Gender stereotypes are bandied, tempers are frayed and the bonds of friendship are strained and yanked when Cruella, Alex, Coffee-Boy, Photo-Princess and Kevin the Goldfish head to the Caledonia Waterfalls. Soon arguments flare up: Can dastardly marketing officials really help bring gender stereotypes to question? Can Kevin swim upstream? And is ginger beer an acceptable substitute for Espresso Freddo?
The five friends soon learn that eating their sandwiches by a babbling waterfall is no picnic.
One impossibly sunny morning…
“I say, how queer!” cried Coffee-Boy, showing Cruella the news story they had just read on their phone.
“That is altogether too queer and fab!” said Cruella when she had read the news.
The five were sitting by the Caledonia Waterfalls, having just completed the 45 minute hike through a cool, shady woodland alongside a purling brook. Photo-Princess had prepared a picnic for all of them and they were all wolfing down delicious sandwiches made with freshly baked bread, slicks of brie and home-cured bacon. They were served alongside a salad fit for a Mistress, of crisp, freshly picked lettuce hearts, juicy tomatoes, sweet onions, crunchy radishes, fiery mustard and cress leaves, spiralised carrots, sliced ham and lashings of hard-boiled eggs.
With a screw of salt.
“What does the story say?” asked Photo-Princess, who was hand-feeding Kevin the Goldfish breadcrumbs from the loaf she had baked at 5 am that very morning.
“Before we get to that, Photo-Princess, a question, if I may?” asked Cruella. “Why are you carrying the fish in my brand new IKEA SINNERLIG jar with cork lid, made of clear glass that was mouth blown by skilled crafts people until it felt unique?”
“Kevin gets ‘goldfish anxiety’ in a new environment, Mistress.”
“That’s an answer to a question I haven’t asked, Princess.”
“Coffee-Boy ate all the cookies anyway,” pouted Photo-Princess.
“Snitch!” ejaculated Coffee-Boy.
“We will discuss this later, you two. Now put the fish down slowly. It must be exhausted. Essentially, it has been swimming upstream all the way to the waterfall.”
“Mistress. Please.” said Alex in a barely audible groan.
“Is it safe to keep that jar closed for so long?”
“But it’s the lid that keeps the fish safe, Mistress,” explained Alex patiently.
“Surely, with the lid sealing the jar closed, sooner or later, Kevin is going to run out of air.”
“Mistress. Please. I. Beg. Of. You.”
“When you are quite done banging your head against that cedar tree, Alex…”
“Mistress, the sky is blue, the birds are singing and the feral kittens of Caledonia Falls are mewing. Let’s keep Mistress Physics out of this, I will do anything.”
“Deal. Now, do join us and have a look at this story, Alex.”
“What is it about then?”
“It says that the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority has vowed to take a tougher line on gender stereotypes in advertisements. Because gender stereotypes are harmful to society.”
“Gosh,” said Photo-Princess, whilst brushing crumbs off everyone’s t-shirts with her hand. “Who would have thought the day would finally come?”
“It hasn’t. The rules come into effect in 2018.”
“A few more months and gender stereotyping will be a thing of the past! I call that pretty ripping,” said Alex, punching the air, as Photo-Princess collected everyone’s rubbish in a bag and carried it to a nearby bin.
“Yes! Apparently, advertising agencies are declaring themselves ready to start challenging cultural gender pre-conceptions and are committed 110% to the cause.” said Cruella.
“Are we counting in binary?”
“What do you mean, Coff, old thing?” asked Alex, feeding Kevin the Goldfish scraps of delicious lettuce.
“I mean, old chap, gender stereotypes are simplistic generalizations about the gender attributes and roles of individuals or even groups of individuals. They hardly ever communicate reliable information about others, but rather enable people to make quick assumptions and decisions about people and things they know nothing about.”
“So, that makes gender stereotypes a jolly good marketing tool, I say!”
“A smashing point!”
“But, don’t you see? All of this is now changing!” exclaimed Photo-Princess. “After all, a female actor has just been cast to play Dr Who. Not to mention that Cara Delevigne has just been explaining to Vogue how her character’s boyfriend in Valerian is more of a “damsel in distress” than she is!”
“Indeed. Now, it will all be different! Up until now the consumer public required easily identifiable gender stereotypes, embodied by one-dimensional characters getting into a series of preposterous scrapes resolvable only through the purchase of products they don’t need.”
“Now, they will be inundated by easily identifiable gender anti-stereotypes, embodied by one-dimensional characters getting themselves out of preposterous scrapes through the purchase of products they don’t need. Maybe after lapping this up for the next 5 decades, society will finally be ready to start thinking of gender as a layered continuum.”
“Golly! You are in a bit of a dark mood, Coffee-Boy. Here! Have this cookie that escaped you last night. I was saving it for myself, but you should have it. Eat it with some milk. You will forget to be angry when you have some sugar.”
“I say, top hole, Princess!” agreed Coffee-Boy, as Photo-Princess poured everyone a glass of the milk that they had extracted from freshly shelled raw almonds the night before.
“What on earth is this?” exclaimed Cruella, after taking a sip.
“It’s almond milk,” said Photo-Princess.
“So is it nuts? Or is it milk? I’m so confused!” Alex whimpered.
“Well, I could start calling it almond extract but then there would be no way to distinguish between the milk and the essential oil I use in baking. Whatever shall we do? However can we resolve this?”
Photo-Princess anxiously worried about having to make a decision.
“I guess if I start calling it ‘nut juice‘ most of you will stay up half the night worrying about our plans for tomorrow,” said Cruella.
Two of them winced, but Kevin refused to rise to the bait.
“I don’t know why, but the meals we have on picnics always taste so much nicer than the ones we have indoors.”
Photo-Princess knew when it was called upon by etiquette for a lady to change the subject.
“Really? You would rather eat in Nature than on a table? You are such a perverted slut, darling!”
Cruella knew when it was called upon a Mistress to stuff etiquette.
“But I think our own ironic embodiment of timeless gender archetypes is rather fascinating. I mean we’re all awfully good at appealing to eternal social desires for an unchanging patriarchal structure,” explained Photo-Princess.
“Whatever do you mean, Princess?”
“Well, Cruella’s is a terribly alpha-male type of person, assertive, competitive and career focused.”
“How is that ironic?” asked Cruella.
“Well, you know,” Photo Princess faltered. “You don’t actually have a…”
“Oh, but I do, darling. I have one in every colour of the spectrum.”
“Yes, Mistress, I recall. And Alex is often the secondary patriarchal figure of authority in our group. Except of course when he is not allowed to be.”
“Is that when he gets to be the secondary princess figure?”
“That’s an interesting and totally fab thesis!” Coffee-Boy jumped in excitedly. “I guess then you, Photo-Princess, are the quintessential subservient helpmeet figure who puts everyone’s welfare before her own.”
“Yes, Coffee-Boy. But I have a…”
“And you don’t…”
They all looked at Kevin, who blew bubbles up his mouth-blown cookie jar non-committally.
“I say, isn’t that ripping!” said Alex.
“Jolly, awfully jolly good!” said Coffee-Boy.
“I do so love the hols!” said Photo-Princess apropos of nothing.
“And I do so hope there is a flask of iced espresso in that picnic basket, Princess.” said Cruella.
“I thought it would be more appropriate for us to have lashings of ginger beer instead,” said Photo-Princess, with barely contained excitement.
A full minute of silence elapsed before Cruella added:
“I agree. Lashings sound most appropriate.”
P.S. Cruella’s Newsletter will return to its original format next week when she escapes Nature.