On the discouragement of women

Lucie Jackson calls for the end of society’s discouragement of women.

It has taken me up until now to realise how discouraged I have been, as a girl, from thinking big. I don’t have dreams about achieving even slightly wishful things. I fully accept that, later on, the jobs I go for will probably be boring and safe. I think it is clear that girls are discouraged from childhood – why was I given the art kits and letter-writing sets for Christmas? No wonder I’m not sporty or ambitious: I’ve been trained to sit quietly in the corner and produce something pretty and non-controversial.

This translates into why it also took me so long to start vocalising my small, terrified opinions in my late teens: it’s because I was never supposed to rock the boat. Even now when I’m older, better educated and more confident in what I have to say, I’m told I’m a loud-mouth, told to shut-up, that I’m embarrassing myself, that I’m bossy. Wow. It doesn’t sound like I’m the one being vulgar and overbearing.

Those comments are trying to reduce me, to humiliate me into silence, so that comfortable social order can be restored. I am meant to be seen and not heard.

Despite realising this ingrained discouragement, I still find it impossible to dream big. That may well be who I am: I’m admittedly lazy and a little sceptical, but it is frustrating to think of the encouragement I have been denied. Ultimately, I do think playing outside and blowing things up with a brand new chemistry set encourages power and outgoingness. After all, Judith Blakemore, professor of psychology at Indiana University, explains, ‘I am not sure how surprising this is to me but it might be to parents: Moderately masculine toys encourage children’s physical, cognitive, academic, musical, and artistic skills more so than moderately feminine ones’. Being more exciting and competitive, male toys lead boys to an important sense of entitlement. Meanwhile, I have been getting used to restraining myself the ways girls are taught: sexually, physically, and vocally.

When American and Hindu actress Mindy Kaling was asked why she is so confident, she answered ‘Why shouldn’t I be? It’s because my parents raised me with the entitlement of a tall, blond, white man.’ Clearly my world has forced me to expect little.

Now, having seen the light, I begin to look for empowering inspiration for new professional goals and so logically, I turn my attention to the most successful and powerful people in the world. But, oh, look at that, they’re all men.

It is difficult to visualise greatness for myself when, for example, there still has never been a female president of the United States. It even looks strange written down. The words ‘female’ and ‘president’ are not seen in the same sentence. Ever. That objective has never been attained, despite the millions of extraordinary women who have lived. And I’m no one. Even I don’t expect much from myself. The childhood daydream of being president is unbearably theoretical for half of us; at no point does my worldly experience encourage ambition in me.

discouragement illustration

I thought about the possibility of the queen dying the other day and I realised how much I had taken for granted the fact that the most famous power icon in England, for my own country, is a woman. Now, I’m not a massive fan of how idiotically we adore a monarchy, but I nevertheless gain reassurance from how people globally accept a woman in charge. Alright, even the Middle Ages recognised queens, but I didn’t realise how significant it was to me, a little girl growing up, to see a female profile on every stamp and piece of pocket money; someone female was even more powerful and important than my Dad.

I feel disheartened when I think ahead to the next three generations of male monarchy; my future daughter will be constitutionally ruled by men. Now, they might be excellent kings, just as the next presidents of America might be wonderful and effective men. That’s fine; I wouldn’t want a woman to win an election solely because she is a woman. But I still cannot wait until there is a good, long list of women in charge; the Wikipedia page of ‘Presidents of the United States’ currently looks like someone took 43 headshots of my toes after I’ve been in the bath too long. As a representation of the human race, that list makes it look like we are all middle-aged, white men who presumably reproduce through mitosis.

And yet the first black face has appeared there now and I am beyond excited to see a woman join that succession. Just one. Yeah, I’m aiming low, it’s all I’ve been taught. But that day is inevitably coming. It opens up a mind-set: soon, countries all over the world will be regularly run by women, and female leadership will not be such a ludicrous stretch of the imagination for our future daughters to emulate.

Illustration by Kate Dickinson

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