Can Island’s female role models make a difference today?

By Charlotte Hofton

Friday, March 21, 2014



It is almost a century ago that women in this country got the vote, though it was only a partial victory.

The first franchise in 1918 applied solely to females over 30 who met property-owning stipulations. It excluded 60 per cent of British women.

Whether much progress has been made in the cause of female emancipation since then is a complex and fiercely argued topic.

We’re constantly told there aren’t enough female MPs, scientists, brain surgeons, board members (though there’s apparently never a shortage of women banging on about shortages of women) and you think, well, maybe they have a point.

And then you look at the screeching ghastliness that is the ITV show Loose Women, a mix of fluff and filth that represents female sisterhood at its worst, or the vomiting ladettes in the gutter after a hen party, devoid of knickers, brain cells or self-respect.

You watch big girls in coffee shops discussing hair and make-up and you observe little girls wearing peppermint pink and dreaming of being a "celebrity" when they grow up, and then you think, it’s never going to change.

There’s little to stop women taking the jobs which are predominantly done by men, except women themselves. It’s not entirely their own fault. Conditioning starts early and Waterstones bookshop has this week joined a national campaign to stop children’s books being labelled as "for boys" or "for girls." One news story on the campaign contained pictures of two book covers — The Beautiful Girls’ Colouring Book and The Brilliant Boys’ Colouring Book.

Says it all really. We expect little girls to be beautiful and little boys to be brilliant, and then we complain when it all goes pear-shaped.

The Island, sadly, is probably no different from anywhere else. Pink and sparkle, that’s what all too many of our little girls are made of. And it’s a dangerous mindset.

If you want an insight into what happens when they grow up, take a look at the CP’s dating ads page.

A preponderance of women seeking men, with the vast majority describing themselves as "attractive", "pretty", "beautiful", "petite" or even "voluptuous."

Most men don’t bother to describe themselves at all, although some of them stipulate they require "a lovely lady." And they’ll undoubtedly get replies from women too dumb and desperate to cold-shoulder these arrogant idiots.

There’s nothing wrong in women making themselves look pretty, nothing wrong in an occasional bit of girlie chat. And while women should certainly be encouraged to aim high in the workplace, bringing up a family isn’t always a bad option either.

Women have done themselves yet another disservice by scorning the status of full-time motherhood, a task requiring far more intelligence and skill than many of the humdrum jobs which females rush back to after having a baby.

What’s most important is that women use real intelligence to make the right choices. That means we must stop conditioning little girls to think of themselves as princesses and explain to them they have proper brains which deserve more than the aspiration to be a celebrity.

How about the Island bucking the trend? We have at least a couple of female role models who would be appropriate.

Queen Victoria was a woman who knew her own mind, as was Julia Margaret Cameron, the Island’s iconic and pioneering photographer, who liked nothing better than to take command with her camera.

Mind you, some things may never change. Julia Margaret Cameron had a fearful penchant for soppy fairy wings and whimsical children. She may have been a little princess herself as a child. But you can bet she would have had no truck with the Beautiful Girls’ Colouring Book. At least she took proper pictures and didn’t muck around with stupid colouring in.

It’s end of term at Saint Charlotte’s

There may be a lot of dangerous discrimination in our attitudes towards gender differences in childhood, but boys and girls seem equally at home with the concept of having an imaginary friend.

Nikki Sheehan’s recently published book Who Framed Klaris Cliff? is about a boy with an imaginary friend, and its author discovered during her researches that there are still plenty of children who conjure up pretend playmates.

As a child, I didn’t have an imaginary friend so much as a totally exhausting imaginary undertaking which took up hours of time and deprived me of sleep.

I had a pretend school, of which I was the headmistress. I had to take registers, write reports, teach in imaginary classrooms, charge around an imaginary lacrosse pitch blowing my whistle. It was all very tiring and I didn’t even have Ofsted to contend with. Mine was an all-girls’ school (naturally my pupils all went to Oxbridge and then into marvellous jobs) but in the end it got too much.

When I was about ten I closed my imaginary school and discounted teaching as a career option. My years as a headmistress had taken their toll, particularly when I was scarcely six years old and had to take complete charge of the school sanatorium during an outbreak of measles.

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