Our Secret Shame?

A while ago there was a short debate on twitter about the song “If I were not upon the stage”.  It wasn’t phrased quite like this, but one of the people involved (let’s call them Alice) was expressing horror at the fact that Girlguiding was “the ultimate feminist organisation” but still sang songs including the lines

If I were not upon the stage 
A secretary I’d be. 
Typing letters, typing letters, 
Sitting on the boss’s knee!

In Alice’s opinion, singing this song means that girls are being encouraged to take a secretarial job and flirt with the boss (who, it is implied, is a man).  And this from a group of feminists!  We should be ashamed of ourselves!

Let’s all take a step back a moment.

Being a feminist does not mean believing that all girls should have the highest paying, most independently minded job available.

According to Wikipedia, “Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.” and the Oxford English Dictionary defines a feminist as “an advocate or supporter of the rights and equality of women”.

The key words here are “equal” and “rights”.  I fully believe that women should have the same right as men to take a high paying, important job.

If they want to. 

That means that if they want to be the CEO of a Fortune-500 company then they can (as long as they work hard at school).  If they want to be a secretary or a stay-at-home mother, they can do that.  And if they want instead to fulfill this verse, then that’s fine too.

If I were not upon the stage 
A firewoman I’d be. 
Fetch that ladder, fetch that ladder, 
Someone’s stuck up there!

Far from being the secret shame of Girlguiding, this song is actually the ultimate feminist song.  It’s about giving girls options.  After all, how are they going to know which rights they want to exercise if they don’t know what’s on offer?

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What’s your opinion?  Is there a song which you think should be sung more often, or not at all?

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One thought on “Our Secret Shame?

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  1. I’m a Guider, I lead songs (including sometimes this one) and my paid employment is – as a Secretary. There, I’ve admitted it. Of the bosses I’ve worked for, there have been 4 female, and 3 male.

    Yes, I have sometimes led this song, and in doing so, used this verse. I’ve also used the verses about washerwomen, plumbers, painters, birdwatchers and firemen. So, one could say a reasonable spread of professions there, not all of them stereotypically associated with females.

    In this, as in so many things, what’s important is balance. It’s important that we make it clear to the girls that it’s okay to be interested in hobbies or trades that were traditionally associated with men. But – it’s also okay to be interested in hobbies or trades that were traditionally associated with women. The progress we have made in improving equality was always intended to ensure they would have a free choice of all trades and all hobbies.

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