Last year I read an interview with the female footballer Eni Aluko. Her perspective of finding her way in a male dominated field was both inspiring and depressing.
At the age of 15 she joined Birmingham City Ladies and was labelled the “Wayne Rooney of women’s football”. When she was called up to the England youth squad however she found that when she fully displayed her skills in a way that might have been construed as showy, rather than the praise she was was expected, she was told to rein in her flamboyance. Where male players might have been lauded for their individual skill, she was encouraged to concentrate on enabling fellow team members rather than to experiment with her personal ability. Consequently she concentrated on just receiving the ball and passing it on, rather than following her instincts and developing her flair.
This kind of gender bias is surprisingly embedded in our society. When working in schools, I witness centuries of ingrained habit in subtly giving more leeway to boys and have also found myself falling foul of its all pervading power, try though I do to fight it.
It’s not a question of blame, and I don’t want to sound as if I am prejudiced against encouraging boys to become the very best they can be - I am absolutely not. However, we are only just at the beginning of the journey that sees our girls being given truly equal opportunity and reward for their efforts.
If we are to see genuine change it is up to all of us to be as vigilant as we can be, in our behaviour and our language until it becomes normal to say that the next up and coming footballing boy is the “Eni Aluko of men’s football”.
I’m sure you’re aware of all the continuing discussion around children and gender stereotyping, in the papers, on television and also within social media. Some time ago, I posted this quote on the 'How to Speak Child' Facebook page and it prompted a slew of comments, mostly expressing frustration at how engrained in common language those stereotypes can be.