….but we are all fabulous.
When I was younger, in my 20s say, I was rather oblivious to gender equality politics and the need for them. I remember I used to say “I’m not a feminist, I’m an equalist – men and women should be equally valued for the different roles they play”. I went through life not really feeling oppressed for being a woman and confident enough to stand up for myself should I encounter any problems. I was vaguely aware of bad things done to other women in the UK and further away and vaguely bothered by them, but that was as far as it went.
Julie Rrap, Overstepping, 2001
Over time, this position of mine has changed considerably and I am now actively involved in a variety of women promoting activities:
I am now my School’s Athena SWAN Champion (we gained a Bronze Department Award last year). The Athena SWAN Charter (http://www.athenaswan.org.uk/) recognises commitment to advancing women’s careers in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment in academia and is run by the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU). When I first took on this role a few years ago, I was a bit sceptical about the need for it. I am a psychologist and psychology as a discipline has no trouble attracting female undergraduates – we currently have around 75% female intake. The discipline therefore differs somewhat from other STEMM subjects. However, what psychology does suffer from is a ‘leaky pipeline’ – in my School we go from 75% female UGs to 50% female lecturers to 25% female professors (until recently 0% female professors). The more work I do exploring why this might be, the more I realise how far we have to go for true equality at work to be won. Often this is nebulous, women are more likely to apply for promotion based on teaching and admin roles than males and these roles are harder to externally evidence excellence in. Even discussion style at meetings can hinder women – Prof Paul Walton at York University gave a talk a few years ago in which he described the following scenario. A female colleague might make a suggestion at a meeting. This is shouted down but sometime later as the discussion evolves, a male colleague will make exactly the same point and everyone will agree with him. (Paul mentioned that women around the room usually started nodding during this anecdote and that was certainly true on this occasion). This has an insidious effect – the female feels humiliated/annoyed/frustrated and so doesn’t make a point the next time, the head of department thinks she is quiet in meetings and therefore doesn’t suggest she take on more senior roles which delays her being able to apply for promotion.
Fortunately, my University has various schemes supporting the development of female staff and I am lucky enough to be on one of those schemes, the Aurora Programme run by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (http://www.lfhe.ac.uk/en/programmes-events/you/aurora/). This is a women-only leadership development initiative to develop future leaders in Higher Education. The sessions are excellent – consisting of inspirational speakers and activities. Delegates are seated at tables of 10 with one senior female academic as a role model at each table. We all get to discuss our particular challenges and to help each other find solutions. Best of all has been being a member of an Action Learning Set. These are sessions where just 9 of us meet up. We outline a problem we are encountering at work and then during the day each woman has half an hour during which she briefly reminds everyone of the problem and they ask her questions about the issue not aimed at solving it for her but rather at encouraging her to reframe the matter and perhaps for solutions to emerge for her personally. Having attended my first of these I can testify that they are extremely powerful events with remarkable women and surprising solutions emerging.
On a personal level, I also support Staffordshire Women’s Aid (http://www.staffordshirewomensaid.org/). I mention this not to brag but rather to raise awareness of the wonderful work they do supporting abused women in Staffordshire under increasingly straightened times thanks to the current decidedly not female-friendly government. They run refuges, provide counselling services and provide a co-ordinated multi-agency response to domestic and sexual violence.
Domestic and sexual violence against women is all too common, but what facilitates that is a culture in which casual sexism is still tolerated as born witness to by the Everyday Sexism Project (http://everydaysexism.com/).
This blog was prompted by a remark by an anonymous reviewer commenting on a paper I submitted to an academic journal about false memories for brands. The reviewer (I have assumed it’s a ‘he’ but of course they might not be) commented that ‘cars, beers and banks’ were rather masculine brands and wanted to know whether there were gender differences in remembering from these categories. I dutifully conducted the relevant analysis (there were no gender differences) but as I was writing the response, I became increasingly incensed – in what way are banks more masculine?! – apart from the fact that the majority of bankers are male (not my target participant group), I would surmise that the users of banks are fairly evenly split between males and females. Women also drive cars and drink beer – this being England and the 21st century! A contender for #everydaysexism I think.
So, I find myself in my 40’s and most definitely a feminist. Unfortunately, the word ‘feminist’ is blighted by negative connotations and is in sore need of an image make-over. Frequently men are not the enemy, but my personal feeling is that often other women can be. I have heard mothers who breast feed turn on mothers who don’t, women who have children claiming that women without children have it easier, women who work be negative about women who don’t, women in power who overlook women trying to make their way in the world and, continuously in the press, women commenting on how other women look, what they wear, how much they weigh and who they are dating. Some frustration with the lack of ability to appreciate the wonderful differences between people as well as our similarities is what prompted the name of this blog: “Not All Women Are The Same” and its tagline “…but we are all fabulous”. We need to celebrate and support each other, not turn on each other. Only then will we be able to move forward effectively and challenge the pay inequality, childcare issues, promotion opportunities, workplace sexism etcetera, etcetera which currently hold us back.
Although I now self-identify as a feminist (although definitely with a small ‘f’ – more on that in future blogs), my younger self was right too – we should all be equally valued – males, females, parents, non-parents, housewives, workers. We need to work together to make sure that happens.