Gender, Power, and Carpets

by Mothership on February 2, 2010

I spent yesterday evening broodily staring at a rug that I bought earlier in the afternoon which was meant to replace the one in the living room. I wasn’t sure it was really working.

It’s predecessor started life with us as a respectable (if foolishly chosen) off-white  but has become so covered in stains and sundry blobs of indeterminate nature despite frequent steam cleanings and the no-food-on-the-carpet rule, that even I, with my low-lighting policy and general air of denial regarding child-related squalor could no longer pretend that it was not completely and utterly revolting.

As luck would have it I was given a rather generous gift by my father from Pottery Barn (it isn’t a barn and they don’t sell pottery) this Christmas in the form of a lamp which, as it turned out, didn’t fit in our house – either physically (literally no space) or with our decor  ( I use this term in its loosest tense). So I had returned it and thus had a fat gift card waiting for an opportunity to be spent. Admittedly I had peeked at rugs a few weeks ago but decided it wasn’t really a critical purchase after talking it through with Husband. He said that Two, in particular, was not likely to be any tidier or cause less wear on a new carpet (of course I was looking at off-white again) so what was the point of blowing a perfectly good gift-card opportoonity (this last said with heavy irony in a psuedo American accent, most odd with his German one peeking through) on something that would look the same as what we had in just a year or so.

Good point, Husband. And I concurred.

But this was before Two got his horrible cold this week and went on two different antibiotics.

Which gave him hideous diarrhea.

And made him want to take his nappies off himself without telling me.

He was watching a very interesting program about cats at the time so he thought he’d just sit straight down again once he was free of the offending diaper.

On the rug.

I’m wondering if that visual that will remain as indelibly in your mind as on my carpet

I did a quick cost-benefit analysis and I cleverly worked out that it was going to be much, much, much better, both financially and emotionally if I spent that gift certificate on a new rug from Pottery Barn and as luck would have it there is a branch not five minutes from our house so the three of us tootled down and made our purchase.

I waited until the children were in bed before I unrolled it to have a look and it’s very pretty – perhaps too pristine and pale – so I thought I’d look at their online catalogue to see if there were other colours that weren’t available in the store in case I wanted to exchange it for something else.

After about 20 seconds I was incredibly bored by rugs. And all of their other furniture. I idled over to the Pottery Barn Kids (it isn’t a barn, and they don’t sell pottery or kids) website to see if there was anything interesting there.

There was. But not necessarily in a good way.

I clicked on to Boy’s Rooms first.
They are arranged by theme. Some were absolutely fantastic! Constellation themed rooms with summer and winter skies on carpets and wallhangings ( I want one!) Astronomy bedsheets! Rocket ships on pillowcases that you can have monogrammed (if you are that sort of person which I am absolutely not). Safari rooms! Weyhey! I’m an explorer! Elephants, Lions!  Pirate bedrooms – sail the seven seas , Arrrr! Construction bedrooms; build your own fantasy, yeah! Junior Varsity bedrooms! You can be a sports star! You can do it because you are ALL ACTION!!

Then there were Girl’s Rooms.
They were not really themes as such. They were labelled by different girl names ‘The Morgan room’ ‘The Emily room’ etc. “Brooke’s French Rose Room”
Most were pink. A lot of them had flowers. One or two may have included a bird or a butterfly and there was the odd fairy floating around.
Every single one of them was fit for a princess who would be sure to wait for an action-oriented, safari walkin’,space-hoppin’,sea-farin’, sports-playin’ prince to rescue her.
You can be feminine and loveable because you are PASSIVE and DECORATIVE!

I really thought we were past this kind of stereotyping. But apparently not

It annoyed me so much that I decided on principle to take the rug back to the shop.  When the sexy 20-something sales assistant asked me in a bored corporate way why I was making the return, I gave her the reasons I have outlined above.
She just about stopped herself from rolling her eyes, gave me one of those fixed, glassy
I have to be polite to you because you are the customer smiles and said brightly, in her, like, California way

“Oh, gee, I’m so sorry that didn’t work out for you, I can’t give you your money back, but I can give you a gift card for that if there’s nothing else you want right now”

this roughly translated as

Shut the fuck up, I’m, like, totally uninterested in your middle-aged militant views

I would have laughed, but it actually made me a bit sad to think that her attitudes were the legacy that Five was going to inherit.
When did feminism become a four-letter word?

