I like to think I’ve banged the drum for feminism for a respectable chunk of my adult life. I’ve been fired from a student job after complaining about the tight t-shirts that constituted our uniform. (I lasted one day.) I’ve rallied against inequality of pay, confronted lecherous men, and worked my guts out in a corporate environment to break through the old boys network.
I’ve been gated, suspended, and expelled by my schools because I refused to conform to their expectations about how a girl should behave. (Although I’m sure they’d disagree and just put it down to the fact that I was a bolshy rat bag with major tude.)
I experiment with facial hair (as in, have it), go out looking extremely unkempt with no make-up, (although that’s mostly down to slothery and poor time-management, to be fair) and had my fair share of sexual liberation.
When I became a mum to my now four year old daughter, feminism became even more important. I discretely recycled the gifts that limited her choices to looking nice or having pretty things. I encouraged her to think about what she can do, rather than what she looks like. I’ve banned the Disney Tinkerbell films from our house because of the ridiculous way she looks and talks to her friends. (Sacharrine and unrealistic. No vodka or swearing anywhere.) I even, heavens to Betsy, changed all the words in ‘Superworm’ from ‘he’ to ‘she’ so my daughter could identify with an animal protagonist that wasn’t male. (It’s a farce the number of animals that are male in children’s stories. Mice and rabbits = mostly female. Crocodiles, bears, and basically anything that gets to have fun = mostly male.)
So, I used to think that when it came to feminist credentials, I was not too shabby. Until this week. I’ve gone about redecorating her bedroom, and oh my fuck it is a political MINEFIELD.
Partly, I put it down to Pintrest. I went there to get a few ideas on transforming a nursery into a girl’s room. Just a few ideas, that’s all. Perhaps some tips on how to transform her rather tatty chest of drawers, or add pizzaz to her old curtains. Half-an-hour later and I was a drooling mindless wreck.
My brain whirred long into the night with visions of slopping highly expensive Annie Sloan chalk paint over anything that couldn’t run for its life. I was convinced that the future lay in gold spots (the Americans call them decals, and they are BIG on Pintrest) gold spray, pom pom trims, and apple crates stuck to a wall next to some dried out bunches of hydrangeas. So practical! So necessary!
And so my madness began. I did buy chalk paint, and I painted Antoinette blue over a perfectly nice wooden chest of drawers. I slashed her curtains, took down old shelves, and nearly earnt myself a divorce one sunny Sunday afternoon by forcibly suggesting to my husband that he deconstruct her old Ikea changing station for three hours, while I gibbered around him having a mini-breakdown because I didn’t know if we had enough space to hang-up a reading wigwam festooned with fairy lights.
And – the shame of it – I painted her bedroom pink. All of the walls. Every last one of them. And – even worse – I told everybody that she had chosen the colour. She hadn’t, not really. At first she’d said Green. I’d blanched at green – it not fitting into my colour scheme – and said softly, with Machiavellian cunning – ‘or pink?’
I’m disgusted at myself. I CONDITIONED HER. I was swept up in a decorating mania as surely as if Hello were coming to photograph me in my lovely Chester home. The importance of a colour scheme became more important than my feminist principles. And when I started to paint Dulux’s ‘Pretty Pink’ on her bedrooms, I swallowed everything I’d previously held dear, and felt a tiny part of me die inside.
It doesn’t end there, I’m afraid. I’ve put a mirror in her bedroom. She has a bucket with hairbrushes and hair clips in. She’s got an old birdcage ( yep – I sprayed it gold ) and she hangs her bracelets in it. Clearly, I’ve got a long way to go.
The moment I went bat-shit crazy Pink-gate, as I now call this episode of my life, has been acutely painful, but if there’s any redeeming quality to it, it’s to see it as a learning experience. I can’t sit back and be complacent anymore. Just because I see myself as a strong confident woman doesn’t mean that I’m not as susceptible as everyone else is in conditioning my child in the old ancient unhelpful ways of girly useless shit. Painting her walls pink is not the end of the world, but underneath all my posturing about equality and ability and empowerment, I’m just as liable to ignore that little quiet voice that says ‘green’ and enforce my own views about looking nice, looking pretty, and fitting in with the herd. Breaking free is harder than I thought, but maybe that’s the point.