New Internationalist

Cupcakes can fuck off

July 2014

Our new columnist Kate Smurthwaite tires of weird infantilizing representations of women.

Where have all the women gone? I’m not talking about kidnappings, forced veiling or domestic violence. I’m talking about women. Grown-up women.

Call me callous, but if you get all excited about cup cakes, speak in a high-pitched voice when you see sparkly shoes or refer to your genitals as ‘froo froo’ or ‘lady garden’, you’re out. I’m not talking about girls. Women. If you’re old enough to carry a child to term and give birth to it, you’re old enough to describe the orifice it comes out of using a scientific term.

I blame the media – for everything, actually. Who’d want to ‘grow up’ in a world where older women on TV are more likely to be in a gross-out comedy sketch about cougars than reading the news or presenting a documentary? It’s no surprise our daughters don’t see maturity as an asset when the most popular role model around thinks a sensible name for a child is Princess Tiaamii.* I’d be embarrassed to call my hamster that.

It’s a strange Faustian pact. The patriarchy begrudgingly allows women into the media on the understanding that they leave their personalities at the door. ‘Look,’ we’re told, ‘women are breaking through the glass ceiling!’ Except they’re not: they’re limbo-ing under it by being inoffensive and delicate and stupid and giggly and fluffy.

Not actually fluffy. Heaven forfend! They are waxed and plucked to look the way I did when I was 10. I remember thinking I’d peaked early.

The language of it has become normalized. My gym instructor feels the need to shout ‘come on, girls’ every five minutes. I don’t know who she’s talking to. I’m 38.

Among the worst offenders are women’s health activists. In adverts that look as though someone just vomited Cherry Aid into the Disney Store we’re reminded to check our ‘boobs’ (never ‘breasts’) for lumps or to ‘coppa feel’. It’s the one area of women’s rights that misogynists can get right on board with – reminding women that we are weak and sickly. (Newsflash, men: we consistently outlive you.)

And it’s possible to raise awareness about health issues without patronizing people. Testicular cancer kills but no-one tells men to ‘grab a sprout and check it out’.

The worst thing is that this creates a feedback loop to societal misogyny. Women are promoted based on these weird, infantilizing criteria. Successful women are therefore not always the smartest or most interesting. And the promotion of these women is stalled. Clutch bags with poodle designs on might be adorable and unthreatening but they don’t shout ‘CEO’. Real women would rather get a rucksack or a briefcase and get on with the job.

The other undesirable effect of acting like children is that when it comes to looking after them, women are inadvertently putting themselves at the front of the queue. Feminism fail.

Our foremothers were farmers, warriors, weavers and builders. They had wrinkles and pubic hair and opinions. It’s time to stop rewarding women for looking and behaving like toddlers. It’s time to grow up.

*the daughter of former glamour model Katie Price

Kate Smurthwaite is a comedian and activist. See her website.

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 474 This column was published in the July 2014 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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