A friend of mine saw a college girl wearing a t-shirt the other day that read

“Too cute for math”.

Too cute for math?? WTF??

How about “I enjoy paying good money to be patronised!” or

“I am a person who likes to participate in my own humilation – why not join in, and denigrate the rest of my gender while you’re at it!”

It’s been a while since our mothers burned their bras – the feminist consciousness raising of the ’60’s and ’70’s led to the political correctness of the ’80’s and somehow gave leeway to a backlash in the ’90s and now we have a generation of young women who really seem to have no idea of how hard their rights have been fought for – and how far there still is to go. In many parts of the world women are still not allowed outside without a man’s permission and yet in a country as privileged as the USA, where a person of any gender or race has the opportunity to study and work, a young woman will spend cash on a product (probably made using the labour of oppressed 3rd world women) to boast that  her mind is not being used.

This is not progress, ladies.

The stain on my carpet seems fairly insignificant compared to this.


1 Mrs Trefusis February 2, 2010 at 11:31 pm

I hear ya sister.
I have similarly trenchanr views when it comes to Sex & The City: a whole generation of women had liberation sold back to them as the right to look for a boyfriend, so they could validate themselves by having A Relationship.
I’ll wave a placard if you organise the march (& there’s a new book out by Natasha Walter that I think we’d both enjoy Reading)

2 Arlene Wszalek February 2, 2010 at 11:49 pm

I was at a conference last week. One of the speakers, the CEO of a respected new media company, stated that she often felt at a bit of a nighttime networking disadvantage: “we women can’t really work past 4 or 5, because we need to be home for our husbands and children… my husband wouldn’t like the idea of me being out to drinks or dinner with other men, even if only for work purposes.”

I was so upset by this, I had to leave the room to keep from standing up and saying “excuse me, WTF???”

If that’s how she and her husband choose to live (and work), more power to them and I’m no one to say otherwise. But to imply that it’s true for many or all women, and to say that in front of a room of several hundred (overwhelmingly male) tech movers and shakers… it felt to me like she set the cause back a century or two.


I understand if one
.-= Arlene Wszalek´s last blog ..Wzzy: @grumptastic Now’s when the parenting begins… getting him to stay there because he *should*, not because he’s trapped 😉 =-.

3 Poppy Gets a Life February 2, 2010 at 11:55 pm

“Too cute for maths”?! That is so infuriating. If it’s any consolation, not all women in their 20s have neglected the rights and liberations that have been handed down to us.
.-= Poppy Gets a Life´s last blog ..Interview with Ashley Tell from Golden Palomino Vintage =-.

4 Julietdh February 3, 2010 at 12:01 am

Wholeheartedly with you… I love my hot magenta scarf, but I can still chop my own firewood (oh alright I use a chainsaw but who has time to use an axe AND make the Sunday roast?). I blame Disney and Barbie.
Seriously though, two clever sisters in the UK have started the PinkStinks campaign, on which there’s this excellent piece in the Guardian, one of our more liberal broadsheets:

5 amjustme February 3, 2010 at 1:10 am

Excellent post, and great link from Julietdh too.
Really, its quite depressing.

6 TheMadHouse February 3, 2010 at 1:14 am

I too have issue with this, its not the pink, its the rest of it. I hate slogan T shirts, I hate the thought that girls are not as good as boys. The way that I am doing my bit is to ensure the mini mads are brought up to respect woman and know that they are just as if not more capable than men, after all they have a fab mum
.-= TheMadHouse´s last blog ..Children’s Craft Showcase – Valentine Hearts =-.

7 ubiquitousrat February 3, 2010 at 1:30 am

Pink was originally the boys’ colour, with blue the girls’ colour. That changed sometime around 60 years ago. It saddens me that we can’t just have “children’s” and “adult” sections in shops. We gave up “black” and “white” segregation in shops, didn’t we? Do we really need gender segregation in shopping?
.-= ubiquitousrat´s last blog ..Gonna Run a Mile =-.

