I sit here...
seething as I type this, literally almost shaking with anger.
Yet another woman I know has posted on Facebook about a physical sexual attack she has had to endure from a group of random men in the street. Reading about it made me feel sick, because I and countless other women have been in exactly the same position - unwanted attention, unwanted contact, unwanted aggression.
You might think that my visceral reaction to a Facebook post is an overreaction, but it's just another nail in the coffin of my previous indifference to the fact that I am systemactialy undermined and made to feel vulnerable, all because of a simple fact - I have a vagina.
Does that word make you feel uncomfortable?
I have a vagina. I identify as a woman. I use the pronouns she/her.
What I'm about to talk about is quite hard to articulate, so you'll have to bear with me and my scrappy thoughts, but I have been wanting to write a post about my experiences of my gender for a while now.
I have to caveat this conversation at this point with the observation that I am an extremely privileged woman and my experiences are undoubtedly influenced by this. I can not, and do not, pretend to speak for all women, or all of the wonderful intersectional identities that women can have.
I also don't really want to get into what *actually* makes you a woman here, for me that is a fruitless/unessicary debate. If you identify as a woman, you are a woman.
The thing is...
A lot of the time being a woman kinda sucks and talking about why it kinda sucks, kinda sucks even more.
When women are vocal about this suckiness, they are shot down:
"Stop being so hysterical,
"Stop being such an angry bitch"
Or the best one; "so you're anti-men then? That's not very equal"
(tl;dr: Men also suffer under the Patriarchy).
This kind of rhetoric is expertly designed to keep women silent about the issues which fundamentally affect our lives.
Because make no mistake, sexism still exists and fundamentally underpins most of our society:
* Women are still paid less than men [http://www.equalpayportal.co.uk/statistics/]
* The experiences recorded on the Everyday Sexism Project [https://everydaysexism.com]
* Women made up to 29% of UK boardrooms hires last year [https://www.ft.com/content/620b634e-ed51-11e6-930f-061b01e23655]
I could go on.
The following are examples of gender based harassment from the past year or so of my life:
* Being mistaken as the receptionist and handed a coat *who does this!?* (I ran the company)
* Being told that "I would never hire a woman of your age, you would just go on maternity leave and cost me money"
* Being called a "girl" in professional contexts
* Having my arse grabbed at a work-party, where I was representing the organisation of which I am currently the leader, only for the man to shrug when challenged about his behaviour.
* Catcalling whilst I'm out running. I have been told that I'm both fat and fit all in the same run... wtf.
Alongside the large and extremely important issues of pay, harassment and executive representation, there are also the smaller, yet equally as important microaggressions which make up daily life as a woman.
Psychologist Derald Wing Sue defines microaggressions as "brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership"
The phenomenon is not limited to gender and can be experienced by all marginalised groups.
Examples of this for me have been people saying "oh for a woman, you're a pretty good runner" or "stop being such a girl"
"that's so gay" is also another good example.
Microagressions are in essence comments/actions which subtly undermine/criticise a perceived attribute you or others have.
Macro or micro...
these instances of sexism are not OK and need to be challenged.
I would never want to put pressure on others to do or say things they are not comfortable with, however I do think that we can affect change by collectively challenging these behaviours.
This is especially true when it comes to microaggressions, as often people are unaware of what they are doing.
I have taken to politely interrupting and pointing out that someone has said something not cool. This seems to work amicably in most instances.
I have also had this happen in opposite, with others highlighting my microaggressions, which I then apologise for, reflect on and learn from.
In more obvious instances of sexism, my rule now is that I don't let it go, especially in a professional context.
My usual retort to a sexist comment is "would you have said/done that if I was a man?"
Whilst this isn't a perfect response, it does let them know that I see their sexism for what it is and perhaps might even provoke some kind of reflection on their part.
When it comes to challenging more aggressive behaviours or language, that's when it gets hard.
When men are catcalling you in the street, it can be dangerous to challenge them.
What I ask here is that if you see a woman in this kind of situation and it is safe and appropriate to do so, support her, stand by her and check she is OK. If this happens to you, inform the police and do not normalise it - abuse is not normal.
Call out friends, colleagues and family for unacceptable behaviour.
If you are a manager, ensure your male and female members of staff are treated equally.
Yes this means pay, but it also means equal access to training, opportunities, exciting projects, reviews, praise and parental leave (remember what I said about the Patriarchy affecting men too).
Sexism exists. It has a daily and profoundly negative impact on women's lives. My experiences are a small drop in the ocean and do not represent the entirety of sexism's boundaries.
We are all stakeholders in improving the way our society treats/speaks about women and all marginalised groups.
Any action you can take to pursue this goal is worthwhile and frankly, desperately needed.