Last year, our Architect of Stories – Pamilerin Beckley was one of the speakers at TEDx Wolverhampton. Her idea worth sharing was that rethinking gender and refocusing power could potentially bring an end to violence against women and girls.
You can now watch the talk in full and read the original transcript below.
I stand here today as the Architect of Stories from The Haven Wolverhampton, and I’d like to share with you the story of Jack and Jill, who got married on a hill, and lived together… not quite so happily ever after.
At 6 Jack fell in love with dance. Ballet to be precise. He desperately wanted to join a dance class even though his friends found it funny. Dad was not so keen. He told Jack that ballet was for girls. He preferred football. A group of dads had started a football club and Jack enjoyed going with dad every Saturday as they got to spend some quality time together.
One day Jack fell on the pitch and bruised his knee. As he cried, dad helped him up and told him to “man up” and not be such a “big girl’s blouse”. They high-fived. Jack smiled and was back in the game in no time.
Jack’s mum would often bake on Saturday mornings while the boys were out playing football. One wet and windy November morning football was canceled. Jack really wanted to help mum with the baking. But he was told he had no business in the kitchen.
Occasionally, Jack would dance around in his bedroom, quietly pretending to be Billy Elliot. He would listen out for footsteps. Though he was having fun, he’d be embarrassed if he was caught doing such a “girly” activity.
As he grew up, he embraced “boys’ toys” and by the age of 13 he was a reclusive video game addict. By 19 he had given up his childhood dream to own his own dance studio. Instead, he was off to university to study chemical engineering and make dad proud.
At 4 she protested rather loudly that she wanted boy’s clothes because she hated pink and fluffy jumpers. Boy’s clothes were more fun. – and let’s be honest, more practical. She wanted the interactive cheeky little monster jumper for jumper day. The one with a zip for teeth. You unzip the teeth and the monster’s tongue falls out. She found it really funny. Mum was not so keen.
For three Christmases in a row, Jill only had one item on her list. A transformer toy. Yet every year Santa delivered dolls or cookery sets or more pink and fluffy jumpers. At age 9 when she unwrapped a smiley toy hoover, with a matching dustpan and brush set, she wanted Christmas canceled. Because quite frankly, why would anyone want to pretend to do domestic chores for fun?
As a teenager, Jill confidently announced that she would like to start earning some extra pocket money doing a newspaper round. She was so excited and while mum was willing to explore this with her, dad put his foot down and said no. Unless he was available to accompany Jill, it wasn’t safe and of course, he was not available.
A little later Jill started to attend a coding club at the local library instead. No extra pocket money but at least she was learning a new skill and she loved it! She didn’t bother mentioning it to mum and dad because she knew they wouldn’t be too impressed.
Like Jack at 19, Jill was ready for university. She decided she would pursue a degree in Design Technology.
Age 22 Jack and Jill found themselves together at university on a night out at the Student Union. 3 years went by and the lovebirds were still dating. Jack was miserably employed as a quality manager for an engineering company an hour away. Jill on the other hand was a senior developer at a local design agency. She also freelanced as a technical writer for a gaming magazine.
6 years later, now married and expecting their second child, Jill starts to realise Jack was not who she imagined spending forever with. When he proposed she said yes because well that’s just what you do isn’t it? Jill always thought she’d have it all. Marriage, family and a career. She was ambitious and determined. Jack on the other hand expected to marry a woman much like his mother – a homemaker focussed on her family.
Jack decides that Jill does not have to go back to work after baby number two because just like his dad he will become the sole provider even if it meant finding another job or working longer hours. He believed that they would save a lot of money on childcare while Jill spends more time with the children.
Jack and Jill are definitely tumbling down the hill.
Life is not always a happily ever after fairy-tale and Jack and Jill are definitely not an anomaly. You can probably identify with aspects of their story. Perhaps you are a Jack or a Jill? Maybe you see yourself in their parents? More than likely, someone sitting here today has told an assertive girl like young Jill that she is too bossy, or a sensitive boy like young Jack that he is a wimp and shouldn’t be such a girl.
Or maybe you are one of those who believe that toys are gendered; so boys get all the action-packed mechanical toys while girls get dainty dolls and hoovers. Without realising how crucial play is to a child’s development and how they learn about the world. Toys should really just be objects that spark interest and creativity in early years, regardless of gender.
