Can you pick the sexist 60s headline out of this line up? ‘Cleaning Tips for Busy Women‘, ‘Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy’ or ‘Not Doing Enough Housework is Making Women Fat’.
Can’t choose between them? That’s because all of them were published within the last ten years by Good Housekeeping, Breitbart and The Daily Mail respectively.
I’m not a bleeding heart feminist. I’m not really even keen on the word. I’m grateful to live in England where women have a relatively easy time of it, so I tend to roll my eyes when people get up in arms about the ‘c’ word. Strong women, I’ve always believed, are too busy to get bogged down in the details that many social justice warriors seem to keep banging on about.
What makes me nervous is the gentle persistence of stereotypes in the media that so thoroughly penetrate daily life. It’s not Breitbart or The Daily Mail I’m worried about. Their readership is divided into idiots who share the opinions expressed in their articles, and people who want to indulge in the occasional bit of rage porn, like me (why do the Kardashians still exist god dammit, and who cares what they’re wearing?). It’s like MMA. It’s fine on telly; when it hits the streets we’ve got a problem. That Good Housekeeping– the readership of which (one would assume) is largely female- would publish something with a title like this is truly disturbing.
These ‘Cleaning Tips’ are probably great for ‘Busy Women’, but unless there’s a section I missed on scouring your cervix or sluicing the under-boob, I don’t see why men wouldn’t benefit. I’ll admit it’s not exactly a very damaging stereotype, busyness. So why the stick up your bum, McCready? What’s one little word? Does this being aimed specifically at women really hurt anyone?
I’d say ‘yes’. It doesn’t lose anything content-wise if you just replace ‘women’ with ‘people’. The problem there is that ‘tips for busy women’ probably flags up a lot better in a search than ‘tips for busy people’ because it’s just a little more specific. If you’re a copywriter, writing to a brief where certain keywords or phrases must be included, then your hands are kind of tied. For all I know, the author may have been told to prioritise the wording ‘busy women’.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, ‘Tips for Busy People’ just doesn’t read right. It may be because the real title made me go up in flames, but somehow I just can’t click with it. It’s easy to imagine busy mum-of-three, juggling work, kids and husband while desperately trying to prevent her house from sliding into chaos. ‘Busy people’ are just those assholes you meet on the bus who huff every time you hit traffic. It’s easier to think of a woman who has to look after the house rather than a man or anyone else in that role.
Indeed, women may make up the majority of people responsible for housework. Yet, if hundreds of years of sweat and suffrage are to be believed, we’d rather like to be able to choose not to. Likewise, men shouldn’t be bombarded with the idea that cleaning is somehow not in their realm. Many people want more balanced rights for parental leave, and truly equal working regulations. These are big asks: a few words chosen, read and ignored by busy women and others, seem insignificant.
Nevertheless, small words make up great things. Like the constant drip of water on stone, sexism erodes the foundation of our society. While it’s always going to rain, writers are in the position to park a bucket over the rough spot. It’s high time we took responsibility for this. We’ve all got bills to pay, and sometimes work’s hard and daylight hours are few, but sacrificing gender values for clicks isn’t okay.