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Baby steps to change

Jo Scard

When I found out I was having a girl when I was pregnant with my second child I immediately went into a lovely baby shop and bought a beautiful size 0 cotton dress.

She only wore it twice and I still have it. She’s now 11.

I went on to continue imposing my view of what she should wear (she wasn’t able to shop as a baby), initially eschewing pink for my daughter because of the overt gender stereotype. She of course loved pink as a toddler, so I gave in. Next phase: I found some wonderful multicultural dolls and doll house accessories and she rejected dolls. We gave away the dolls house just before Christmas.

Nowadays she only wears dresses at a pinch for weddings and funerals and doesn’t like washing or brushing her hair (not unusual). Now reading Stephen Hawking (yep) she wants to study astronautical engineering, builds lego and robots every day after school and loves maths. If I’d had a misguided vision that success was represented by a daughter with flowing brushed hair skipping through fields of wildflowers I would have been a failure as a mother.

When I was considering what I might do after high school, my own politically active parents urged me to become a nurse or social worker, which was nauseating. Too messy or too caring. I distinctly recall rejecting their suggestion to learn to touch type at school because I never wanted to have to type for a man.

My choice to study law was abhorrent to my parents because they feared I’d become all snooty nosed. I still don’t do snooty but it was a great choice and eased me into our still male dominated world. Parents aren’t the only guilty ones. Our parliaments also impose gender biases upon not only girls but all young people.

Just this week a group of young people travelled to Canberra to urge the federal government to end the requirement for young transgender people to have to go to the Family Court to get approval for cross-sex hormone therapy before they are 18.

Australia is the only country in the world that requires court approval for the second stage of puberty blocking treatment, where trans male identifying teens are given testosterone and trans female identifying teens are given oestrogen. Doctors supporting the Canberra campaign voiced their concerns this week about what the court requirement does to young trans people’s mental and physical health. The cost of appearing before the Family Court to get treatment is between $10,000 and $30,000, and the wait is usually 12 months. Our government could fix this if they wanted to.

But it’s more insidious than that. Perception runs deep. When a newly elected federal senator with a trans partner took her seat in the Senate just a few years ago, she was met with clear guffawing and laughter from the older and mainly conservative male opposition counterparts for many weeks. I heard it, I was sitting in the chamber. They just couldn’t get it.

This gender bias also lives in our education offering. The current federal opposition made a tiny gesture late last year and suggested that a future government should dedicate resources to teach girls how to code. There are a bunch of amazing startups trailblazing in this space including Code Club Australia and Tech Girls Superheroes. Coding is in the national curriculum but its take up is variable and dependent on the interest and ability of teaching staff.

Encouraging a change of attitude among our federal leaders to foster a supportive entrepreneurial startup mentality amongst girls, their parents and their teachers would be a solid step. Young women startup CEO’s still talk about the fact that many people (mainly male investors) don’t believe that they could of set up and run their own company.

Nikki Durkin, founder of now closed fashion app 99dresses said recently in the media that “If you look at all the very sexy tech startups founders like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg…those startups were started in their garages building stuff and girls aren’t exposed to that, and that perpetuates the issue.”

It’s baby steps I guess, but if our politicians aren’t interested and still foster their last century gender biases then things won’t change.

If they all made a bit of time to meet with the delegation of trans kids who visited Canberra this week or popped into a coding class at a local school or scheduled a chat with a young female entrepreneur who worked nearby then things might change.

All baby steps, but if there’s enough of them that did it then it just might shake the room.

Jo Scard is Managing Director of Fifty Acres – The Communications Agency. She tweets at @scardjo

Feature image: supplied


Jo Scard

With over 20 years' experience in communications, political advisory roles and journalism, Jo Scard is one of Australia’s leading advisers to corporates, Not-For-Profits, organisations and government. Managing Director of communications agency, Fifty Acres which is HQ'd in Canberra, Jo is a respected former political journalist in the UK and Australia working with ITV, Associated Press, Seven Network, SBS, ABC and Fairfax. A former senior adviser to the Rudd and Gillard governments and a trained lawyer she is on the Boards of the Australian Women Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Hockey ACT and a Member of the NSW Council of the Public Relations Institute of Australia. Jo is an Ambassador for the global entrepreneur magazine Renegade Collective and a member of the Registered Consultancies Group of the Public Relations Institute of Australia. She has spent over a decade advising corporates and Not-For-Profits at CEO and board level across strategic communications, government relations and public relations and co-authored the best-selling book The Working Mother’s Survival Guide with Seven’s Melissa Doyle. More about the Author

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