By Poppy Cumming-Spain
Boys & Girls & Girls & Boys
In January, my friend John lent me a book called ‘Grayson Perry, telling me that I’d like it. Typical me, with a humongous stack of books to read, I only just started reading it. Sorry, John! But he’ll be happy to know that he was right, it’s super interesting. Perry’s book looks at man’s place in the world, traditional forms of masculinity and how they need to change to make the world a better place. Now, perhaps more than ever, gender stereotypes are at the forefront of important discussions. People are asking themselves what it means to be a man or a woman and what that entails for individuals. Can you be a masculine woman or a feminine man without someone presuming that you’re gay or you’d like to swap? Should, or even are there, rules that you must follow to be considered a men or women in today’s society? Is it ok for people to identify themselves as both or neither? ’ by
I’m not going to answer these questions, at least in any detail, in my SCAB. Personally, I resent having to live up to female stereotypes and actively challenge them (Meg and I are currently working on a female-focused John Smiths campaign), so I wouldn’t blame anyone else for doing the same. But some people find safety in stereotypes, so I don’t blame them either. In any case, I don’t think it’s my place to speak for other people or push my views on others, but the subject of gender interests me. Particularly as a woman, living in a male-dominated world and facing a male-dominated industry, I think it’s important to know how I feel about being a woman. And, more importantly, what kind of woman I want to be. Last night, Meg and I went to the All Stars Portfolio night at Wieden & Kennedy. It was super tiring but so helpful. We got lots of great advice from industry greats including Tony Davidson (ECD W&K). At the end of our fifteen-minute crit with Tony, he told us that we were in a good position being a female team, given that the industry is lacking diversity. Of course, it’s anything but representative. But I couldn’t help but be disappointed by his comment, although I know it came from a good place, because, for me, agencies seeking out minorities through positive discrimination still feels like discrimination. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I want an agency to hire us because we’re the best team. Not the best female team.
Last week, I brought the subject up with my housemate Maeve. I told her how uncomfortable I felt about benefiting from positive discrimination. She didn’t feel the same and put forward a convincing argument for why it works well. Once you’re in, you can prove that you deserve your place and pull others up the ladder with you. As great as that sounds, there’s a niggle inside me which means it just doesn’t sit right. Part of that is my ego. One day I want to be the best, and I don’t want my gender referenced. I don’t want a ‘top female ECD/CCO’ title, I want ‘top ECD/CCO,’ and I’ll strive for that kind of outlook when I’m in the industry (something I’m happy to say Caroline Pay is already doing). The other part is my fear for my male peers. I’m well aware of the gender imbalance, I want it to be resolved, and I believe it will be. But I also don’t want young men who want to get into the industry to feel at a disadvantage. Recently, Ben, my peer, and friend at SCA expressed concerns about being a white man going into the industry. This upset me deeply. Does he deserve a place any less than me? I don’t think so. And I’d hate to think others do. At the time, someone commented that his sexuality meant he’d be fine. Again, worrying. Would he only be deserving because he’s gay? Surely not.
I don’t know what the answers are, or how we give everyone the chance they deserve. But I’m aware that we live in a time when men are often under attack. Their historical advantage shouldn’t be ignored, but neither should the pressure they’re facing right now. The rise in male suicides says it all. Their emotional development has been stunted by years of masculine stereotyping which still hasn’t been squashed. And they’re under pressure to hold themselves back, while women are increasingly liberated. I think a lot of people get caught up in the progress of women and forget about this. I feel super grateful to be a woman alive right now. I don’t have to worry about awful concepts like ‘out-manning’ or feel guilty about doing well, so I do feel for my male friends sometimes. I just wish that it could be the same for everyone. Because at the end of the day a diverse world means a place at the table for everyone.
Side note: Every man should read ‘The Descent of Man’ by Grayson Perry. For themselves and everyone around them.