Sex Sells

Yes indeed, there it is a headline grabber to hook you in.

But here’s the real story.

It is an average morning. I am on my way to work. I lock up my bike at the station and throw a few coins to the busker who is playing guitar. He’s quite upbeat considering it’s 7am and drizzly. He’s giving ‘yesterday’ by the Beatles a positive and charming overtone, smiling at all the passengers as they rush by. It’s one of the favourites I sing to my children at bedtime, so it makes me smile thinking of them probably just waking at this moment.

S will probably be driving P mad with his regular morning meltdown about being first to open the cupboard or it could be the speed at which the milk is being poured into his bowl that is all wrong. Small crucial details to a 2 year old that if you get wrong can ruin the morning.

A will be getting ready for school. Putting on her tights and her favourite ‘twirly whirly’ skirt. At the moment she is following a trend amongst the girls in her class. They seem to always wear dresses or skirts. I thought it odd for a while until I had a chat with some of the parents who said that this was what all their daughters wanted and they’d mostly given up arguing. So it seems that gender is on the agenda for 5 and 6 year olds. I have agreed with A that she can alternate between trousers and a skirt every other day.

I pick up the SPITS newspaper as I walk into the station and up to the platform.

P is dealing with the morning mayhem at home, I have made a lucky escape and it gives me the time to relax on the train and peruse the newspapers.

I shouldn’t have bothered.

The headline immediately disturbs me. There is a full page picture of a female football player smiling a big grin under the headline SEXY SOCCER. My heart sinks – another average day and another very average case of sexism. The SPITS may not be the pinnacle of journalism but nonetheless it’s read by about 2 million Dutch commuters per day. An article about women’s sport where the headline has to immediately denigrate all the effort, hard work and skill of getting to the top of their game and simply refer to their body is insulting but unfortunately also not surprising. Later that day I mention this article to a friend and I’m told that I’m ‘reading too much into it’. SIGH…The objectification of women is so normalised that we don’t notice it anymore and when we do we are told that it’s no big deal, we’re so surrounded that we assimilate and overlook.

I flick past page 19, the movie review page which today is a feature on a new release and displays a promotional shot of the movie, 3 svelte bikini-clad young women and their pimp. I find the sports section. I’m expecting the article to continue in the same vein. I’m ready to be outraged by more blatant sexism, more objectified representations of the female form. But it turns out the article is a bit simplistic but ok, mainly focusing on the rise in popularity of women’s football. There’s an interview with American player Abby Wambach, described as the female Messi. Now we could just discuss her as an international football star in her own right but we better throw in a male comparison for our poor readers who are otherwise too simple-minded to understand. Wambach won the best player at the recent FIFA awards but the fact that Messi also won the men’s award is a constant reference point throughout the article, just to make sure we get it. Yes she’s a brilliant footballer because he’s a brilliant footballer.

But hey, I’m sure Messi has the same problem. No doubt he struggles to be recognised for the talent he is and every article about him is peppered with comparisons to Abby Wambach. It must get annoying for him.

There’s a picture of Wambach hugging her team mate. She looks muscular and has short hair. Yes I know, shocking for a woman and especially one with her public profile! The article goes on to mention Alex Morgan, who according to SPITS is talented, successful, good-looking and a media-hit. After all she has more than a million followers on twitter! I look again at the front cover and I notice that it’s the ‘media friendly’ long haired Alex Morgan who is in the picture. Wambach obviously needs to focus more on her hair and make up and less on winning awards for her football skills if she wants to up her social media profile and to be the face of the SEXY SOCCER headline.

But on the whole the article is more balanced than I had expected and there’s not a lot of reference to the sexiness of either Wambach or Morgan. That’s what makes it even worse that they went with such a cheap lazy headline. I have no experience here, but isn’t the headline supposed to be the promise of the article. Here are a couple of my own suggestions next time boys:

Wambach wonder

Fifa la Wambach!

Football’s new heroine!

Wambach winner!

Soccer finally scores big time for US

Shit I’ve been so busy getting annoyed by the newspaper that I get off the train at my stop and realise I haven’t got around to putting on my mascara.


Being British/Dutch my children have two separate names for grandmother. My mother is ‘Grandma,’ P’s mother is ‘Oma’.

My mother is visiting. She arrives late at night while the kids are sleeping so doesn’t get to see them until the next day.

Grandma from England. Here we go.

