Talking to the Lads About Feminism

Parent, blogger and S&C regular Maddie Wallace talks to her two sons about feminism.

I think at nine and ten my boys are more than ready to begin to take on board the idea that girls and women, who may be anatomically different to them, are in no way less than equal to them. We came to this conversation via periods, because I also think it’s time they learnt that women have some stuff to deal with in life that they don’t.  That obviously makes boys no less equal of course. They just don’t have to deal with the monthly massacre in their underwear that girls do. Does that mean they can’t be understanding of periods? Hell no.

Their big sister explained to them that feminism is the campaign to gain equality for men and women, and to their credit they couldn’t understand why that is even a thing. ‘Why,’ said Zaki, ‘Aren’t men and women already equal?’ Good question. We explained all about the pay gap that still exists in the UK (19.7% in 2013) and how for many years in our society women were thought of as less important than men. I asked them if it would be fair if I payed them £1 every time they do the washing up but only gave their sister 81p for the same job. They were shocked.

In order to really get their attention we talked to them about  football, and how the FA originally banned the women’s sport in 1921 because they thought it damaged women’s bodies. They couldn’t understand how it could be any different to men’s bodies getting injured during the course of a match. We talked about the recent rise in popularity of women’s football since the FA reinstated it in the 1990s and the unequal representation it gets in pay, prizes and media attention.

Why is that? I know men who will openly state that women’s football isn’t as interesting as men’s. Maybe that’s because as little boys they weren’t encouraged to view women on the same level as themselves. Maybe it’s because as a national sport it receives very little media attention compared to men’s football. Maybe it’s because as a sport, football is still rooted in misogyny and in telling us that women can’t compete at the same level as men. In the UK, women’s teams pay more to enter the women’s FA cup than they receive in prizes. In 2015 the winning women’s team won £8,600. The men got £1.8 million each.

All this comes amongst the furore that is a European level football tournament, and the excitement little boys place in watching their national team win, OK draw, oh OK then lose against another national team. I told them our national women’s team came third in their last World Cup in 2015 in Canada, the best finishing position since England won the World Cup in 1966. I finally found a football statistic they didn’t know.

They told me all about the women’s league – their step sister is a talented player and supports the Arsenal women’s team. They told me about Marta, who they consider to be the best female player in the world – ‘She’s like Neymar’. Then they told me that they sometimes play the women’s teams on FIFA 16 and I was proud of them. Hopefully if the next generation of boys become men who view women as their equal there won’t be a pay gap, there won’t be this disparity of representation in sport, and feminism won’t be a thing anymore.

My sons are surrounded by strong women in their lives; their sister and step sister, their mother and step mother (who worked 4 days a week and attended college 1 day a week while pregnant with their brother and suffering severe morning sickness). I hope they are entering a world where Neymar and Marta are paid the same for doing the same job. If not, I hope they do something to change it, even it’s just at the level of telling their friends what is right and what is very, very wrong.

Image by Sarah Cheverton.