#IAMEVERYDAYSEXISM – Part One
I have a confession to make – I am a misogynist. I am also a feminist.
I have from childhood, internalised the values that tell me that everything men are and do is important and everything women do is fluff. It took me a long time to realise that I held a disregard for my own sex, and since then, I’ve become more aware of how deeply entrenched and widespread this view is, very few women (never mind men) will admit to their own misogynistic prejudices and yet, the evidence is everywhere. From slut shaming to fat shaming, parent–shaming to childfree-shaming, articles which claim scientific proof that men and women’s brains are ‘fundamentally different’, maxims for career development and leadership which venerate what society considers ‘male’ behaviours, and even ‘feminist’ websites providing a constant feed of comment on our bodies, our behaviours, and scrutiny of female public figures such as the recent prediction of a ‘backlash’ against Jennifer Lawrence. We don’t treat men this badly, or give them such narrow parameters, and yet we are constantly doing it to ourselves and to each other.
I am horrified that in my early twenties, I told a university lecturer that I wasn’t interested in making things about ‘women’, that ‘I wanted to make important things, work for all people, not sit around talking about knitting, cooking, or babies’ That was pretty shocking. I don’t know if he took it as shocking at the time, but since I’ve remembered saying that, it obviously stuck in my mind as something that didn’t ring true – a cognitive dissonance. Now here’s the thing, contrary to what we might believe from reading about neurology in the popular press, the architecture of our brains changes in response to environmental factors, it is not wired from birth. So as much as our patterns of thinking and beliefs are formed by our experiences in life, we can change these patterns and form new beliefs. Formal techniques such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy prove that by following certain processes you can successfully rewire connections and associations in the brain – within organisations, and within society in general, we need to uncover and rewire the underlying patterns that lead us to form these beliefs which lead to prejudice and inequality for non-priveleged groups. It is only by confessing to my own misogyny and looking for it every day, that I am able to rewrite my early programming.
Being a kid in the 80s, we used to do this crazy thing called going out to play. It was awesome. You ask if you can ‘go out to play’ and your parents tell you when you need to be back (usually mealtimes and bedtimes), and you just go outside and make stuff up. You knock on other kids doors to round up some pals, or just join in with whatever is happening, and as long as you’re back by nightfall or stick within certain parameters you just go off, invent things, and make up a plan as you go along. As a child I loved exploring, going further away from home than I was technically allowed to be, riding my bike, climbing trees, rock-hopping, building swings, playing at Tarzan, hunting for insects, building traps, playing with Lego, making dens and machines, building ramshackle cars, time machines, weapons and dolls houses out of sticks and cardboard and wool. You know, doing all the ‘normal kid stuff’ that you’d expect a kid to do. Swallows and Amazons, Famous Five, Lord of the Flies… I can’t say for sure what the parents attitudes were, but at the time I knew that those things weren’t for girls. In the adventure books I read, there were a few girls, but in real life it was largely only the boy street-pals whose parents would allow them to roam far, get dirty, and risk injury to do those sorts of things. Girl time with my girl street-pals, was spent mostly within view of their parents house playing with dolls, playing ‘princesses’, making ‘perfume’ out of flowers, doing other things I did enjoy doing as a kid. But just being a kid, doing ‘normal kid-stuff’ like learning how things worked and how to explore the world, was not what girls were expected, or allowed to do. In the world of the grown ups, everyone that was in charge of anything was a man, except the Prime Minister who was known to everyone as ‘THAT BLOODY WOMAN’.
Right away, I clocked that being a girl sucked; especially if you wanted to be good at anything that mattered. Growing up in Scotland in the 1980s, football was THE most important social currency, and girls weren’t allowed to play football . I could climb trees as fast as any boy, I could run fast, but the boys wouldn’t let me kick about a ball because, ‘girls are rubbish’. So is the self-fulfilling prophecy and girls have no choice but to be ‘rubbish’ at football, because no one let us play. From pre-school onwards, it was glaringly apparent to me that stuff for ‘girls’, isn’t serious stuff. Where boys played football from primary 1, the girls were banned from playing and were not taught the ‘girls game’ of netball until primary 7. From 5 years old to 11 years old, that’s six years of watching from the sidelines, and a profound effect on the psyche. Watching boys push and shove and receive praise for their energy and boldness, whilst you yourself are coached to be quiet and polite and kind and pretty, affect ones view of oneself and ones choices later in life. All the exploring, climbing, building and leading that boys were allowed to do in the play world, were the same skills that were valued in the classroom – co-incidentally the skills that society values in our highest paid careers. Never at school did we learn our lessons with examples from the ‘girl’ world – no dolls, no princesses, no sewing, no flowers, no fairies, no family drama. We learn our values young and we learn our place in things early on.
