One of the most startling things I read, in the week when left the European Union, is that girls as young as nine want surgery on their genitals because they are upset by how they look.
As someone who has been involved, in some capacity or other, in politics for most of my adult life, and who has travelled extensively in recent years, I am rarely shocked.
But I had no idea that labiaplasty – vaginal surgery – was a thing, let alone that little girls had it on their wish list. For those of a nervous disposition, turn away now. Labiaplasty entails shortening or reshaping the lips of the vagina.
Dr Naomi Crouch, a leading adolescent gynaecologist, told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show that girls say that they “hate” their vagina and want bits of it removed. “For a girl to feel that way about any part of her body, especially a part that is intimate, is very upsetting,” said Dr Crouch.
As a grandmother of two young girls, one of whom is nearly nine, I find the idea that she could hate her body so much that she would want bits of it removed more than upsetting. It’s a searing indictment on how our society has distorted young women’s view of themselves.
Fifty years after the first Women’s Liberation conference was held, the granddaughters of the women who burnt their bras are oppressed by our society’s unrealistic expectations of how they should look. It is as if the last five decades had not happened.
Grotesque cartoon image of womanhood
Today, young women are seduced into thinking the manipulated images of perfection they see on social media sites such as Instagram are real life.
Worse, pornography, which is as much part of our children’s lives as Top of the Pops was of ours, has created a grotesque cartoon image of womanhood.
A girl’s vagina should be clean-shaven, with no discernible fleshy bits.
Her breasts should be as large and false as any glamour models, her hair long, blonde and never out of place. Her lips should pout, as if in eager anticipation, and her skin tone a soft caramel colour not seen outside a tanning salon.
As one 14-year-old girl told the BBC about her desire for vaginal surgery: “People around me were watching porn, and I just had this idea that it should be symmetrical and not sticking out.
“I thought that is how everyone else looked like, because I hadn’t seen any normal, everyday images before then.”
How indescribably sad that our girls are growing up believing that they need to look like porn stars to be attractive. And it is further evidence, as if we needed it, that we still have a long way to go before we reach true equality between the sexes.
What does ‘intersectional gender architecture’ mean?
This point was acknowledged by the First Minister earlier this week when she spoke at an event organised by the National Advisory Council on Women and Girls.
“Gender equality is a cause that we still haven’t won,” Nicola Sturgeon told the meeting. “We need to protect the progress that we’ve made and not allow it to be pushed backwards.”
She then announced that the Scottish Government is to create a new stand-alone Human Rights, Inclusion and Equalities Directorate to take forward “gender” equality. And the Advisory Council revealed that they have a new topic for 2020: creating an intersectional gender architecture in Scotland.
Nope, me neither. I am sure that a discrete directorate for equality in the civil service bureaucracy is, on the whole, a positive thing. Status and process matter to civil servants even more than they do to politicians, so women’s equality may now get a better hearing, at least within St Andrew’s House.
But an intersectional gender architecture? What on earth does it mean? Will it stop teenage girls wanting to mutilate their bodies in search of pornographic ‘perfection’?
Will it help plug the gender pay gap? Reduce violence against women and girls? Shatter the glass ceiling?
I await with interest. In the meantime, if any of my more enlightened feminist friends can explain, on the back of a postcard, what an intersectional gender architecture for Scotland will mean to the everyday lives of women and girls, I will be more than grateful.
I do understand, however, what the thousand women gathering in London today for an event organised by campaign group, Women’s Place UK, will be discussing.
Their Women’s Liberation Conference 2020 is, in part, a homage to the first women’s lib event held 50 years ago, as well as an evaluation of the progress made since 1970.
It will also examine practical ways to improve the status of women and girls in our 21st century society, through ending violence, improving access to healthcare, education and training, and better representation and participation in democracy, culture and sport.
I expect some plain speaking. As former senior civil servant, now independent researcher and active feminist, Lucy Hunter Blackburn, told me before she left for London, “I am hoping it will be a day where we can talk frankly about many dimensions of women’s lives, and what still needs to be achieved, without torturing the language.
“I am hoping we will talk about the importance of race, class, disability and age and that the voices of people with most to say about those come through strongly.”
And she ended with a heartfelt, “I am also looking forward to being in a room where people don’t get in a tangle using ‘gender’ when what they actually mean is ‘sex’.”
Words matter. Intersectional gender architecture may mean everything to the small group of well-connected feminists who advise the First Minister on sexual equality.
But the phrase is meaningless to mothers struggling to get by on two part-time jobs, or elderly widows isolated in their own homes.
And confusing sex and gender, as many activists do, sometimes deliberately, does nothing to further the cause of women’s equality.
Gender is a set of stereotypes, assigned by different societies to characterise male or female. Pouting lips, long blonde hair and neat, shaven vaginas are some of the current gender stereotypes forced on our young women.
But it is our sex that is the root cause of the inequality that has plagued women since time immemorial.
We are not paid less than a man because we have long blonde hair, we are paid less because we have a vagina, tidy or not.