“What are the plans for tomorrow” she asks

“Well Oma looks after the kids on a Thursday, so she’ll get here early morning and unfortunately I have to work”

The first thing she needs to do she explains is find out where this ‘action’ is taking place.

“One Billion and Rising” she tells me

“It’s a mass global event tomorrow to raise consciousness about violence against women and there’s going to be one of the meetings right here so I need to go, it’s at 12 in the centre of town.”

I look up the location on the website for her and hand her a map.

“Do you think Oma would want to come along with S?” she’s asking

I can’t see it happening; the two grandmas have pretty different priorities when it comes to going out in the cold February snow to attend political rallies.

I don’t get to witness her reunion with her grandchildren because I rush off to work before daylight, but when I get back the house is busy and there are tales of adventures.

“I’m afraid I failed at the first hurdle” she says referring to cooking dinner.

“I couldn’t work out how to turn the gas on.”

There’s a pile of raw chopped veg in the kitchen waiting to be cooked into something.

“It’s just a safety feature.” I tell her, “see, you push down the knob and click the ignite”

She shrugs.

“Grandma brought presents!” A is telling me.

While I finish off the dinner they settle down on the sofa to watch a Dr. Seuss animation that grandma has brought on DVD.

From the kitchen I keep hearing some typical Seussian lyrics about butter-side up, butter side-down, sounds fun and they look like they’re transfixed.

I stir the sauce.

“Spaghetti or pasta bows?”

I walk across to A. Her face has dropped and she’s slightly whimpering. She points at the screen. There is a battle ensuing between these two breeds of scrawny bald headed beaky creatures. They’re pointing multi-headed canons across a wall at each other and barking on about buttering bread.

“It does seem a bit sinister” I say

“It’s about the cold war” says my mum

“I can see that, but maybe they’re not ready for this lesson just yet” I say

We eat dinner and my mum produces the goods for all kinds of treats for dessert. The obligatory T-bags and fudge for me and P and chocolate bunnies for the kids. Not strictly allowed and it’s not even Easter, but I guess that’s what grandmas are for, breaking the rules here and there and upping the sugar-quota.

“Hey, by the way” I ask

“Did you make it into town to do the One Billion and Rising thing?”

“Yes, yes, it was good; there were only about 25 of us dancing.”

“Dancing?” I say, “It was freezing”

“I know, but it was a sort of flash-mob. It was absolutely perishing, but the feminists lent me a hat and a scarf”

I can’t believe my mother just said “flash-mob.”

She offers to make up for the encouraging the sugar overload by brushing the kids teeth but she’s foxed when she can’t manage to work the electric toothbrush.

How is this difficult I wonder? I thought electric toothbrushes had been widely available since about 1983?

A couple of days pass and we try to rub along in our usual way. Me trying to maintain a modicum of order, my mum trying to provoke the odd rebellion to that order. I find it hard to contain my irritations on seeing not only the usual scatterings of crumbs and debris, but the sofa covered in an unfolded mass of newspaper and huge numbers of tea-cups. (My mum always delights in trying to show-off that she can read Dutch newspapers. Well I don’t know how long she actually stares at that same article, but if it saves me from having to listen to her pseudo German attempts at speech then I’d rather leave her to it).  

One morning we seem to have got back onto the subject of buttering bread on both sides.

“We don’t need to have wars about things you see” my mum is explaining to my 5 year old.

“What we need are new governments”

I go into the kitchen to boil the kettle. When I come back in all three of them are shouting at the top of their voices.

Grandma is clenching her fist and punching the air.

My 5 year old and my 2 year old are standing up on their chairs raising their arms up clutching cereal spoons and shouting “revolution!”

Any moment now they’re going to knock that carton of milk over, I’m thinking.

“Hey, come down from the bench! You’re going to fall”

My mum is cackling. She thinks she might have crossed the line in my code of behaviour and she revels in it. She wants to see how far she can go. Now she starts singing:

“Nkosi, sikelel’ I Afrika
Malupakam’upondo lwayo;”

The familiar tune of the African National Congress anthem rings in my ears. 30 years ago it was the enduring soundtrack to a childhood of being dragged up and down the country on one march or another.

“Can you say that? Nkosi sikelel’i Afrika!”

A repeats “Nk-o-si sik-e-le-l’i  Afrika!”

My mum looks over at me.

“No no don’t mind me” I say, “Never did me any harm, a bit of indoctrination with breakfast”

Actually I’m looking at my two kids with swelling pride and I’m thinking, wow A has got great pronunciation!