Friday, 13 November 2009

Advice men never get

The Times Education Supplement reports on comments made by Jill Berry, president of the Girls' Schools Association, which represents the self-proclaimed leading independent girls' schools.

The advice is the usual "don't expect to have it all", with a secondary strand of keeping ambitions high anyway. It would probably do her pupils good if boys were also taught that "having it all" was not realistic without putting a lot of effort in to balance work and family life, too, but this doesn't get a mention in the article. The independence and ambitions she wishes her pupils to achieve would come more easily if the part of men in making it difficult wasn't ignored.

So that's the gendered differentiation in expectations, which was obvious just from the headlines this story got in the news. There's also a bit of heteronormativity, too. Less obvious just from the headlines is the classism.

A few examples:

[...] said it was "healthy" for girls to aspire to a "flash sports car with a baby seat in the back" [...]

I don't think it's unreasonable to have as an aspiration "have enough money that you can afford the things you need and still have some spare". A "flash sports car" - not even an ordinary everyday sports car - requires a lot more money than that.

They will need to realise that there may be times when they might not want to work, or they might want to take a lesser job because their priorities have changed. [...]

Or, most girls, when they grow up to be women, won't have the luxury of "not working because they don't want to" for much of their lives (and neither will most men, for that matter). They might end up in that "lesser job" (by which I assume she means "less well-paid" as opposed to "less satisfying", though both are true) because it was what was available, rather than because they wanted to do.

"Most women cannot keep all the plates spinning," she said; "sometimes the plates crash."

The dirty secret she refuses to reveal and so implies through omission isn't the case, is that most men can't, either. The difference is that women are expected not only to spin their own plates, but to catch any that fall off the men's poles.

When men are told not to expect it "all" either, then I'll be less critical of this sort of thing.

It doesn't surprise me that the head of an expensive private school doesn't consider the class privilege inherent in their statements. It does show how little critical journalism there is, however, that all the major news sources I've found reporting on this - TES, BBC, Reuters, Independent, Daily Mail so far - have presented her advice as advice applicable to girls in general, rather than the upper-class and possibly upper-middle class girls that Mrs Berry considers representative (conversely, of course, the advice is more applicable to boys than either Mrs Berry or the news organisations think)

Is there any major news organisation out there that doesn't just spend most of the day rewriting and reprinting press releases for the vast majority of its articles?