Well, I’ve had QUITE the week. I think the world thinks I lost my shit over a breakfast muffin. In reality, I tweeted a picture that I found bemusing/ mildly irritating. So here I am to clarify things!
Last week some time, I popped into a local cafe in central Bristol on my lunch break. I ordered a coffee and sat there for about half an hour, reading a book (Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking, in case you’re curious).
It’s not the first time I’ve been in that cafe recently and not the first time I’ve noticed their menu, which offered a ‘for him’ and ‘for her’ breakfast option. It had been mildly annoying me for the last few times I had been in there, and it was continuing to do so. I was not ANGRY or OUTRAGED, merely confused as to why they thought it was worth bothering to assign those options. It just seemed odd to me.
As many of you will already know, I am a passionate feminist but I don’t think I’m the sort to get offended over ridiculous things or obsess over political correctness. I just endeavour to be respectful to everyone and mindful of their background, culture and identity.
So I tweeted a picture of this menu. It took me about 20 seconds to take the picture and upload it on to Twitter.
In case you can’t quite see it, it reads:
FOR HIM: Tortilla, bacon, sausages, chargrilled tomato and portobello mushroom, cheddar cheese, ham, bread roll and butter.
FOR HER: Muffin, poached egg, smoked salmon, salad leaves, cherry tomatoes, avocado, red onion, blueberry, yoghurt, pumpkin seeds.
To be honest, both options sound delicious but as I like trying to eat healthily, I would probably have gone for the for her option. Does that mean I appreciate that choice being framed in the context of my sex? Not really. I think it is insulting to BOTH sexes to have prescribed choices, not just women.
It implies that men are mere cavemen, hunter-gatherer types who prefer meat. UG UG, ME MAN, ME EAT MEAT. MMM BACON. They are allowed all the fatty foods because it doesn’t matter if they get fat – they’re men.
It implies that women are health-conscious, and are – or should be – dieting. I must be careful with my pumpkin seeds, yoghurt and blueberries! I must maintain my dainty frame!
In tweeting this my point was simply that these kinds of instances of casual sexism perpetuate negative gender stereotypes on a larger scale.
Does it really matter? No. Did I intend to cause a massive drama? No.
One of my friends, Scott, retweeted this picture. He’s got quite a large following on Twitter as he’s a fairly well-known film critic/ journalist. That was when I started to get notification after notification on Twitter as people engaged with the tweet – favourited it, retweeted it, and commented on it. All the interaction I had with people was positive (i.e. they were agreeing with me). Some of my personal favourites include:
@catherinebray I’m a culinary transvestite.
@allyfrichards What!? This lady wants a superfood salad AND bacon, less a side of gender stereotypes
@ScottFilmCritic Only girls eat vegetables. As a man I eat nothing but bacon, steak, crisps and cheese.
@sarahchurchwell Can’t talk, I’m too busy savouring my one piece of allotted lettuce. Trying to eke it out.
@ScottFilmCritic Make sure you leave room for your blueberry.
The next thing I knew, I was contacted by a journalist from the Bristol Post asking if she could write a piece about it. In my naivety I agreed. She asked me for a quote and I obliged. Et voila… suddenly it was in the Bristol Post, and then on their Facebook page where over 100 people commented on it – mostly taking the piss out of me. Awesome. Apparently I should “get a grip”, “get a life”, and concern myself with more important things.
Some of the comments include:
“Bet if it had a section that said for the ladies and nothing mentioned about men then no one would bat an eyelid. Just further proof that now men are the suppressed sex.” Wow, missing the point and totally delusional to boot!
“How about ‘women only’ spas? Id love to see a group of men protesting outside because it’s sexist” Erm… kind of not the same thing.
“How is this offensive towards women? If we weren’t allowed in then it might be. Bloody lefty feminists!” Is it really that hard to work it out?
“How can bacon & sausage be the men’s choice? Women love sausage!” WOW. Wow. So much stupid. Slow clap for you, you funny bastard you. You’re so clever for making sex jokes! Because sausage is like a penis! Yes! Well done!
