Archive for September, 2023

Break Expectations

Monday, September 4th, 2023

“Chloe Kelly thumped home her winning penalty for England against Nigeria.  At 111km per hour, it was more powerful than any Premier League goal in 22-23” Mailonline

It’s just not that long ago that the papers were debating whether women’s football was ever going to be as interesting as the men’s.  It’s in fact not long ago that the FA still banned women playing football.

And now look.

There are many societal expectations that we all grow up with.  Some are about gender and physicality.  Some are deeply personal.

Its never a good idea to manage expectations, either for yourself or for others.  Breaking them is a better idea.

Harriet Taylor Mill was the wife of renowned philosopher John Stuart Mill.  He acknowledged her contribution to his published works and ideas, but history has largely overlooked her.  A philosopher in her own right, she said, in the 1850s: “We deny the right of any portion of the species to decide for another portion what is and what is not their proper sphere.  The proper sphere for all human beings is the largest and highest which they are able to attain to.”

And 150 plus years on still stereotypes persist, and still assumptions are made. 

In economic terms, at the current rate of progress (or lack of it) its now 286 years until there is gender equality according to the UN.  This has got worse in recent years, and the rate of progress is clearly unacceptable.  In terms of what needs to be addressed to create better equality patriarchal attitudes come high on the list, and has different impact in different cultures around the world.  In the UK equal pay has been mandatory for decades, yet the gender pay gap means that women effectively work for free for a couple of months a year. 

Revising deep rooted patriarchal attitudes to gender is slow.  The audience for the Women’s World Cup gives us a start.  The viewing was roughly equivalent to the Qatar men’s final fixture (which didn’t feature England of course).  But turn to tennis and the Wimbledon men’s final was watched live by 11m people in the UK, the women’s final by 4.5.

So, attitudes linger, but at the same time history is being rewritten.   Gerwig’s Barbie has smashed box office records.  Just as the movie itself aspires to rewrite society’s expectations of women and girls, so too should it rewrite expectations of investment in women directors and movie lead actors. 

Most women spend too much energy either trying to live up to unrealistic expectations or in disappointment at the inevitable failure to do so as Gloria eloquently explains in Gerwig’s movie. 

But it isn’t only women.  Unrealistic and stereotyped expectations ruin lots of people’s lives.  In fact, as the suffragettes pointed out they could end lives too.  As we wrote in Belonging, One of the reasons why RMS Titanic was such a terrible disaster in the early years of the twentieth century was that there weren’t enough lifeboats. There were slightly more in fact than the legal requirement, but this requirement was inadequate and only provided sufficient space for about a third of the people on board.  The idea was that men would be… well, manly… about sinking. ‘Women and children first’ was the plan. And then it was the women and children in first class who literally were rescued first. The scale of the disaster was tragic and very public. So too was the longstanding call from the suffragette movement for the law to be changed so that there would be enough room for everyone to be rescued, regardless of gender, race, age or class, with the famous rallying cry: ‘Votes for  women, boats for men!’

Don’t be confined by expectations, don’t live up to societal norms, conventional wisdom isn’t designed to allow you to fulfil your potential.  In a world where change is the only constant, don’t be confined by anyone’s expectation, whether that is society, friends, family or your own internal monologue.