then she looked me with her big, innocent eyes and said "but it's fair for girls now Mummy, isn't it?"  And with profound sadness I realised that the answer to that was a resounding "No".  And that, nearly 100 years after women got the vote, there is still a lot to be done to make things fair for our children.

Because otherwise how will we answer these tough questions that they ask, like:

  • Does it come in a colour that isn't pink?
  • Where are the good girl role models in books and films?
  • Why did we spend ages in school learning about Brazil when the football world cup was on, but no one even mentioned the women's world cup?
  • Why can't he wear his hair in a bobble?
  • Why do they laugh at him for liking girl music? (Katy Perry, but don't judge him, he's 5)

And then later, the questions will get harder.

  • Why isn't it safe for her to walk home late at night?
  • Why did that guy on the bus grope her leg?
  • And why is he earning more than her?

So the way I see it, we have a choice.  We can try and find acceptable answers to these questions -  try and explain away the unfairness - or we can do something about changing it.  I choose the latter.

Because equality is better for everyone.  Especially our children.

Because if not you, who? If not now, when?

Carol Keen, Sheffield Branch Data Manager

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