Harry Potter at dinner

The conversation started at the dinner table one weekday evening. Just me and my three kids. My six year old daughter had asked her big bother and her big sister: “how is it that all the girls and teachers at the school always chose to dress as Hermione [from Harry Potter] when it is book day”.

Without any thought, my much older 16 year old daughter responded “it is because she is the cleverest amongst them all even though she is a girl”.

This comment blew me away. I was shocked at the emphasis on the “even though she is a girl” and I didn’t know how to respond. It hung there in the air and then it was sucked up into the unconscious bias bits of my younger children’s brains and became ‘the truth’. It took me days to work through this comment and the reason for my stunned silence is as thus; my daughter has been brought up with strong feminist values and has real political and social awareness. This throw away remark showed to me a bias she clearly was not aware of and certainly I had not expected from her. How had it been formed and who was responsible?

Evidently there is no simple or singular answer to this, but it raises awareness as to the importance of how stereotypes are formed, single stories and perceptions become the truths. However much we do as parents to develop our children to be liberal, open minded, rounded, politically astute, without bias and inclusive, we are up against a tsunami of gender barriers in our society that seeps out through the language we use. Ironically my daughter had months earlier been incredibly touched by Emma Watson’s (who plays Hermione) moving speech about gender equality at the UN - the ‘He for She’ campaign. She spoke passionately about how as a single girl doing A level physics, she felt alienated and bullied by the boys in her class and subsequently to Emma Watson’s speech she wrote to the UN ‘He for She' campaign on how gender divisions were ripe in most schools. I was proud to have a daughter that stood up and challenged behaviour of her peers and teachers which is why this single part of a sentence at a dinner table in the middle of the week had fallen so hard  “...even though she is a girl.”

As an executive life coach for women, I hear underlying assumptions and biases in the language we use to describe ourselves and others on a daily basis. As women, we need to develop the skills to hear and challenge our own language and assumptions and we need to support each other to make sure we do not unconsciously devalue 50% of the human race in a throw away comment at the dinner table.     

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