It is more than a cultural challenge. The way in which girls think about the male body is very different to the way we think at home. When you are young, it is normal and natural for boys to play with dolls and make jokes about their bodies, in the same way as girls play with their food and make jokes about their bodies, so you would never be uncomfortable being around a boy who made jokes about his penis, so why should you be uncomfortable being around a man who makes jokes about his penis? Because you are a boy? No. Because you’re born with a vagina? NO! Because it’s normal for boys to play with dolls and make jokes about the female body? YES!
In a conversation with a friend who worked in advertising, I recalled that I once worked at an agency that was so afraid to work with men that it had an intercom system in every room in the building for women alone. It didn’t sound like a sexy idea, but the truth is that an equal work environment would have been impossible for many people in my position because of the way we believe our bodies are perceived. When we do the job right, women have no complaints when this happens. But when we are mistaken for a man and we know this was the case, we can’t help but feel like this is part of a deliberate plot to make us look unfeminine.
We all can be guilty of the sexist remarks when we are unsure how someone identifies themselves as a man or a woman. We often don’t know it’s our fault, but instead of coming to terms with it, we think that a little misguidance will go a long way. I never told my daughter and didn’t really think about it until she was six years old. I’ve learned a lot since then.
In a recent article I coauthored with Dr. Annabel Jones, we highlighted a study that found that women who said they preferred boys’ toys, like trucks and dolls, were 10 percentage points less likely to be able to recognize their mother-son relationships than women who did not prefer toys with boys’ names.
We see this problem at work in the way that girls’ toys, for many years, have never been given equal status with boys’ toys. Boys’ toys have always been marketed more towards men than girls, and there have been many studies that confirm that toys marketed towards men have a more masculine appeal. Women’s toys, by contrast, have a more feminine appeal. However, there are
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