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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  1. #1 Sumanbibi 17 Jul 14

    Bland, predictable, shock tactic yawn. Where are all the groundbreaking black-asian women writers you have recently featured? They are the ones saying what's new.

  2. #2 Sultan Izzy 18 Jul 14

    ’They had wrinkles and pubic hair’

    Maybe in YOUR social class.

  3. #3 Zo 18 Jul 14

    Totally agree. I am a woman with a rucksack for work and feel patronised when as happens so often people still call me a girl ( I guess one day we'll grow up and become 'old girl'. Love the grab a sprout and check it out.... This could really catch on ;)

  4. #4 Nicky Warden 19 Jul 14

    I agree! Well said.

  5. #5 Amie Robertson 22 Jul 14

    I find the writers exclusionary feminism upsetting. I really understand that you want a world where women are not expected to act like children to appease men, that part we can all agree on. What we don't need is our sisters to pin against each other judging those of us that do like sparkly shoes and want to look after children. A women's intelligence, sex appeal or class should NOT be judged by what we wear, so let's stop doing it to each other!

    (I'm not even going to get into the classist nature of the piece as to keep it friendly)

  6. #6 Pedro Smith 24 Jul 14

    The supposed ’most popular role model’ for women is someone I haven't even heard of. I think this small fact is representative of the central problem with your article: in searching for new things to complain about, you've completely removed yourself from reality.

    I cannot see a single item in your grocery list of things to whine about that constitutes a real problem. At best, this is simply lazy and shoddy journalism. At worst, it is a distraction from the real challenges that women face.

    ’Successful women are not the smartest nor the most interesting’. When has this ever even been true of men?

    One last thing: you imply that misogynists ’get on board’ with condescending women's health activists because they make women think that they are weak (but the joke's on men, because women live longer. HA!). So what are you trying to say? That there's some conspiracy of misogynists who are posing as people trying to make women as healthy as possible while they secretly realise their ambition of insidiously making women feel week? What planet are you from?!

  7. #7 Eileen 26 Jul 14

    There's a lot in this article that I agree with, but some points seem to make the case that something that is feminine is not also professional or serious, e.g. ’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.’ I cringe at the term ’real women,’ but that aside, why don't clutch bags with poodle designs shout CEO? Why does a woman need to conform to the masculine archetype of CEO if she doesn't want to? I would rather we change the way we view femininity and rethink what values and attributes we assign to stereotypically feminine objects and proclivities, rather than ask that all women (and men) be concerned with masculine things as the only strong and serious things.

  8. #8 Colleen Ross 29 Jul 14

    I'm a farmer. I agree with this. I am told ’you don't look like a farmer’. Even other women look at me confused and somewhat appalled when I am dirty or driving a tractor, or handling tools etc.
    I love being in the world as a grown-up human being, doing what I do, with confidence and caring. It is called being HUMAN.
    We need to call other women out on their ’female’ bullshit. It's destroying the planet.

  9. #9 Lewis 30 Jul 14

    Why, why do you feel the need to attack all men. Wonderful, women live longer; why is it necessary to remind all males of that fact, insinuating that every man views females as girls to be looked after. So boring as a man and a feminist. Grow up yourself!

  10. #10 Amber 15 Aug 14

    While I admire your thinking, real women can choose whatever they want. I'm sure there are rucksack carrying CEO women wearing sparkly shoes and calling their vaginas froo froo. The real issue is about choice - once vagina was a taboo word, now we are all supposed to be teaching it to our children so when they are sexually abused they will be able to describe it clearly. Cheery. Its also about empowerment - encouraging women to reach for their dreams, sparkly shoes or none. As for the kids, well its choice again isnt it, work, stay home, do a bit of both. Myself I'm a rucksack carrying, part time working mother of 3 kids, got a Phd while looking after the first 2, and like sparkly shoes.

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This article was originally published in issue 474

New Internationalist Magazine issue 474
Issue 474

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