About a year ago, the urchin joined a new daycare where they have a large box of dinosaurs, and a large box of dolls.
At home, the urchin has dinosaur toys, a dinosaur outfit, and does an impressive dinosaur roar, complete with clawing action.
On her first morning at this daycare, as she wailed and clung on, I tried to stop her tears by goofily waving about a stegosaurus. But her key worker, a quick-to-smile 20-something (who, disconcertingly, calls me ‘dad’), immediately resorted to the pink stuff. ‘Shall we change the dolly’s nappy?’, she asked. ‘Do you want to push the pram?’
And I wanted to say, ‘don’t do that’. But being English, I gave an awkward smile and left her to it. A Monday morning, with work waiting, didn’t seem the best time to launch into a half-considered speech on gender roles.
I’ve been quiet on this before. When relatives hand over ulcer-pink dolly sets or frilly princess outfits that would shame a young Barbara Cartland, I smile, say thanks, and quietly shunt them to the back of the cupboard.
It’s not an effort to deny her a girlhood, but more an attempt to offer her options. If she likes dolls, she can have dolls, but I’ll be offering her a toy truck as well. I want her to be as quick to pick up a ball as a Barbie, as confident at a lectern as in a kitchen. I want her to hit back if struck.
And it occurred to me that I might have accidentally become a feminist. So I looked the word up for the first time. I was half expecting to see a picture of a hairy-pitted harridan, or a definition that ran along the lines, ‘make-up-averse man-hater, wild-eyed castrator, gender bigot’.
Without thinking about it too much, I’d assumed the meaning that’s hinted at by most media portrayals: someone who believes in the primacy of women over men, a pro-female discriminator.
But it said, simply, ‘a person who supports women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes’.
And so, I thought, I guess I’m one of those then. Should I tell my mates? What will people think? Do I need to ‘come out’ or should I just keep it to myself? It’s a socially awkward thing to say, and the ‘ist’ words are rarely positive: facist, racist, fantasist. Cist.
But then I thought, well, how could you not be? If feminists believe in gender equality, then not being one means you actively believe in inequality: that blue is better than pink, so let’s keep the boys in charge. And that’s thinking to be challenged, particularly now that one of those guys is the most powerful person on earth.
Because words make a difference, and it seems to me that in 2017, it’s up to reasonable folk to call out the unreasonable at every step. Because if left unchecked, unreasonableness becomes normal, and in playgrounds and offices and bars, ‘grab ’em by the pussy’ slowly becomes an acceptable way to think, then to talk and then to act. It becomes normal to dismiss a woman who disagrees with you at work as having, ‘blood coming out of her wherever’.
So on 21 January, I’m going to the Women’s March on London, to quietly say: let’s be reasonable.