So my actor friend was telling us about working on an advert, remarking on the egotistical director who made the actress’ life a misery because she’d arrived late due to illness. He went on to say that he didn’t understand why she’d been cast in the first place, as “pretty blonde dolly-birds can’t be civil engineers.”
When I said this was offensive, that I was offended, he was genuinely surprised and baffled. He went on to say that he knew for a fact there were no women like that in civil engineering, and a long debate ensued about stereotyping. I was pissed off. There was a degree of backtracking on his part, but no real understanding or responsibility taken.
As for pretty women working in civil engineering… Well I’m certainly no civil engineer, but I’ve also never been particularly pretty and my blonde hair turned decidedly mousey once I entered my teens, but I’m still damn well certain that there are women out there as capable of doing that job as there are “hunky” blonde males capable of being nursery teachers (thank you people of Twitter for that one).
I’m not saying anything new here, and actually find it really tedious that we still have to have these conversations in life. The Everyday Sexism project is testament to this – women and men face all sorts of stupid gender prejudices every day. I strongly advise following them on Twitter – the hundreds of examples of sexism that are shared on a daily basis range from amusingly ignorant to shockingly violent. It’s a depressing education.
Socialisation and gender role reinforcement starts from the minute you’re born, we all know this. “Boys don’t cry” “Pink is for girls” blah blah fucking blah. I still remember my first day at school – we were told to colour in the picture that represented what we wanted to be when we grew up. There were two pages, one for boys and one for girls. Girls could choose from hairdressers, nurses and shopkeepers. Boys could be doctors, policemen and astronauts. I stared at that astronaut for ages. It looked really flippin cool and exciting, I wanted to choose that. But it was on the boys’ page and I didn’t want the teacher to tell me off.
As for my friend’s experience in advertising, it transpired that there was nothing challenging or progressive in casting a “Dolly-bird” in this role after all – she was purposely plastered in make-up to play a character who makes a mistake and has to be shown how to do her civil engineering job properly by a male colleague.
Wow. Just, wow.
PS: It’s National Women in Engineering Day on 23rd June…