Steam Sisters

IMG_2998Earlier this year I launched ‘Leave Our Kids Alone’ with my friend Rupert Read.  It’s a campaign to ban all advertising aimed at the under 12s.

That campaign brought me into contact with a number of other campaigners concerned that childhood is no longer a time for parents to guide their children to the point where life stretches out before them and they can step out into the world with confidence; instead our children are increasingly at the mercy of those who don’t have their best interests at heart.

IMG_2993Two campaigns that have particular concerns about small children being pushed into gender roles through the sheer avarice, or laziness, of big companies are Pink Stinks and Let Toys Be Toys.

Pink Stinks has taken issue with everything for girls being pink – the princessification of society. It’s a clever ruse by manufacturers. Roughly half of two child families will have one girl and one boy.  Make all children’s things highly gender specific and you sell more stuff because little girls won’t want their big brother’s things and little boys sure as anything won’t want pink things from their big sister.

Let Toys Be Toys meanwhile is kicking back against retailers and manufacturers that market construction, activity and science toys as ‘boys toys’ and domestic, crafty toys as ‘girl’s toys’.

IMG_2988One advert from the 80s summed up for me the change we’ve undergone – it’s for Lego and it shows a little girl in dungarees with something she’s built. That little girl is the epitome of what 60s and 70s feminism did for 80s childhood. Now I’m desperately worried that the gains that women made post 1968 are being rolled back. Of course pay is more equal than it was (but not wholly equal), and there are more women in parliament and in boardrooms than in the 80s. But those high flyers grew up as their mothers were kicking up merry hell about inequality.  What now?

Will the Glee generation fight back or will they wax and buff and put out and shut up? In the media ‘role model’ after role model tells young women that the secrets of success are being pretty and becoming a celebrity – productised, plasticised celebrities that aren’t actually celebrated for anything. They’re just marketing on legs.

It was all brought home to me when Luca and I took our annual trip on the Kent and East Sussex Railway. This time we started at Tenterden and took Luca’s friend Aaron with us to Bodiam and back. The train to Bodiam was driven by a woman driver and engineer, shovelling the coal, coupling and uncoupling the engine – no concessions to their gender.

IMG_2989They summed up for me all that is brilliant about what feminism has achieved so far – and the promise of what is yet to be done. Sure, it’s not every little girl’s dream to drive a steam train. It’s not even every little boy’s dream.

The point is that all the post ‘68 liberation movements have been about the primacy of that thing we all have in common – our humanity – and that our humanity alone should be all that’s required to be allowed to live our lives and pursue our dreams regardless of what they may be, unimpeded by our race, our gender, our sexual orientation, disability or age.

IMG_2969I don’t want to grow old and find myself looking back at a time when so much more was possible for so many and to be mourning its passing. It’s too precious.

Just look at these two steam sisters! For them it’s a train. For someone else it might be a business, a cause, a family, an insatiable desire to discover, an instrument, a puzzle.

Let’s not go back to a world where our children have their dreams determined for them. Their chance to find their own, unique path through life, is something worth fighting for.

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