” …A woman that won’t do what she’s told.”
That’s an actual joke someone told me, before laughing raucously, in answer to my question “Would you call yourself a feminist?”
Until recently, I’ve never thought much of feminism. Not in a disparaging way, I mean it literally hasn’t crossed my mind that much. I suppose I’ve never noticed that much sexism taking place around me. I like to think that if I had been alive a hundred years ago, I would have been one of the women throwing myself under horses for the rights of women, but in all honesty I’d probably have been obliviously popping out babies chained to the kitchen sink like the majority of that generation.
We can vote, we can work, we have birth control at our fingertips, we can be presidents and prime ministers. (ettes?!) We pretty much have it all. Truthfully, I’ve always sighed at women’s lib organisations like Femen, and asked, what more do we want?
After all, Feminism in its original meaning doesn’t exist any more, does it? We’re not campaigning to be allowed a say in politics, or for control over our own bodies. In the western world at least, life is pretty good for women. We can have our babies and return to work. We can choose not to, and that’s fine too. We can have sex, and we can even enjoy it. Of course there is working woman’s guilt, mummy guilt, stay at home guilt, basically vagina guilt, but if we were really honest we would accept that it’s mainly self judgement, and that the rest of the world doesn’t care. Real issues still exist, the gender pay gap being a massive one, but for the most part we are doing pretty well for a gender who couldn’t even go to university when our grandparents were kids.
So if I’m happy enough to let other women deal with what’s left of inequality in the western world nowadays, what’s brought feminism to my attention lately?
Caitlin Moran (in her fabulous biography how to be a woman which you must all go out and read) discusses the kind of sexism that you don’t notice right away. You might leave a situation thinking, wow-they were a massive douche, and then it actually takes another few hours to sit bolt upright and realise that you missed the word sexist out of that description.
And since that written revelation, I’ve been absolutely bombarded by my own memory, to the point where I can’t believe quite how rife my life has been with hidden sexism. And that’s what I believe we should be fighting against.
Last month, I had the displeasure of spending a few hours in enforced company with an extreme male chauvinist. The kind you can’t help but notice. He had a mini fit when his son picked up a pink buggy to play with, complete with a baby doll inside. “Sorry” I just barely bit back from saying, “I didn’t realise you want your son to grow into the type of man who won’t care for his children or help his wife.” Later that afternoon, midway through an intellectual discussion between him and two other men, I joined the debate. After his look of shock dissipated, he continued talking, making sure to explain every word over two syllables with a condescending look in my direction and an apologetic head tilt for his superior knowledge. When I correctly answered the problem he had posed, he shook his head and basically told me I’d made a lucky guess.
I went home livid. How has he got to mid thirties without someone telling him he has a huge problem? And how can his wife let him behave that way without saying something?
Attitude. That’s what the war should be waged on. The next time someone is rude to you, stop and check the conversation. Is it rudeness, or sexism? More and more I can see that what at first glance was brushed off as ‘they’re an idiot” has a horrible undercurrent of latent sexism that maybe even the speaker isn’t aware of. Sentences like “what does your husband do?” before you’ve even asked about my own work, are not just rude, they are horribly sexist. And they paint a reality. A reality where the female intern gets the coffee while the male one assists the director of the company. A world where you plan an important speech for a meeting and two men stand up to leave before you’ve finished the first sentence. A world where it’s assumed you wont want to join everyone for lunch, so you’re left alone to answer the phones.
All of the above have happened to me in the last five years, and honestly, none of them are serious enough as stand alone events to even mention, without dealing with another sexist label, “the hormonal hysterical woman.” But put them all together and you have a quite frightening picture of a woman’s worth.
It’s easy enough to solve. And bear with me here because this is quite radical. Everyone has to see women…. as people.
That’s right. The same as any other person, male or otherwise.
It’s crazy! It’s insane! It will never work!
But taking every situation I’ve outlined above, I think it may be genius. Instead of my new favourite MCP noting that a dress and heels had joined the convo, if he had just noted that another human was now involved, the only change in conversation would have been a slight body shift to include me in the debate.
If I wasn’t immediately wife, but rather person, then obviously the first question would have been “what do you do?”
“2 interns? Flip a coin, decide between yourselves, take turns for gods sake.”
“Oh, a person is talking, I’d better wait to go powder my nose until they are finished. Perhaps I’ll even listen.”
“Ah, we’re going for lunch, every person is obviously welcome.”
I’m not for one minute downplaying the important work that feminists do for women, and I’m grateful every day for our ‘sister suffragettes’ that made my own freedom and choices possible. But the work needed nowadays is different, and I believe it is mostly down to menfolk to make the changes, although of course women can be just as guilty. To see women simply as other people who coexist side by side, separate but equal. To extend the same courtesy they would to any other person, by simply not being rude. To think about an unpleasant encounter in their day and ask themselves whether they would have made the same choices had a man been standing in front of them, or at the other end of the line.
So do me a favour, and pass on the message to the man in your life. After all, they probably will have stopped reading this by now. It’s written by a woman.