I’ve had these words (most of them at least) sat in my phone notes for some months now; never feeling bold enough to post. It feels like today, International Women’s Day is the day to finally share this. Me being #beboldforchange I guess.
Before you read on, I’d like you to know that I am a champion of other people. I am a champion of other women and there are some things to be hopeful about for the future for feminism. Perhaps there’ll be a day, in my lifetime, where it’s an outdated term that’s long past necessary. Perhaps.
But this post is being written not as a celebration (that will come separately), but as a result of there being too many things that make me less than hopeful.
I’m a woman. I hope that’s fairly obvious to those I meet.
I’m also a feminist. I hope I make that clear when it matters the most. And in 2017, it most definitely still matters.
Sexism, to the untrained eye, is something confined to tabloid papers and drunk conversations. To the trained eye, it can be identified- but it is often disguised as something else- an innocent question, a supportive piece of advice, a reporting of a story, just a joke… The comments aren’t always concealing a malicious intention but they do reveal a society where, whatever we’d like to convince ourselves, women certainly don’t experience equality.
These are just some such comments I’ve been on the receiving end of recently:
‘You’re a young woman so you’ll have to work hard to show them they can learn something from you.’
Their sexist mind believes that my age and sex will automatically mean I’m written off.
‘Why don’t you want to get married? Oh, all women do! Why don’t you want children? Oh, you will!’
Their sexist mind can’t equate the fact I might not fit the mould they believe a woman should.
‘You should get him to change/ stop/ start doing x.’
Their sexist mind believes women to be the keepers of their men.
I once saw sexism being described as plain bad manners. And it is, but I also believe it to be much more than that. Its effects have the potential to be far more damaging than mere impoliteness.
The damage is caused to my friend; a shining light in her work. A woman who is about to start a family. A woman who is in the process of moving house. A woman who has stepped up to lead where her manager has left a gap. A woman who, on top of all this stress, is left concerned about what will become of her job after maternity leave is over. It isn’t ok, in 2017, that she should fear losing her job because her employer may or may not be keen about her returning part-time. Especially in a large organisation that could do far better than that to support women to progress; not place barriers in their way that don’t need to exist.
The damage is caused to a young woman, lacking in confidence, who would like to enter the workplace. She is developed enough at college to successfully ace an interview- only to find that her workplace is male dominated (she’s the only woman in fact) and she soon returns to college with her confidence smashed to smithereens. Fortunately, I’ll be lucky enough to be working with her soon as a mentor for her work experience with us.
A few years ago now, I had a student in my GCSE English class who was studying IT. We often talked about her course and what she was learning on it and before long, it transpired that she had been on an Engineering course the previous year. She’d left the course and seemed sad not to be continuing with it. It emerged that she’d been the only girl in the class- not a problem in itself as the other students treated her as just one of their classmates, but the teacher did not. In one of their first practical sessions she dressed into her PPE just as the others did but her teacher responded saying that he had expected her to appear in pink overalls. She’d never felt respected or like she belonged, so she left. Last time I saw her was in the college corridor a couple of years later and she told me excitedly that she’d returned to study Engineering and was headed to an Engineering Apprenticeship with Jaguar Land Rover. I always wonder what longer lasting damage that teacher’s comments could have had on her without so many positive voices to counteract what he’d told her; causing her not just to forget about her dream temporarily but forever.
Sexism will prevail as the dominant view for as long as society reads things such as these:
Of course, many spoke out against such sexism and that’s great but should we have to speak out against it? What about how the view may have been reinforced for those who didn’t speak out?
The agony aunt pages of our local magazine are filled with women concerned about having to juggle it all because that’s what society requires of them if they’re to be happy and the advice that follows does nothing to counter this view; instead strongly reinforces it. It’s clear that dangerously sexist views are not just confined to national papers.
The media can be blamed for many things but getting in the way of women’s equality is certainly one of them. If some of society can believe many of the other lies they sell us and stories they twist with headlines designed to provoke a response, then we don’t have a chance of seeing sexism eradicated in our lifetime. We stand an even worse chance when we have the leader of the free world speaking about women in the way he has. Time passing has not made these words any less shocking.
A few months ago now, I experienced a typical day of feminist conflict.
Two things happened:
- The unveiling of the #womenofsteel statue in Sheffield.
- My partner leaving me an MSA magazine dedicated to women in Motorsport to read.
So why are these two things of conflict? They’re both overt celebrations of female achievement and their contributions to male-dominated worlds. Shouldn’t I be satisfied?
It’s the 100 or so years that lie between the two that bothers me. I believe we should be a lot further on in all of this than we currently are.
Having spent more than enough time over the past few years in motorsport settings of a weekend, I can testify that they represent some of the worst sexism that exists in society. To see any woman making it in this arena is remarkable but I don’t want to applaud that. I don’t want to celebrate the lone woman making it in this male-dominated space. It’s 2017. I want to talk about women in motorsport like it isn’t anything new. We’re not in the middle of war. We now have the vote. Yet we appear to be in the midst of a feminist era where equality exists on paper and is beginning to catch up in reality but society’s mindset leaves a lot to be desired.
So the choice we’re all left with for now is to celebrate female achievement and success, wherever that may be.
Whilst we do it, can I also make a request that we call out the everyday sexism when we see it – wherever we see it? Our silence makes it OK and it’s far from OK.
These two actions aren’t as aspirational as I’d like but perhaps they’re essential if we’re to get to an age where gender is no longer an issue and we’re all humans achieving wonderful things.
At my local train station there’s this end of the platform where, on a weekday morning, women don’t stand. Sometimes, as this morning, there as many as 10 men stood there. It is noticeable to anyone who wants to notice. So noticeable that I choose to stand amongst them. I like to think my actions empower other women to join me.
It is a strange phenomenon and whilst I don’t think it’s really a sexist act by this group of men to commandeer a section of the platform, it’s strange all the same. Stranger still, in 2017, is the absence of women and their equal rights, which is to be found everywhere if you are only able to open your eyes to it.
Let’s #beboldforchange so that 2018 is different.