I recently read Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In. I thought it was interesting how the book was received and reviewed, and also how Sandberg herself was critiqued. There have been a few similar examples lately of how a woman is told she should act, feel or speak based on her gender, and how she is letting the side down in some way if she fails to meet the accepted criteria.
I’m not even going to get started on how ridiculous most of the arguments have been, we’ll be here all day and I personally can’t be bothered. You’re all bright enough to make up your own minds on the topic I’m sure.
At around the same time as the book came out, I discovered the Everyday Sexism Project. For those who don’t know, this is the project’s outline:
“It seems to be increasingly difficult to talk about sexism, equality and women’s rights in a modern society that perceives itself to have achieved gender equality. In this ‘liberal’, ‘modern’ age, to complain about everyday sexism or suggest that you are unhappy about the way in which women are portrayed and perceived renders you likely to be labelled ‘uptight’, ‘prudish’, a ‘militant feminist’, or a ‘bra burner’.”
“The Everyday Sexism project aims to take a step towards gender equality, by proving wrong those who tell women that they can’t complain because we are equal. It is a place to record stories of sexism faced on a daily basis, by ordinary women, in ordinary places. To show that sexism exists in abundance in the UK workplace and that it is very far from being a problem we no longer need to discuss. To provoke responses so numerous and wide-ranging that the problem becomes impossible to ignore. To report the way you have been treated, even if it has not been taken seriously elsewhere. To stand up and say ‘this isn’t right’, even if it isn’t big or outrageous or shocking. Even if you’ve got used to thinking that it is ‘just the way things are’.”
The examples are submitted in their hundreds every week, and range from casual comments to abuse and assault. I’m always left with an uncomfortable angry feeling after I’ve read them, but I still go back every few days to look because I feel it’s important to remind ourselves how far we haven’t come.
On a personal level, I haven’t been much bothered by any of this over the years. This is not to say it hasn’t happened to me – I could drag my memory for incidents from school, family and workplaces – just that it hasn’t bothered me. I know I can’t control other people’s heads; I don’t have the power to change their attitudes or opinions at one meeting. So if someone wants to make an assumption about me based on the fact that I’m female, especially if that assumption is that I’m less able somehow, that’s fine. I’m spared working with them, as although it’s funny at first it quickly gets boring. And if I must work with them, that’s also doable. People may underestimate me, but they rarely do so twice.
Am I talking myself up? What a very unfeminine trait. But here it is … I firmly believe I am awesome. I am a feminist. I don’t think I’m equal to all men, or better than any man, etc etc. I do believe though that I am very very good at what I do and I’m perfectly comfortable saying so. I may be more able than some men, less so than others. I may be more technical and less emotional than many women, but more so than some. So what? I’m just me.
I’ve linked to the project because I want as many people as possible to go and read the submissions. I think all women should take a look, so they know they’re not alone and that it’s ok to be angry about inequality and disrespect. As for the men, saying “what about me? should I read it too?” Well, that depends. It’s a personal decision, but I would say … Only if you either speak to, work with, live with or are related to a woman, or anticipate doing so at some point in the future. Otherwise you probably don’t need to bother.