8 ThatGirl39 February 3, 2010 at 2:19 am

I agree with the second part of your post although I try not to take the boys v girls thing too seriously or it would drive me crazy. Luckily SC is into all things equal, she says boys should wear pink as she likes wearing blue and chooses Lego over dollies anytime. Although, just like her mother she is showing a predilection for shoes….. Now I just need to try and get the picture out of my mind sparked off by the first part of the post!
.-= ThatGirl39´s last blog ..Jumping On the Bandwagon =-.

9 FloreatMagdalena February 3, 2010 at 2:53 am

As if it could get worse than the ‘math is hard’ talking Barbie. Lordy. Lovely post. xx

10 Quixotic February 3, 2010 at 2:57 am

To cute for math?!?!?! SERIOUSLY?!?!?!??!?!
Jesus (and the entire liberate female population) wept!!!
.-= Quixotic´s last blog ..Poor Jen – yeah right!!! =-.

11 Noble Savage February 3, 2010 at 3:27 am

Too cute for math? *vomits* It really is sad that so many women willingly participate in their own oppression, all in an effort to be ‘cute’ or seen as ‘having a sense of humour.’ Because lord knows that if a woman calls herself a feminist or doesn’t laugh at every sexist joke out there, she’s a prude, a feminazi and a frigid bitch. Oh, and a man-hater who wants to take over the world. Naturally.

Just yesterday, my 3-year-old daughter said “Pink is for girls and blue is for boys.” She ain’t getting that message at home, that’s for sure, so I know that this has been imprinted upon her little brain by all of the pink/blue divisions she sees in every shop we walk into, every catalogue we look through and by what she sees her peers wearing and doing. It’s infuriating. I calmly explained that boys can like pink too and that girls like other colours besides pink and then showed her some pink shirts in my husband’s wardrobe and some grey, blue, green, red, brown, etc.. tops in mine. She got it, but I know that the other messages she is bombarded by are having more of an effect than I’d like. It’s f’ing disgusting.
.-= Noble Savage´s last blog ..Sometimes you feel like a Brit, sometimes you don’t =-.

12 Knackered Mother February 3, 2010 at 3:40 am

Fabulous post, a really great read. Definitely got Natasha Walters’ new book on my list. After two boys, I now have a baby girl and am so aware of how much they are ‘prettified’ – clothes, toys, bedrooms. She lives in hand-me-downs so usually dressed in ragged boys clothes but with a token hairclip, can’t resist.
.-= Knackered Mother´s last blog ..The Late Post =-.

13 Tara@Sticky Fingers February 3, 2010 at 3:42 am

I totally don’t have that with my daughter who is so not girlie. But you’re right in that they are constantly bombarded with stereotypes at every turn.
At a recent school event the boys were to be pirates and the girls were to be mermaids – but my girl didn’t want to be a mermaid she wanted to be a pirate and it didn’t go down well.
And don’t even get me started on slogan clothes for girls. I saw a girl in a pair of joggers with ‘foxy’ written across the bum. She was about 6!
.-= Tara@Sticky Fingers´s last blog ..Do you think Robbie Williams ever had this problem? =-.

14 Jaime A. February 3, 2010 at 4:41 am

Totally agree (although I kind of wish I had been too cute for math, since I hated it, but that’s just me 😉 )…but let me set a tiny little kitten among the pigeons….

I was very much in the militant feminist vein growing up – and proud of it. The only problem (I now see) is that I ended up equating everything that was “feminine” with “not as good”, because I shouldn’t want to play dolls, I should want to play cars, etc….it took me a lot of years to be able to justify feeling feminine and soft and attractive and “pink” with also being independent, strong and capable.

For my little girl, I certainly have to admit that I adore dressing her up (I was never allowed Barbie as a child :-) ) and she has dolls and soft things and her room is lavender and pink. However, she also adores lego (like her maman!) and cars and trains, and she’s mental about books. If there’s one thing I hope for her it’s that she will be able to enjoy WHATEVER she wants – be it Thomas the Tank Engine or Tinkerbell – and know that she’s a girl, and that being a girl is GREAT.

15 nappyvalleygirl February 3, 2010 at 7:39 am

Too cute for math? That is outstandingly depressing…..and agreed, hate, hate, hate that pink is the only colour seemingly allowed for girls. If I had a girl, I think I would deliberately dress her in any other colour. Great post, and it’s important that these things keep on being said.
.-= nappyvalleygirl´s last blog ..10 reasons you know it’s February on Long Island =-.

