Babies are made when a male sperm meets a female egg. Each man has lots of sperm cells stored in his testicles. A woman has internal organs called ovaries which release one egg each month. When a man and a woman make love, sperm travel from a man's penis into a woman's vagina. Man's sperm cells compete with each other to reach that one precious egg. Only the fastest and the strongest sperm manages to get to the egg and impregnate it.
There is another way to tell this story:
A female egg is sitting in the uterus and looking at all the male sperm cells swimming towards her. She selects one sperm she likes, temporarily lowers the chemical barrier, sucks the sperm in and raises the barrier once again so that none of the other sperm can get in.
Scientifically speaking, I have described exactly the same process, but notice how different these two stories are. In the first story, we have a "princess" waiting to be "rescued", and we applaud male strength and agility. The female egg here is passive, while the sperm is the noble warrior doing all the work. In the second story, it's the female egg who is in control. She is there screening the candidates, making the selection and putting up her defences against the unwanted intruders. She isn't a "princess", she is the boss.
For me, this is a powerful example of how gender bias controls our everyday narrative. Until I heard the alternative story of conception (on BBC Woman's Hour), I have always thought about it as a male sperm contest. It's like suddenly realising that virtually all movies released in the last century starred glorious men with women in supporting roles. It's the same bias that we apply subconsciously when praising boys for their strengths and girls for their beauty. Everyday gender bias is invisible until we start paying attention.
It's 21st century: our society is finally focussing on the problems of gender pay gap; lack of diversity in business and arts; gender discrimination in sports and gender bias that exists in the seemingly neutral science and technology. What we need is to examine our language, especially when addressing children, who, like sponges, absorb prejudice in the environment they grow up in. Please remember to praise girls for their wit and strength and boys for their sensitivity and compassion. When discussing husbands or boyfriends, it's time women stop using such expressions as "Sam is helping me about the house" because Sam (bless him, he sounds like a keeper) is only doing his fair share of running a household. Try to notice when you are saying "Football World Cup" referring to men's football because it's time to be specific whether we mean women's or men's game.
Many of us - men and women - want equality of opportunities and are hopeful for change. Yet change isn't something we should be expecting to come from the top. Our politicians, employers, filmmakers and scientists need us to act in small but meaningful ways to change everyday behaviour and narrative. They'll follow suit. Young parents, we are all relying on you.