Last week was International Women’s Day, and although I didn’t write about it then, I have been reflecting on it ever since. So I thought that I would share my honest thoughts about it, what I don’t like about it, and my experiences of everyday sexism that need to stop.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day was #BeBoldForChange – something that I’m sure most of us need to incorporate into our lives. I’m quite sure that I’m not the only female out there who has been a victim of everyday sexism, yet has shrugged it off, somehow hoping that by ignoring it or not saying anything to defend myself, it will just somehow stop. Well, it won’t.
By not saying or doing anything about everyday instances of sexism, we are normalising this behaviour, and giving the message that it’s ok, we’re fine with being treated the way we are. Stereotypes must be challenged, the gender pay gap should be a thing of the (very distant) past, and we must celebrate the success of women leaders.
I absolutely love the message that International Women’s Day promotes. However, what I absolutely cannot stand is the way that some people interpret the message and choose to celebrate it.
Let’s start with an example. In recent years, most companies have chosen to jump on the ‘International Women’s Day’ bandwagon, celebrating the exceptional women in their team, etc. I’m sure that some companies really do want to celebrate the women in their team (and rightly so!). However, I can’t help but notice some companies push this message across so extravagantly on their online channels – only for the underlying message to be completely different.
There seemed to be quite a few companies who organised special lunches or other celebrations on IWD this year. First, I just want to point out just how cringey I find this. A special meal/mini party to celebrate the women in a team – and take photos to plaster over the company website!? I’ve had the unfortunate opportunity to experience this first hand a couple of years ago, and I honestly wanted to run away, as fast as I can. It may not seem too bad to an observer – it might even look like a pretty nice way to celebrate.
But honestly, there’s a fine line between celebrating the women in your team, and patronising them by turning the whole affair into a bit of a public display.
This is especially the case when the people at those same companies subliminally speak to/about women in ways that undermine them. Here’s an example I experienced first hand.
I once worked for a company where I was responsible for writing online content. I was fairly experienced in my role and wrote about anything ranging from travel to interiors and anything in between. That is, until one day I decided to write an article about football . Yes, a woman writing an article about football.
When I announced to my manager that I will take care of the football article, he raised his eyebrow and his response was ‘Are you sure you can write about football? I mean, do you feel comfortable writing about football? Are you sure you can manage?‘.
Now I actually happen to enjoy watching a good game of football, and always have. But that’s beside the point! There is no better word to describe how I felt, than pure shock. I’m 100% sure that it wouldn’t even have crossed my manager’s mind to ask me that sort of question if I was male. I went on to insist that I was perfectly capable of writing an article about football (‘Ok, but are you certain? *raised eyebrow*) – and went on to write an article I was really proud of.
Of course, there are much (MUCH) worse cases of everyday sexism in the workplace. I just think that it’s incredible how the same companies that plaster pro-IWD messages all over their online space can have such opposing underlying thoughts. I would rather they keep their celebratory IWD lunches, and assess their ways of thinking instead!
In an attempt to keep this blog post from swiftly turning into an entire book, here are 3 more things I believe must change if we want to move towards gender equality:
- Women’s Sports. Why has it somehow become ok to refer to women playing sports in big championships and competitions – say football – as ‘Women’s Football‘, but everyone OBVIOUSLY assumes you’re referring to men when you simply say ‘Football‘. Surely it should be simply ‘Football‘ for both – or ‘Women’s Football‘ and ‘Men’s Football‘. Why is it the ‘FIFA Women’s World Cup’ and simply the ‘FIFA World Cup’ for men!?
- Power Dressing. Think of ‘female power dressing’ and you probably imagine a lady in masculine clothes – perhaps a suit. But why shouldn’t women be able to wear a pretty floral dress and be considered ‘powerful’? Power dressing should not be synonymous with dressing like a man! Check out these Google search results for ‘power dressing’ and you’ll see what I mean.
- Cat Calling. Does this one even need any explanation? I honestly cannot believe that in the 21st century, you still cannot walk past a group of workmen without the risk of being harassed. Disgusting.