16 Cassandra February 3, 2010 at 9:19 am

Brilliant post but too f*cking depressing for words. Do you follow @vivgroskop on Twitter? She’s a writer and she is a TOTAL feminist who appeared on Woman’s Hour recently having the pink-is-not-just-for-girls argument with gusto. She is totally brill. Also, for silly light relief, did you know that you can change your Facebook to pirate speak? TOTALLY brilliant. Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! (Also – I WISH I was good at maths, just to challenge the stereotype, but I am not. Can’t park v well either and it’s one thing that makes me very, very angry.)

Totally agree that girls simply don’t realise how women fought for our rights, what it COST. Should be compulsory in school history classes.
.-= Cassandra´s last blog ..Thanks, sorry and The Snoggies =-.

17 Potty Mummy February 3, 2010 at 10:28 am

Great post. But of course I am hugely disappointed to learn you don’t go in for monogrammed pillow cases… And I totally get your taking a stand on the Pottery Barn products – I did the same myself recently with a Disney dvd – and am wondering where this anti-feminist ‘ironic’ branding is going to stop. It’s ridiculous. Why denigrate yourself this way?
.-= Potty Mummy´s last blog ..Small World, Russian Style =-.

18 Em February 3, 2010 at 1:31 pm

There may be hope yet! My 13 year old daughter recently came home astounded that after dinner at her friend’s house the older brothers sat around being waited on hand and foot by the mother and friend. It sounded hideously like something out of the 1950s and I was thrilled she was so offended.
I particularly can’t bear the dumbing down of girls that seems to be acceptable.

19 Meredith February 3, 2010 at 5:49 pm

I have just started reading you and you are already my new favorite blogger for your excellent topics! :-)

I think there is destined to be a backlash against feminism by girls as they become so very removed from the realities that created the feminist movement. Women had to organize to vote and we don’t even think of this anymore. It is like the TV show Mad Men – of course it is a fictionalized drama but still it gives a peek into all the indignities that women suffered in the office and how their choices were so limited. Many trying to get their “Mrs degree.”

That was 50ish years ago, a whole generation, and our generation was raised by those women but now these new generations take a lot for granted. The whole notion that they can do and be anything was handed to them so in a sense, there is less fight in them. Less reason to “fight the power.”

I have both a son and a daughter. My son is 5 and up until maybe a year ago liked to put on princess dresses when he got home. We got him 3 of them in all different colors, including pink. Now he says they are just for girls and told us to give them to his sister, who just turned a year old. We did not tell him that boys can’t wear dresses, he is getting it somewhere, most likely at school.

My girl wears an unGodly amount of pink because she wears 90% handmedowns from friends with older girls. I have to admit, she looks all cute in all her pink but as she grows up, we plan to expose her to everything and let her decide what she likes. I am sure there will be peer pressure, like my son got, to determine something she likes “is not for girls” but I am not sure how to counter that other than assuring her (and him) that if they like something, they shouldn’t give it up just because it is something usually for the other gender.

Hopefully by this I will raise a girl less likely to wear a “Too Cute for Math” T-shirt and a boy less likely to want to date someone wearing it. But you never know…
.-= Meredith´s last blog ..Mom Update =-.

20 60s bra-burner February 3, 2010 at 11:57 pm

Supern blog – how sad that this is a topic in 2010. Not sure that it’s just about taking our gains for granted. We were a minority of women, albeit a highly publicized and ultimately effective minority back then. Many women too were intimidated by our militancy. Like struggles in so many arenas, the majority were not involved. I think rampant consumerism with its concomittant dumbing down also plays a huge role in diverting concerns from serious stuff to utter trivia. In South Africa, the black majority were not involved in the long, long struggle for liberation; today, tragically their children, who have inherited the victories of that struggle, are either still struggling to survive, or totally consumed by acquiring bling. Conscientizing is a long, hard process it would seem.

