Robert Webb’s daughter had the patriarchy nailed at six years old

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Amy Swales
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From heated pub conversations to everyday sexism on shop shelves to schools perpetuating unhealthy body ideals, fighting against the patriarchy can feel like an unwinnable battle that we don’t always have the energy to face – but actor Robert Webb’s young daughter has summed up society’s inherent sexism in one perfect line.

We’re all exposed to gender conventions from an early age. Pink for girls, blue for boys. Ladylike and being a man. Tomboys and wimps. If it’s not schools shaming mums for having a job outside the home, it’s high street brands promoting practical footwear for boys and dainty princess styles for girls.

But with two daughters under the age of 10, Webb and his wife are determined to promote equality across the sexes – and in a recent interview about his new book, the actor revealed how they handle the issue of gender expectations at home.

And it turns out eldest daughter Esme has had the patriarchy totally nailed since the tender age of six.

Discussing damaging stereotypes in an interview with Channel 4, the Peep Show star said they came up with a “family code word for the oncoming tide of gender nonsense” that Esme would face once she started school.

“[It’s] gender conditioning essentially,” he explained. “The way boys and girls are told that they have to behave in different ways and that they have different roles to play in life, depending on the content of the front of their pants rather than the content of their character.”

He then says that his family refers to the patriarchy as “the trick” after his daughter mispronounced it, recalling how Esme, then aged six, had asked her parents about wearing a Spiderman costume to a school non-uniform day.

She asked: “OK, if I go as Spiderman and not as a princess, will I get laughed at?”

Webb then revealed that Esme had a perfect grasp on the situation already: “Abi said, ‘People might laugh and what will you say?” And Esi said, ‘Shall I tell them they’re laughing because of the trick that makes men sad and women get rubbish jobs?’

“And my wife said, ‘Yes I think that would be a very good answer.’”

Webb was promoting a book, How Not to be a Boy, on Channel 4 News. Having lost his mother as a teenager, his book draws attention to the effect of gender expectations on men’s mental health, how harmful the idea of ‘manning up’ and not addressing emotions can be.

Announcing the birth of his second daughter Dory in 2011, Webb revealed on Twitter that he didn’t totally eschew gender norms, tweeting jokily: “Everyone inferring girl-ness from pink top. Correctly. F**k it: she can have an Action Man later.”


Want to hear more from Robert Webb? He’ll be at this Stylist Live this November, exploring the themes of his new book, How Not to Be a BoyFind out more at: 

Stylist Live brings everything you love about Stylist magazine to life across three days of experts, interviews, comedy, food, beauty and fashion exclusives.
10 -12 November, Olympia London.


Main image: Rex Features


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Amy Swales

Amy Swales is a freelance writer who likes to eat, drink and talk about her dog. She will continue to plunder her own life and the lives of her loved ones for material in the name of comedy, catharsis and getting pictures of her dog on the internet.