Fast forward through the whirlwind that is puberty and all the shite that goes with that – I’m not even going to go into it. Its too vast and too complex a battleground, but all I can say is thank F*CK we didn’t have the internet or smartphones when i was growing up, because the brutality that our teens subject each other to is much worse than anything I endured or made anyone else endure at my hands. By the time I was a young adult I had firmly decided that being cast as a woman was NOT for me, and made every effort I could to avoid being stereotyped as such: at university, shaving my hair off, hanging out with boys and the few boyish brash girls there were, drinking hard and working hard, the cityboy’s motto. I avoided ‘girly culture’ for all I was worth, and railed against it’s ubiquitous assumptions like: 1) all girls love all babies, and anything that is ‘cute’ 2) all girls love makeovers and spending days preparing outfits and getting ready for 3) girly nights out 4) whining about boys 5) pretending to be stupid just to get boys to like you 6) being weak 7) gossiping 8) giggling 9) being purposefully crap at things because it’s endearing 10) waiting for boys to take action. I wanted to prove that I was as good as any boy – I would show them that I could be the best. Now it’s pretty safe to assume that I wasn’t especially tolerant at this point in my life. I was, a bit of a ‘bitch’ – but not because I was hurling snide remarks or being the schoolyard gossip, but because I was behaving like a boy and we don’t have another word for a woman who doesn’t behave meekly. I had unleashed my inner misogynist, and she was doing so much better at life than I had ever done before.
I could have played it differently, I could have explored my womanhood, but I didn’t because… honestly, I couldn’t. This was my one shot to raise my game, and there are no instructions, no stories and no precedents in our culture for womanhood as success.
Recently I put myself in the running for a very high level, high profile leadership job. I have evolved and learned much since my early adulthood which I spent honing my directive and authoritative leadership style; I’ve gone beyond that quite ‘traditional’ approach to leadership and discovered skills to release my more complex capacities for consensus building, dialogue and collaboration. Many would describe the latter skill set as ‘feminine’ traits, and the former as ‘masculine’. i was shocked to discover that even now, in the 21st Century in a fluid and forward-thinking sector, my more complex skills that have taken me years to hone, were viewed as less valuable than the skills I started out with (the ‘masculine’ skills). This was revealed to me in a discussion with the female psychologist who was running the psychometric testing for leadership traits – she posited that my preference to seek dialogue and counsel from others rather than dictating the terms showed that I was less inclined towards leadership than those who showed a preference to dictate terms. Not so, NOT SO. A good leader should have a ‘quiver’ of styles, and avoid using the authoritarian style if possible – legitimacy and authority should be conferred upon you by your followers. What an outdated model of leadership she must have been referencing, one that takes little account of the realities of our mixed economy, mixed portfolio, mixed home and work lives, that we all deal with in the 21st Century. The way we do business has fundamentally shifted to encompass a global economy of casual labour, collaboration and political power-wrangling – the people we are at home has fundamentally shifted since so many of us are expected to be on call remotely, 24 hours a day, in freelance work, on temporary or zero hours contracts. Now it is not only women who are not paid for their labour.
‘Women’s issues’ are now everyone’s issues. We are all misogynist, and until we start to recognise that, we cannot change it. Our concept of success, of leadership, of business, is fundamentally misogynist. It is also fundamentally ableist, classist, and racist. It’s about time we all confessed to ourselves, and start to stand up for each other instead of pretending that we can all be the rich white man. He doesn’t know how to be in this new world, so lets stop giving him legitimacy and start to legitimise other ways of being, other ways of behaving.
(Part 2 will follow in the near future, where I’ll talk about how #iameverydaysexism creates misandry)