21 Catherine February 4, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Love the post. I completely agree. If I ever have kids, I want them to feel fine being and playing with whatever they want. I grew up in a country where some horrible things are done to women in the name of religion, and value every moment of being able to be single and living alone. If I went back to Egypt, I would have to live with my parents…

I hate the trends in the stores that have bling across the butt, or low-cut shirts proclaiming ‘hoochie mama’. So many shirts, even ones from the organic ‘granola’ movement are just so derogatory…

22 Mothership February 4, 2010 at 10:25 pm

Wow! Thanks, everyone, for all these brilliant comments!
Mrs. T. Thank you for the book recommendation. I shall put it on my list (Oh please come out on Kindle, please please)
Especially want to shout out to Julietdh for that great link – I reposted it on the MTFF facebook page and on my own FB, too. LOVED IT.
Arlene, that is truly shocking. And it’s also a shame that there was not an opportunity to correct her or to get those men to hear otherwise. Were there no other women speaking? REPULSIVE!!
AmJustMe. Isn’t it? Sigh.
THeMadHouse. The pink is just the gateway to the rest of the crap. I battle it every day. I had a serious word with one of Five’s friends yesterday – she was beating him at bowling so he was taunting her by saying “Boys are stronger than girls, you can’t win because we’re better” and she was getting really upset. The Dad just SAT there (his) and did sweet FA so I finally turned to the child and said “Do not EVER say anything like that again. Not to any female. It’s disrespectful to me and disrespectful to my daughter. DO YOU UNDERSTAND??” And both the father and son nodded, terrified.
ubiquitousrat; I was aware of this colour flip. I, too , think it’s ghastly that we have segregated shopping. I generally don’t shop at the worst offenders as a matter of principle, but if I avoided them altogether there’d be almost nowhere to go. That is tragic.
ThatGirl39. Take it seriously. Go crazy. Then do something. I mean it!
FloreatMagdalena. I really hope the math is hard Barbie was just a Simpsons joke. Wasn’t it? Wasn’t it???
Quixotic. Yes. I’m serious. Grab your spear, this means war.
Noble. It is very hard to be a lone crusader for feminism in one’s family (not that NH is not helping) against the marketing industry. I had a major tantrum on my hands when I said to Five this evening that I didn’t particularly like the musical Tinkerbell book her grandmother had irritatingly sent her (thus neatly tying together all the things that annoy me most in a book – noise, Disney and females who act in a stereotypically idiotic way). This prompted a fit of desperate weeping, as if I were actually murdering fairies with my bare hands, and she said that she wanted to be the kind of girl who liked Barbies and fairies and she wanted me to be that kind of girl too and I just WOULDN’T so she couldn’t PLAY WITH ME. (was I being ostracized? or just criticized? not sure..)
Knackered Mother. I notice how much less I care what Two looks like than I did with Five when she was tiny. Partly 2nd child syndrome, but also I was seduced by the doll-clothes thing. Like Jaime I didn’t have dolls so this was a novelty, but also everything was so…adorable and made so seductive..

Tara, my daughter is not particularly girly either (exception being the f*cking Tinkerbell book and her g*damn my little pony she got for xmas). However with school working on her and the desire to fit in, I see things changing. It breaks my heart..

Jaime, I do have to say that although I understand what you are saying re the anxiety about your femininity, that’s just the other side of the same coin. If there was not this huge machine trying to force girls into a passive, pink, math-is-hard shape, then the alternative would not be to wholeheartedly reject it. One would be able to pick and choose without judgement. The early women’s movement was a big reaction to years of repression and we were their kids. I hoped we would not have to be so militant, things would be less extreme, but in fact they seem to be more so. Now our daughters have been sexualised as well as marginalised. It’s quite chilling.

