An infographic from the UK government that was pulled after being declared sexist and sending an outdated message about women’s roles. (Photo credit: UK Government)

An infographic from the UK government that was pulled after being declared sexist and sending an outdated message about women’s roles. (Photo credit: UK Government)

Roden: What might have been, and what needs to be seen

The images we see — or don’t see — around us can have a profound influence on our lives

Cassie Campbell doing colour commentary on Hockey Night in Canada. Kamala Harris as the first female vice president of the United States. Janet Yellen, the chair of the US Federal Reserve from 2014 to 2018 and the current US secretary of the treasury (the first woman to hold either role).

Finally, an ad from the UK government urging people to “Stay Home. Save Lives”.

One of these things is not like the others, so let’s deal with it first. The ad, published on the UK government’s website but since taken down, asks people to stay home during the pandemic, and the graphic depicts four households where people are doing just that. The first shows a man, woman, and child sitting on a sofa, enjoying some down time.

So far, so good.

RELATED: Men who had ‘F’ school grades see same leadership prospects as women who got ‘As’

RELATED: UBC grad sentenced to nearly 6 years after advocating for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia

In the second household a woman stands beside an ironing board, a baby balanced on her hip. In the third a woman sits at a table reading to a toddler while beside her a girl does schoolwork. And in the final household, a young girl is holding a mop, while a woman with a pail stands beside her.

It all sounds fairly innocuous. However, the unspoken message — which quite a few people were quick to notice — is that household chores and childcare are women’s work, something reinforced by the fact that the lone male depicted is taking his ease.

For those inclined to mutter about “mountains” and “molehills”, it should be pointed out that this sort of thing matters: not only because it reinforces outdated, sexist stereotypes about “women’s work”, but also because people’s view of their place in the world and what they can (or should) do is coloured by what they see depicted in places like an official government advert, or on their TV screens, or in their newspapers.

Which brings me to the three women named at the beginning of this piece, and I’d like to focus on Campbell. You see, when I was growing up, there was one job that I desired above all others, and that was being a play-by-play announcer on Hockey Night in Canada.

I never played hockey as a child, because girls’ hockey barely existed in the late 1960s/early 1970s (we will ignore the fact that whenever I did try to skate, I resembled Bambi the first time he takes to the ice, only with less grace and skill.) However, I loved the game, and could recite hockey trivia and stats, and facts about my favourite players past and present (Stan Mikita, Andre Boudrias, Jacques Plante), with the best of them.

I had no interest in being a colour commentator, since having played hockey seemed to be a prerequisite for that job. No, I wanted to be the play-by-play guy (or gal), breathlessly giving the viewers and listeners at home the ebb and flow of a game, describing thrilling end-to-end rushes, great scoring chances, incredible saves.

But there were no play-by-play gals. There was not one woman on my screen or radio doing the job which I dreamed of doing. And in the absence of any example I could look to, the message was clear: women don’t do these things. Thus the dream died, and I crossed play-by-play commentator off my mental list of career options.

That is why having women like Campbell — and Harris and Yellen and so many others — out there, doing jobs that were previously the purview of men only, is so critically important.

They give girls and women the chance to see someone like them doing these things, and send the message “You can do it too.”

And it’s why reductive images like the one from the UK government need to be sent to the scrapheap (or better yet, never see the light of day), so that other girls never have cause to think ruefully of the words of John Greenleaf Whittier: “For of all sad words of tongue or pen / The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’”

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter


Just Posted

The victim of the homicide on Cowichan Lake Road early Monday morning was 17 years old, and was stabbed in the incident. (File photo)
Duncan homicide victim was 17 years old

RCMP report that teenager was stabbed

Activists from the Fairy Creek Blockades hold the injunction application notice which was submitted by logging company Teal Jones to the B.C. Supreme Court. The application, which asks to have blockaders removed from the sites that stop access to cut blocks, is set to be heard on March 4. (Photo contributed/Joshua Wright)
Activists hunker down to protect Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew from logging

Forest company Teal Cedar applies for injunction to remove seven-month-old blockades

(File photo)
Island conservation group says members targeted with harassment, vandalism

Police investigate pair of reports of mischief victims call pushback against conservation efforts

Nootka Sound RCMP responded to a workplace fatality report south of Gold River on Monday morning. (Campbell River Mirror photo)
One dead in workplace accident at Gold River logging site

The RCMP and Work Safe BC are investigating the incident at Western Forest Product’s TFL 19

Nanaimo RCMP are looking for a suspect who smashed the window of an adult toy store and made off with more than $1,200 in merchandise. (File photo)
Nanaimo sex shop out $1,200 in merchandise after suspect steals ‘colossal’ product

Suspect smashed window of Whispers Adult Superstore overnight Feb. 21

Sooke Lake Reservoir, shown here, is the primary storage site for Greater Victoria’s drinking water supply. The Capital Regional District just purchased a property on the north edge of the water supply area to help further protect the supply. (Photo courtesy CRD)
CRD acquires 58.7-hectare watershed to further protect Greater Victoria drinking water supply

Forested area near Grant Lake is part of the Cowichan Valley Regional District

Older rental apartments are prime candidates for renovations, and could result in lost affordable housing stock. (Zoë Ducklow photo)
B.C.’s renoviction overhaul a good start, but won’t preserve affordable stock, lawyer says

And still no protection for people who can’t pay rent due to COVID-19

(Photo by Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze)
B.C. WHL teams to hit the ice with Kelowna, Kamloops hub cities

Kelowna, Kamloops centres chosen to host B.C. WHL teams for 24-game regular season

(File photo)
RCMP arrest man after report of gun-toting threat-maker near Parksville schools

43-year-old man taken into custody; students at nearby schools were asked to stay inside

The machines are akin to ATMs and allow drug users at risk of overdose to get hydromorphone pills dispensed to them after their palm has been scanned to identify its unique vein pattern. (CANADIAN PRESS)
Feds dole out $3.5M for ‘vending machines’ to dispense safer opioids in B.C.

The machines are located in four cities across Canada, including Vancouver and Victoria

Kelowna’s lakefront visitor centre is one of 130 around the province. Tourism businesses have been hardest hit by COVID-19 restrictions on travel. (Destination B.C.)
Tourism, small business getting COVID-19 help, B.C. minister says

$300M grant program has delivered $50 million so far

The incident happened in downtown Castlegar. Photo: Betsy Kline
Castlegar teen recounts stabbing after stranger breaks into grandmother’s house

The unnamed teen survived a terrifying attack Feb. 21

Most Read