While scanning the news this week for any article that didn’t contain the words ‘pandemic’ or ‘panic-buying’, I came across a story about Valspar, one of the world’s largest paint brands. On Thursday, Valspar announced that it is renaming its pink shades with new names that will be “gender neutral” and “empowering” for women, unlike the previous labels which conjured up “old-fashioned gender stereotypes”. So, out go the shades ‘Dollface’, ‘Sweet Angel’, ‘Girly Girl’ and ‘Ladylike’ and in come new names, more in tune with the ‘woke’ generation. From now on, you can choose to paint your walls in the following colours: ‘Woke Up Like This’, ‘Anything You Can Do’, ‘Like a Boss’ and (one that will delight the GDST marketing team) ‘Fearless’.
Not only is this great timing for me, as I have been considering whether or not to paint the walls in my office, but the story appeared just in time for International Women’s Day, which falls on Sunday 8th March.
In assembly this morning, to celebrate International Women’s Day, and also to mark the start of British Science Week, I told the story of Ada Lovelace. As I said to the girls, what I love about Ada Lovelace’s story is the way in which it challenges gender stereotypes. Born in 1815 to Arabella Milbanke, a mathematician, and Lord Bryon, a Romantic poet, Ada fused her creative and scientific temperaments to write what is now thought to be the first computer programme. And yet despite all this – despite the fact that she foresaw the future of computer science – it is only recently that she is becoming more widely known. Although Ada Lovelace is now celebrated with her own day in October every year, it is fair to say that she remains less well known than her “mad, bad, and dangerous” father. For too long, male achievements have overshadowed the achievements of women – and we still have a lot of catching up to do.
As the Valspar story illustrates, things are looking up, and about time, too. Over the last few weeks, I have been speaking to local business leaders and industry professionals in Brighton & Hove and what has struck me is how many of them are developing specific opportunities to empower girls. I have spoken to people in STEM, in tech innovation, in film, in sport, and everyone is saying the same thing: they want to encourage girls to see that nothing is off-limits (as you know, this is very much the spirit of the GDST and Brighton Girls, #WhereGirlsLearnWithoutLimits); and they believe that women have an important contribution to make, because “an equal world is an enabled world” (the campaign theme for International Women’s Day 2020 is #EachforEqual).
To underline this, we will be offering pupils the opportunity to visit acclaimed photographer Anita Corbin’s exhibition in the Brighton Museum over the next couple of weeks. Corbin has captured 100 pioneering women of the 21st century in an exhibition described as “an impressive record of female achievement, from beatboxing to bomb detection, computing to cricket, blast furnaces to boardrooms”. Her hope is that “women who dream big will look at these pictures and see that they are not alone.’ If you are free this Sunday, perhaps visit the Brighton Museum where Anita Corbin will be talking about her work as part of a full day of talks and performances to celebrate International Women’s Day. View the full programme here.
So, things have definitely changed for women since 1842, when Ada Lovelace sat down to write her notes on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine and quietly created the first computer programme. But the very fact that it has taken until 2020 for a world-leading brand to realise that ‘Girly Girl’ is an inappropriate name for a shade of pink, reminds us that change has been painfully slow.
Almost like watching paint dry.