I’d like us to ask ourselves what we are trying to achieve when we let our sons get away with micro-aggressive behaviour because “boys will be boys”, yet silence and stifle our daughters and teach them to be submissive in servitude?
What are we trying to achieve when protecting our sons’ masculinity overrides and erodes our daughter’s humanity?
What are we trying to achieve when we teach girls to be modest and virtuous because maintaining their virginity adds to their value and preserves their dignity, but forget to raise boys who understand that women have autonomy over their bodies. No ifs. No buts. No hands upskirts on the school playground. No grabbing butts or other body parts for that matter because consent is a must.
How did a whole generation center the empowerment of women, without centering men’s understanding of living with empowered women?
How do we not realise that every time we say to a boy; “don’t be such a girl”, what is implied is that women are unworthy beings who are beneath men? If you socialise a young boy to believe that being a girl is a negative thing, how do you expect him to see women as equal beings deserving of respect as a man?
As much as people think the feminist agenda is to conquer the world and take it over, most women just want an opportunity to live their lives to the fullest, be independent, and be free from the potent fear of violence that we are faced with daily; to be able to walk home at night without fear or concern! If we manage to rethink stereotypical gender norms; especially when it comes to defining masculinity and refocusing our ideas about power, we can begin to see the end of violence against women and girls.
According to the 10 Year femicide census, 92% of the women from reported cases in the UK that were reviewed, were killed by their current or former male spouse or intimate partner. 91%. Meaning that nearly all of them meet their end in the hands of men they once loved and trusted.
For girls like my daughter who have to deal with micro-aggressive behaviour from boys in school, but then get into trouble when they lash out. For the young women who are offered no real protection even when they follow all the sexist safety rules. For all women who continue to suffer brutally under the thumbs of those who should be our lovers, partners, defenders, family, and friends, now more than ever, what the world needs are as many movements mentoring, teaching, inspiring, and motivating young boys and men, as there are for young girls and women. Because though these may seem like varying levels of bad behaviour, they speak to a wider culture that accepts these behaviours as the norm, therefore placing the onus on women to protect themselves, while refusing to hold men accountable, or at best, giving them a slap on the wrist. We have to focus a little less on what we let our daughters out of the house wearing, and a whole lot more on what we let our sons out of the house thinking. To paraphrase one of my favourite memes: Maybe she isn’t dressed like a slut. Maybe he just thinks like a rapist?
Part of our strategy for early intervention and prevention at The Haven is to MENgage as well as empowHER. MENgage. empowHER. We are going into schools and communities, engaging with young boys and girls to explore and critically analyse gender norms. We want them to understand that when we respect, trust and treat each other as equals, we fit together better, without force or the need for one to overpower and control the other. If only we can take on a more collaborative approach to power, we can achieve a whole lot more.
We want boys like young Jack to know that being vulnerable and sensitive doesn’t make you less of a man. We want them to know that they can speak up about how they feel. We want to challenge their assumptions and misconceptions about gender, about identity, about themselves. We want to cultivate an appreciation for individual identities and personalities that do not have to be tied to stereotypical gender roles or sexuality. We want to develop skills that encourage young boys to be allies to others in the face of discrimination and bias.
We need enabling environments where young men can express, question, and deal with their emotions without fear. We need youth coming together, boys and girls, to discuss these issues, get a better understanding of each other, and proffer solutions for societal change – in unison.
Imagine if Jack rejects his patriarchal power over Jill and instead cultivates power with her in collaboration and in solidarity – a collective power to work together recognising that neither can do it alone. Maybe Jill would go back to work in a job that she loves while Jack stays at home to help out with the children, giving him the opportunity to explore opening the dance studio he always dreamed off. The he wouldn’t have to go back to a job that he hates just because he feels emasculated by the optics of being a stay-at-home dad, while his wife is the main breadwinner.
Imagine if Jack was so far removed from patriarchy that he can now confront other men who treat women disrespectfully and unlike Jill’s dad he understands that sometimes, overprotective fathers with good intentions, only teach their daughters that it is okay to be controlled, if it is done out of love and concern.
I imagine a world where I can be as fearless, assertive and unapologetic in my resolve as male colleagues without being considered butch or aggressive and where being masculine doesn’t have to be synonymous with physical strength, power or being emotionally repressive.
Now that is the world that my dreams are made of. How about you?