No, I’m not writing a personal exposé about sexism I’ve encountered at work – that’s a deeper topic I’ll probably have a whole trilogy dedicated to later in life and all probably about the same workplace. But I did attend a discussion held by UpRising (an organisation dedicated to inspire ‘young people to take social action’) surrounding the topic.
The event was held at Portcullis House (opposite Parliament) and the panel included Helen Lederer (Head of Corporate Services at 10 Downing Street), Nissy Tee (YouTuber, Presenter, Motivator), Louisa Ware (Project Officer at London Leadership Strategy). The panel introduced the topic and spoke about their experiences and more specifically a memorable moment where they experienced sexism that has stuck with them. It was an open forum so many of the other women present explained anything they have gone through (mostly negative).
It was both interesting and sad to hear how much I could relate to them. The stories ranged from sexual harassment, overhearing conversations of women being disrespected, being held back or only being given tasks because you are indeed a woman. A lot of the time when I’ve experienced sexism I always thought ‘oh maybe it’s just me’, so discussions like this are crucial to show others that this behaviour (as common as it is) is not OK.
The one thing that has stuck to me the most is not what a panel member said but was when an audience member said she didn’t consider herself a feminist and continued by saying we have failed ourselves as women.
I had different things boiling up inside me when she spoke.
My first reaction to this was the urge to facepalm. “You don’t consider yourself a feminist, but you attend discussions like this?” and then I considered events happening in the broader context specifically in terms of this over exposure to political scandals lately. Her opinion that we had failed ourselves was not invalid when you have the UK Prime Minister – a woman – holding the hands of a man who likes to grab women by the pussy. It’s moments like these that as a woman you have to see broadcast across the world and onto your personal device that you can’t help but think that we have failed.
Another thing I had to consider was the word feminist. I am a proud feminist but we have to admit there is a problem with the word because it no longer encompasses what we want to fight for. To me, feminism is about gaining equality at more levels than just gender and yet it is sidelined as some kind of cult that hairy arm-pitted lesbians who burn bras follow. For instance, I’ve experienced the “groan” you get when you call yourself a feminist. It’s the same groan I have made about people who preach about veganism to me. That groan that says “Oh here’s another one” and then people tune out.
It’s like – dude, I’m not taking away your meat. I’m helping you broaden your mind so that you can become more inclusive.
I think one way the discussion could have been improved is by providing some guidance on how to stay sane. I believe a lot of people were there to understand how to tackle sexism, I know I was. What I found useful was someone explaining the boundary of sexism between institutional and logical and another person talking about the bystander tactic of supporting an individual who has highlighted sexism because it isn’t just the fight for one person, it’s a fight for everyone – male, female and intersex.
There’s always the argument of not all men. Yes, we know not all men do this. But it’s enough that every woman in the room, most of whom did not know each other, had stories to tell. Very familiar stories.
Is there hope for the future of the feminist movement? Sometimes I do feel helpless especially when I’ve had to talk about it with guys I may potentially date (it never goes any further because I only date feminists). Last year, a man the same age as me said that he would never have voted for the Women’s Equality party as his second choice after Sadiq Khan because he would in no way benefit from it. This same guy complained about equal opportunities and how it’s inefficient because unqualified people get hired.
As you can imagine, I ripped into him. He was a white, middle class male. Even when you have privilege it’s just not enough.
Overall, I did enjoy the discussion. Sadly, I never asked my question about mansplaining but I’m hoping to attend more feminist talks so watch this space.