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The great popper debate

As we watched the final of the Great British Sewing Bee a couple of weeks ago, whilst sharing comments via our Twitter chat channel, one of the gang exclaimed her surprise and indignation at the revelation that press studs (always known to me as poppers) had a designated male and female part. This was immediately followed by links to all sorts of other things where a male 'connector' fits into a female 'receptacle'. I'd always known this, and yet never thought of it until this wonderful woman called it out. So I decided to do some investigation into the 'gender' of fixtures and fittings.

In the spirit of honesty, my search started and ended with Wikipedia's page on the 'Gender of connectors and fasteners' but my goodness was it a fascinating page. In a number of trades - from mechanics to plumbing to electronics (and obviously sewing), each half of pairs of connectors and fasteners are assigned as male or female. As the page tells us,

The assignment is a direct analogy with genitalia and sexual intercourse, the part bearing one or more protrusions or which fits inside the other being designated male, in contrast to the part containing the corresponding indentations, or fitting outside the other, being designated female. Extension of the analogy results in the verb to mate being used to describe the process of connecting two corresponding parts together.

These designations span mechanical fasteners, where a female nut 'receives' the male bolt, to electrical connectors and drainpipes. Even lego pieces are gendered, with the male parts on top and the female underneath. Taking the analogy even further, there can be connectors and fasteners that are hermaphrodites and some that are non-binary.

So why have I decided to write about this, of all things? There are two morals to this story:

The first is about creativity. Why, of all the things in the world, do we have to draw on sex and gender to describe inanimate objects, inevitably leaving the designated 'females' as the passive receptors. Creating a diverse community based on equality calls for a move away from this outdated and unhelpful thinking. Let's - collectively - find new ways to describe our world, and the myriad things within it, that don't reflect and perpetuate prejudice.

The second is about calling it out. I've realised recently that until this year - and I'm my mid 40s - I've favoured 'politely ignoring' things that I know are wrong, at least when it comes to prejudice. But that's not an acceptable approach. We must take a stand and challenge injustice wherever we see it. Whether it's racism, sexism, homophobia or any prejudice, we can only create a better, fairer society if we call out the things that go against the principles of such a society.

So, with thanks to my Sewing Bee/ murder mystery/ feminist/ general mayhem Twitter support group, here ends my thinking on the great popper debate!


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