I am a feminist.
I am a card carrying, flag-waving, “shrill”, “hysterical”, “loud”, “bossy”, “crazy” feminist. I am that ooga-booga feminist that infiltrates the nightmares of the men in Fedoras. I am that feminist that makes the balls of construction workers shrivel with a single look if they “compliment” me in the street. I am that feminist who calls out everyday misogyny, rape culture and gaslighting and gets told “no need to be so aggressive” when all I have said is “I don’t think that is appropriate”.
Yes, I have a “sense of humour”. I am “flattered”. I am definitely not “oversensitive”. I can laugh at (and make) politically incorrect jokes and understand the difference between “no offence meant” and “no offence, but”. I own dresses and lipstick and heels and groom and smell nice and generally enjoy the company of men. In fact, on the whole, I think men are pretty decent and kind people, blind to their privilege, who, despite being taught that women are playgrounds, mean well.
But… I also speak up. And because I speak up about microaggressions towards women, I am lumped in the imaginary ooga-booga feminist camp.
And that’s just fine with me.
I fight every day to get an equal voice alongside my male peers — many of whom have taken my ideas, run with them, and have subsequently been taken seriously (3 years after I have said the exact same thing), leaving me having to keep fighting the good fight in this business.
I fight every day, being cast as the “crazy” one. Being talked down to like I don’t “understand how business works”. Being told to shut up. Being asked if I am “okay” or asking if I have “taken my meds”. Why yes, thank you, I have.
I fight every day, being cast as some entry-level “designer” or “social media chick”, rather than a leading consultant in this business, of which I have been in for 20 years.
I fight every day, being scored on the 1–10 fuckability scale before it is determined whether I am someone worth talking to or not (guys, yes, I know you think you are hiding it but we can see you doing it. Please, stop.).
Being painted as a “troublemaker” for saying the same things all the smart men say, but owning a vagina.
Shall I go on?
The fact is, if I were a man, I would be taken more seriously. I would probably have 3 books and a local TED Talk under my belt by now. Because I have seen it happen, to me and other women every single day: being ignored whilst my male business partner is spoken to as if he was the creator of the IP. Clients assuming I am the secretary and not the boss. Being spoken to like I am a social media “marketing chick” with a Canva Account and an iPhone, rather than as an industry veteran of 20 years and brilliant strategist.
The list of slights, big and small, goes on. And on. And on. And it all adds up and culminates into writing like this, where I will be “corrected” by men, told to stop being so “extreme” and “angry” and crazy”, and even worse, being criticised by other women (I’ll get to that next).
It is because of all of this, that being an ooga-booga feminist permeates every facet of my existence. Every single day I am fighting, to both be taken seriously and not be labelled “crazy” for speaking up. Every day, grappling with whether I should do YouTube or not, because I don’t want to be exposed to comments about my looks rather than my ideas. Every day, experiencing more comments on my profile pictures than what I am saying. Every day, being scared to write something (especially something like this), and put myself out there out of fear that I will receive rape threats and death threats (note: this has happened).
Even with credentials, and seniority, and experience, and goodwill, it is a daily fight to be heard, in equal stead with my male counterparts. Even now, I hear large, hairy fingers hovering over keyboards, to tell me how things “actually are” and to “stop complaining” or “sounding so angry” and how “nobody will listen to you if you don’t talk to us and make it about us!”.
This has played out so many times it is actually exhausting.
I often make the mistake of assuming that every woman is a feminist. Because why wouldn’t you be? We all have to fight like this on some level. The fact of the matter is, that there are some women (ie those whose primary existence is about being desirable to men) who benefit from misogyny, enjoy the “compliments”, and are quite comfortable with the ogling and sleaze and not being taken seriously. And that’s okay.
You make the system work for you, and that’s okay too.
Being a woman makes us inately disadvantaged in our society. Yes, it still does, and in many ways, the anti-feminist backlash, the “I’m a humanist”, the “Business Chicks in Heels Wearing Red Lips Mumpreneurs” movement, the pro-fashion, pro-consumer, “stay-at-home-by-choice”, anti-female-body movements are more destructive and pervasive than ever.
We live in a society where Sex and the City is celebrated as an act of modern feminism… where weight loss products and diets and hair removal and plastic surgery are marketed in the name of “self improvement”… and buying Chanel handbags and Gucci sunglasses are not acts of mindless and repulsive consumerism but instead presented as a means of empowerment, so long as you use your own money (that is still 70% of a man’s wage, or from a lower paying, part time job) and apply for your own loans (which we couldn’t actually do until the late 70s).
Don’t get me wrong when I say these things: I am not necessarily judging women who don’t sign up to the ooga-booga feminism, because, quite ironically, it takes stainless steel balls and a strong stomach to do so. I also get that we grew up in a generation that truly believes that they are equal with men, and that the Spice Girls, Beyoncé and the Kardashians are their yardstick for the “girl power” movement. It truly isn’t anyone’s fault, because we have come a very, very long way. Don’t get me wrong: I feel fortunate for being born in a time where anyone even gives a shit that about what I write.
I do not blame men. I have been very fortunate to associate with some wonderful men in my life, who, whilst products of the society we live in, are good men. I have been lucky to surround myself with men who have witnessed my career and the daily pressures of being a divorced, career-driven mother. But that shouldn’t be something of good fortune. Equality should not be the goal. It should be the bare minimum. It should be the bare minimum for people to acknowledge that you might benefit from a system, that oppresses others, and therefore makes you blind to it.
That’s called empathy.
We are all somewhat blind to our own privilege. Those things that we don’t think about because we just don’t experience prejudice or barriers because of it. I am white, University educated, first world, able bodied, heterosexual. With all of these things there are unspoken advantages. But I acknowledge it, and I always try to see that others who are not these things might have a different story to tell. I also have areas of disadvantage: being a woman, being the “weekend parent” as a mother, having a mental illness, growing up in poverty. I understand what it’s like to live with these disadvantages. That is my truth. Others have their truth too, and it pays to listen.
The fact of the matter is, women’s bodies are still matters of public policy. Our bodies are still public property. We still do not have adequate maternity leave or family friendly workplaces, sexual harassment and rape support, nor decent pro-choice laws. Mothers who aren’t the full time caregiver are judged, asked “what’s wrong with you (or him)?” There are still employers who will count “working from home on school holidays” as “annual leave” (yes, this has also happened).
We still have to fight inbuilt assumptions that we are extensions of our fuckability and our relationship status. When I was married, I was an extension of my husband, not a separate human being with goals. Now that I am single, it is about my dating life and why-did-you-say-no-to-that-proposal-you-are-37-and-you-better-get-married-soon-or-your-eggs-will-dry-up-and-the-world-will-end-who-on-earth-chooses-to-stay-single?.
We still have a culture of women hating each other and competing with each other, and fighting over scraps, rather than fighting for a seat at the table.
So for people like Germaine Greer, Betty Friedan, Edith Cowan, Eva Cox and my very own grandmother (who grew up in Catholic Ireland in the 30s in a convent, after her unmarried mother died and was the most ferocious ooga-booga feminist who wouldn’t call herself a feminist)… all of you… thank you. Not only for the path you paved for us, but for continuing to live your lives so that women can eventually afford their very own botox injections on their very own credit cards. And for the few of us who still believe, for better or worse, that we can have a voice, be heard, and be paid for it.
I am tempted to make a crack at how long this post is, but that’s what we do. We apologise for speaking up. Fuck that. Here it is. Read it or don’t.
Happy International Women’s Day. #iwd2016