On Zadie Smith

First things first: I am a huge fan of Zadie Smith and just a few months ago I greatly enjoyed reading her latest novel Swing time.

So, when I saw and article in the guardian titled Have you been paying the hair-and-makeup tax? You need Zadie Smith’s 15-minute rule, I was intrigued. And later disappointed. Apparently Zadie Smith limits her 7-year old daughter’s mirror time to 15 minutes and explains this to the child with the following words:

“I explained it to her in these terms: you are wasting time, your brother is not going to waste any time doing this. Every day of his life he will put a shirt on, he’s out the door and he doesn’t give a shit if you waste an hour and a half doing your makeup.”

I was quite disappointed by the simplistic, binary gender images that were invoked here. What kind of image of gender roles is Zadie Smith transferring on to her daughter? It may very well be that Ms Smith’s son doesn’t give a shit and just throughs on any shirt he can find. These days, we know there is more to gender than boys want to play outside and girls want to look pretty. But it particularly startled me that a woman like Zadie Smith, who writes to elaborately and with a great eye for subtle details about race and gender issues, falls for the binary gender construction when it comes to her own family. I can’t believe that she reinforces the constructions through her daughter.

But, as I said, I read the article a few days ago, I was disappointed and a bit shocked – and then I moved on. Only today did I get aware, that I was not the only Personen disagreement with Zadie Smith’s statement. I read about the reactions here. Unfortunately, nobody seemed to be concerned with the conservative gender role of boys do that and girls do this, but took offense with the fact that Zadie Smith was too beautiful to be concerned with makeup and therefore had no right to speak about the issue. Seriously? That is your feminist rebuke?

So, these were my thoughts on the discussion. And what are yours?

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Glass ceiling?

I once talked to a guy from my masters degree class. We were discussing our future career. He had applied for a PhD. He wasn’t sure about going for it. He had gotten the place, but he needed to secure funding for it. He told me that he would be the first person in his family to have a PhD. His sister wouldn’t have the brains to do it, he told me. She had stopped after her bachelors. He, however, had never felt that he had reached his academic limit. Like… intellectually.
I had never even had a thought of anybody having such a limit. For me it was always a question of will (and maybe opportunity) rather than intellect.
I was the first person in my family to enrol in an institution of higher education. I am also the first person to have gained a degree from a university. And a postgraduate degree. I have always believed that this is not because my family was stupid and intellectually incapable of attending university. They just never had a chance. It was no option for them. Either for socio-economic reasons or… being a woman.