Efforts to widen girls' horizons should not devalue 'women's work'
Yet more evidence has emerged this week that children’s job aspirations are determined by their gender from an extremely young age. Girls, it seems would still much rather be an air hostess than a pilot, and only a tiny minority of boys are interested in playing at being a beautician.
The study may have come as no surprise to the majority of parents and those working with young children. Despite huge in-roads being made in gender equality on paper, we still see our little girls pushing prams around in nurses outfits and boys dressing as Bob the Builder. Many a feminist mum has eschewed pink for their daughter and bought them Meccano sets, only to find them asking to play teaparties with their dollies.
After birthing two machine-gun obsessed boys, even the raging feminist in me can't resist an inner hoot of delight as my little girl brings me a slice of wooden Battenberg cake on a plastic plate. At last, I've given birth to someone who understands me. I thank her but try not to reward her unduly for her servitude.
Obviously, like most people, I don’t believe people’s choices in life should be determined by their gender. Of course I encourage moves to ensure all children get a chance to see good role models, of all genders, in all the professions there are.
However, I do find something rather unsettling in the commentary that emerges following these kind of pieces of research. This ‘girls must be encouraged to take science and maths subjects’ refrain bothers me – not because I don’t agree with it – but because it implies somehow that the choices girls are currently making are in some way ‘wrong’.
For example, the message given out is that to choose to be a beautician or a carer or a nursery nurse is ‘failing oneself’.
It is as if traditional “women’s work” has no value and any girl worth her salt would steer well clear of it. This is madness, of course, because where would we all be without these professions? After all, who blow dries Theresa May’s hair, cares for David Cameron’s kids and looks after our elderly relatives so we can hang on to our livelihoods?
For the brave, intelligent and motivated, these jobs do have career paths too, God knows the country is in need of some good nursery managers. One of the big problems is that the brave, intelligent and motivated steer clear of them because of the poor status and remuneration that comes with them.
The only real thing ‘wrong’ with these jobs is that they are terrifically under-valued by society and under-paid…because they are traditionally female tasks.
Anyone who has left their child at a nursery knows the immense value of committed, intelligent, well-educated nursery nurses and early years teachers. You don't have to be able to spell to work here, but it helps.
It would be great too if something could be done to encourage young men into these roles, without feeling they were compromising their masculinity (remember Kindergarten Cop?). Boys, too, feel equally restricted in their choices, but I doubt there are many programmes to encourage them into ‘girly’ professions. There should be, as it is the only way things are ever going to change.
If all we do is constantly ram home the message that traditionally ‘men’s jobs’ are ‘good’ and girls should aspire to them, all we do is devalue traditionally female work even more.