'Lipstick mechanics' won't help to smash gender stereotypes

5th August 2011 at 01:00

"Let's smash the stereotypes: helping pupils turn away from their 'proper' roles" proclaimed your magazine headline this week (29 July).

I then noted with surprise your choice of photographs to accompany the article (which was excellent, by the way): a pretty girl with tousled, long hair carrying (with discernible difficulty) a huge adjustable wrench in overalls that were too big for her.

I'm no social scientist, but in my opinion your choice of imagery subtly undermined the good intentions of the article and gently reinforced the negative stereotypes - girls are too weak, focus on looks, not work, and just don't belong in a workshop.

It looked as though she could not handle the tools, was made to look dirty and was in a workplace where they clearly don't have overalls that fit her (because "girls don't belong here unless they're on a calendar").

An alternative was to get an ordinary but determined-looking girl with hair tied back (as is the case for any person with long hair working in a workshop), holding tools in a way that suggests she is in control over them, with a stance that suggests she is working rather than posing. In short: a competent young woman prepared to swim upstream in a traditionally male workplace in order to achieve her goals.

If there is any major innate difference between the sexes, it is the natural confidence (justified or not) that boys acquire and lose only with a fight; contrasted with the snail-slow accretion of confidence, easily lost, by girls and young women.

With its above-average intelligence, editorship and readership, The TES owes it to girls and young women out there to promote them in a more careful way and not lapse into the lazy imagery that keeps women under-confident and under-achieving.

Mark Parris, Wolverton, Milton Keynes.

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