The ones that hurt the most are as follows:
“I think people should grow up and get a life if they are affected by some so trivial, there are more important things in life to concern ourselves with” – “Omg get a life it’s quite amusing if this is all some people have to moan about they obviously don’t have enough going on in their lives.” – “Wish I had the time in my life to worry about this. Sad.”
People can be BASTARDS about people they know nothing about! FYI, just to acknowledge those points together: I work 35 hours a week for a charity improving the lives of older people and have been since February. Before that I moved house and had a miscarriage. Before that I worked for a homelessness charity without pay for six months. For years I’ve been battling with a chronic illness which affects me in many ways every single day of my life. Sorry, what were you saying?
Anyway, the day after this was posted in the Bristol Post I was contacted by the Daily Mail who wanted to run the story. Now as someone with morals, I despise the Daily Mail and all that they stand for and perpetuate. They are vile. But there wasn’t anything I could do to stop them running the story – all I could do was try and provide some intelligent responses to their questions and give them permission to use my picture of the menu. I lost a lot of time from my working day because I was being hounded by the media and felt utterly overwhelmed. I sat down on my lunchbreak and replied to the email from the Daily Mail. A bit later that was published. To be fair to that journalist, despite a few typos, it wasn’t actually as bad as I thought it’d be. They didn’t even twist my words, although the comments are predictably hideous. I was particularly upset to read “People need to get a perspective on what’s important in the world, and what actually affects your life. Go to Kathmandu if you’re unsure.” as though I’ve never experienced hardship myself or campaigned for larger, more important issues. As I’ve said, I work full time for charity and I am WELL aware of current affairs and important world events and do MORE than my part to help. People are so quick to get on their high horse!
Next I got contacted by Made in Bristol TV, who asked me for a TV interview. HOLY FUCKING SHIT. I felt physically sick and wanted to say no, but I was already aware of how many people thought that I’d lost my mind over a breakfast option and I wanted the opportunity to try and clarify everything so I agreed. That afternoon I did the interview (runs as of 2:30 mins in. Please excuse my poor attempt to talk coherently, I was so flustered and in shock and blah. Words failed me pretty spectacularly).
That evening my friend told me the story had made it into the Mirror. This morning I got a text from a relative saying it was in the Daily Star – I checked the website and found the ‘she needs to get back in the kitchen’ comment pretty hilarious just because it’s so predictable. Today I got contacted by the Metro who have also run the story.
I NEVER expected or intended it to go this far – the most I expected was a few comments from my feminist friends saying “wow, that’s a bit stupid”. Nothing more. I have nothing against the cafe and I am aware that the his/ her menu idea was not borne of malice on their part. I hope the story hasn’t affected their business in any way.
All I want to say is that the reason seemingly “little”, trivial things like this bother me are because they are indicative of a larger societal problem of unconscious gender assumptions. Of course men and women are inherently different in some respects, but I’m pretty sure our digestive systems and ability to taste are biologically the same. A lot of what we expect of men and women are only that way because that’s the way they’ve been for hundreds of years – not for any good reason other than entrenched prejudices and oppression. I am well aware that any customer could order from either menu choice in that cafe and they would not be judged for that, but when things are segregated into X and Y it becomes a little prescriptive and uncomfortable. Would people not be offended if there were “for black people” and “for white people” options? Because let’s remember that people of colour and women are among the most oppressed social groups in history and prescribing choices based on those characteristics is equally insulting.
What people don’t seem to understand is that there is a continuum here. Yes, on the face of it a gendered menu is a trivial matter and ultimately unimportant. But the more people are exposed to these negative and ignorant stereotypes, the more pervasive and ingrained they become. These are the kinds of things that lead to not enough women being in science; not enough women being in politics; not enough women feeling able to return to work after childbirth for fear of seeming like they are ‘abandoning their children’ or because childcare is extortionately expensive. Women afraid to seem too ‘masculine’ and men afraid to seem too ‘feminine’; men afraid to take on the role of house-husband or primary care-giver to their children; boys afraid to play with barbie dolls and girls afraid to play with trucks.
For an excellent post on gender and food choices (by a MAN! Shock HORROR!), see here.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.