Cassandra, I am going to have to speak Pirate on FB for a while, that is a good idea. ARRRR. And when I do get around to visiting you I am going to teach you to parallel park because I am BRILLIANT at it. And I’m reasonably good at ordinary maths. I have also decided to conceal from Five that I did not progress further than trigonometry at school (and have in fact forgotten that) as I read a recent study that showed that girls started to fail in maths at school when their TEACHER was not confident about maths – they picked up the emotions of that teacher and internalised it. So I’m not going to let Five pick up that I might be nervous about calculus. In fact I’m not nervous about it as I don’t actually have to do it. And anyway, I have a few years to brush up, right? So do you xo
I think I might try and find an online course in women’s history to teach to girls and then offer it as an extra curricular freebie to some of the kids at Five’s elementary school. I wonder if there’d be any takers..
PM. There is a WHOLE SHOP that does monogramming here. Really. I could get it on my hankies. If I had hankies.. I wonder which Disney one made you draw the line. It was the Little Mermaid for me, but actually they all make me heave..
Em Thank God for that. How BIZARRE! Yes, the dumbing down. We had a babysitter who said she couldn’t wait to get married and she wanted her husband to be smarter than her so she could spend her whole life looking up to someone. I asked her, drily, why she aspired to a lifetime of someone looking down on her, and she was completely confused. Sigh.
Meredith. Thank you so much for the kind words.
I think that if we educate the children about the inequalities between the genders (as we did and do about race ) then it’s going to be much more obvious to them how the clothes make statements and they’ll be better equipped to make choices. I wanted to wear very provocative clothing when I was a teenager – I liked the shock value but I didn’t understand quite what message I was sending and nobody really explained it to me. Now I can see it as an older woman and I wish I’d had some advice earlier. If children see the costumes they are given as messages then they can select them accordingly.

60’s Bra Burner I couldn’t agree more that consumerism distracts us like a drug from our humanity – it’s also the driving force behind making these distinctions because why would they sell one type of toy to ‘children’ when they can sell two types of toy – one to boys (lower sales) and then another to girls if they just make it pink. Because you can’t have just one and share it.
Catherine. Thank you so much for contributing your point of view, how interesting to hear about how your life would be as a single woman in Egypt – your independence completely ignored and denied *shiver*. What right have people to take this from you because you have ovaries?!?! *FURIOUS*
Yes, agree. Fashion can be so derogatory, and yet we buy it thinking.. what? We are more loveable because we wear it? Our lives will be more fulfilling? Richer? I wonder..

23 geekymummy February 4, 2010 at 10:26 pm

Pottery barn is unbelievable in its stereotyping. I was shocked, especially because I do like the store, generally.
Too cute for math?! Argh!
As someone who loves math and yet loves pink too, I’m horrified.
.-= geekymummy´s last blog ..The stories and songs Meme =-.

24 claire howard February 6, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Just hold fast;your ideas DO have resonance.Son,36,Loves engines,his daughter,cooking,not afraid to be open,childhood much peppered with Thomas the Tank Engine.Daughter,22,scientist,motherhood and domesticity the last thing on her mind despite everything pink and Barbie for years.Don’t despair,have faith!

25 shayma February 7, 2010 at 10:47 am

lovely lovely lovely post! i just love these sort of posts, i could talk about these issues forever. i agree, what is with this sort of profiling? have you seen the latest American Apparel campaign? on the one hand, the man says he doesnt believe in child labour, on the other, their ad campaign site is an ass porn site as far as i am concerned. girls are encouraged to send in photos of their bum in American Apparel lingerie. i was shocked, and what disturbed me the most was that everyone thought it was “really, cool!”. you are brave, MTFF, and strong to have taken a stand, i dont think i have taken a stand like this, (i have taken one w some shops/orgs based on my political predilections), so hats off to you, carissima. i know it is v time-consuming, but would you consider writing a letter to Pottery Barn’s PR desk? x shayma
.-= shayma´s last blog ..Aromatic Rice Pilaf from Childhood Summers in Lahore: Yakhni Pulao =-.

26 Metropolitan Mum February 8, 2010 at 8:01 am

‘Too cute for maths’ is just wrong on so many levels. I’d love to protect my daughter from this kind of poisoned ideas – but how?
.-= Metropolitan Mum´s last blog ..Malnourished Monday #12 =-.

27 Heather February 15, 2010 at 4:43 am

it is very depressing. Excellent post. the whole ting makes me so angry, too cute for maths, indeed!
.-= Heather´s last blog ..A Competition: What’s The Most Revolting Thing You’ve Ever Done? =-.

28 Cara February 25, 2010 at 2:24 pm

We have a group campaigning and awareness raising on EXACTLY this issue. We have a Facebook group with over 10,000 members (Pinkstinks). We’re also a campaign for real role models – so there’s a positive side to what we’re doing. Check us out.

WE can inspire the next generation.

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