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Uncle Bob, ACCU 2012, Sexism and Despair

In his keynote at ACCU 2012 this morning, Uncle Bob made a couple of arguably ill-judged asides. They weren't grossly sexist, but they clearly came from a certain view of sex/gender stereotypes. A woman in the audience, quite reasonably, pulled him up on them at the time, and again after the keynote. Which was good. Uncle Bob, not actually being a sexist, nigh on immediately wrote and published a statement. For me this showed what an excellent person Uncle Bob really is. Serious respect - as the saying goes.

Being from the same era, albeit from the UK rather than USA, and a regular public speaker, I fully appreciate his difficulty. All through growing up we had stereotype sex/gender role models rammed down our throats. In the heat (and stress) of presenting, it is way too easy to let those early year attitudes creep through despite 40+ years of trying to ameliorate them and replace them with sensible attitudes of real equality. Let's forget political correctness here, that is almost as bad as the 1950s and 1960s sexism, let's talk about real equality.

Sadly UK and USA society remains fundamentally sexist: parents are the problem here. Boys are dressed in blue, given monster truck and guns as toys, and expected to be brilliant sportsmen or massive intellectuals. Girls are dressed in pink, and expected to learn to be good mothers, even being given dolls from Day 0. Dress codes and attitudes are fundamentally sexist: girls wear skirts, shirts or trousers, and from puberty onwards, are often expected to wear as little as possible in public showing as much skin as possible. Boys were shorts and then trousers and are expected to always be covered. Think of the rules of evening dress: women are expected to be in fabulous gowns showing as much skin, especially around the breasts as possible, men wear dinner suits. Only Scotsmen have permission to wear skirts and only then if they are 8-yard knife-pleat kilts with the full Victorian extras - but not a dirk, that would be illegal.

OK so there is a massive simplification here but...the core point remains valid. Parents enforce sex/gender stereotypes from Day 0 of a child's life and that is at the core of our society. Is it any wonder those children of more enlightened parents who want to break out of the standard models have a problem? In the case of ACCU 2012 we are talking "Girl Geeks". Sadly there remain far, far too few of them.

Uncle Bob's slip was not that serious but has become a bit of a storm in a teacup. However the underlying problem is very real and is a serious problem: our society has no real equality no matter what the law says. Until we find a way of men and women having equal opportunity generally even though women have to bear the children, sexism will remain systemic. Biology may assign sex/gender roles, but humans are surely intelligent and enlightened enough to be able to create equality despite this. Currently it seems not.

Being an individual male from the same era as Uncle Bob, I feel almost completely unable to do anything that will actually change things for the better. This is really depressing.


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