Ex-Sexism

When I was 16 years old, I was sitting in a maths class being my usual insane self, and a new student – a boy I’m not ashamed to say I was slightly attracted to – asked me whether I was a feminist. I froze. How do you answer that question? I barely knew what feminism was! In fact, I was so confused that I (un)subtly avoided the question and went home to my Dad where I asked him exactly that: Was I a feminist?

“Do you believe that everybody should be treated equally?” he asked.

Yes.

“Then you’re a feminist.”

I took that on board and proudly proclaimed it for years. I was a FEMINIST! I wanted equal rights for women everywhere, I wanted equal pay and the right to choose and maternity leave and all of it served up on a platter before my bed time.

But then I saw the following clip in an episode of West Wing:

It’s basically a discussion between two people who work for the president – though from different parties – about the Equal Rights Amendment, which as I understand it is a change some want to make to the constitution so that the rights of women are written in. When I first saw this, I think I re-watched it 7 or 8 times. For as long as I can remember, people have been telling me that I will be discriminated against for being a woman. That it will be harder to get jobs in male-dominated fields because of sexism. That my life will be affected by genitalia. And I hate it.

I remember in primary school teachers would walk into the classroom and ask for volunteers to carry some heavy desks. Being the proud little goody-two-shoes that I was, my hand sprung into the air eagerly. Yet I was never picked. Because I was a girl. Even though I beat one of the boys in an arm-wrestling match. Little things like this fueled my hate for gender-bias, but after watching that episode of West Wing I had to reconsider.

It is my belief that I am not hindered in any way by my sex; not physically, emotionally, socially, culturally or academically. In electing to work in the sciences I have chosen a profession largely dominated by men. I honestly don’t believe this is because men are more or less intelligent than women or because women have not had access to the same opportunities. I believe this is because fewer women want to work in the sciences.

Novel idea, I know.

Now don’t get me wrong – in no way am I saying that women don’t experience discrimination and abuse because of their gender. That would be incredibly naive of me. What I mean is that in developed countries, women achieve what women want to achieve.

I’m not trying to antagonize anyone or start any fights, I’m just conveying my point of view. And I realize it is extremely biased: I have had an amazing upbringing where I was encouraged by family, friends and teachers to pursue whatever I wanted. I was provided with enough resources to succeed but not enough to have it handed to me on a silver platter. I was born with intelligence, but not so much that I could slack off or grow bored. I am very aware that I am very privileged.

Statistics will be thrown in my face about there being a far smaller percentage of CEOs and things that are women. Which is true. I can’t argue with the facts. Except to say that maybe there’s a reason for this. Maybe, women choose to have families and to take time off to raise them which doesn’t fit the time commitments of a CEO. The rebuttal: why should women have to give up their careers to have kids? They don’t. Social acceptance of men and women not wanting to have children is growing, and it’s now widely accepted that it doesn’t make you any less of a person. Women don’t have to have kids – they can just climb the corporate ladder instead. They don’t even have to choose just one!

What I am trying to say is that not EVERY case of a man getting hired instead of a woman is because of sexism – even if they’re being accepted into a position largely held by men. It’s derogatory to both sexes to think otherwise: that a man only gets a job because his boss is sexist and that if a women gets a job it’s just because they want diversity in the workplace.

We spend so much time talking and arguing about sexism when its honestly not the biggest problem in our society. I want politicians arguing about how to help homeless people get off the street and how to eradicate AIDs and how to deliver food and medical supplies to war zones. If I work hard enough, I know with absolute certainty that I can go anywhere I want and there are a lot of people far worse off than me who can’t say the same. And they need your help.

Advertisements

The Condition

I had a horrible incident the other day. It was terrifying. It led me to discover something I had been fearing my entire life: that I had inherited The Condition from my Mum. Now, I know what you’re thinking and yes, it is as bad as it sounds. It’s not deadly (not usually) but it can have some serious side affects. I’m talking about foot-in-mouth-disease.

Now, to clarify: I’m not talking about hand, foot and mouth disease the physical condition. No, I’m talking about the strikingly horrifying ability to say the exact wrong thing at the exact wrong time.

I recognized the symptoms in my mum from a young age. The first Incident I remember was when she was proudly telling a family friend about her niece who was a physiotherapist and doing some wonderful work with obese clients. All in all, relatively unoffensive. Until you consider the weight of said family friend. Mum didn’t know where to look or what to say. The Condition won that day…

I thought I’d been lucky enough to avoid this same fate until very recently when I was chatting to some friends, and happened to put my foot in it big time. Somehow we got onto a certain topic – for privacy’s sake, let’s say nail polish colours (because that’s totally a thing girls talk about) – and I was casually asking everybody what colour nail polish they would have chosen if they’d have been asked last year. Now, for this analogy to work you have to understand that nail polish colours are a really private thing that everyone has an opinion on. There are religious and psychological arguments for shade choice, people discuss number of layers with legal jargon, some can be ostracized from sections of society just for their decision…  in short, it’s a big deal.

So, as I casually, theoretically ask my friends what colour they would have chosen, I never expected someone to have actually had to choose a colour before. But, as I naively swiveled my head around the group and briefly contemplated why another friend was sending me the ‘oh-my-gosh-you’re-an-idiot-stop-talking-and-look-away-before-you-hurt-yourself-with-your-stupidity’ expression one particular friend spoke up.

“I chose pink.”

Such a simple statement, that brought so much chaos to my world.

You know those moments when time seems to freeze and you can hear the panic sirens going off in your brain because you’ve just caused someone to reveal something so personal about themselves when you’ve been throwing around your unfounded opinion willy-nilly and never actually considered that those people you read about choosing nail polish colours actually exist and could be sitting amongst you at that very moment?

No?

Lucky bastards…

Now, I’m considering sainting this particular friend. They said they had to choose their nail polish already, they let the conversation get swept away, and they never even cast me a sour look. Making an Angel a saint might be pointless, but I don’t care.

This friend of mine though… Well, Angel is pretty amazing. She’s had to choose some pretty brave nail polish colours over the years, and yet she wears each and every one of them with pride. I think she’s the strongest person I know. And that’s saying something. Currently, I find myself surrounded by awesome people who have been through some of the hardest trials imaginable, and still manage to keep a smile on their faces from day to day. It’s inspiring…

…but also humbling in an uncomfortable way. I want to be able to achieve so much – to help people and make a difference. But how the heck am I supposed to stand in front of strangers who I know nothing about and offer my advice? I don’t know what they’ve gone through, but it’s almost certainly been harder than my life. Me, Miss young-white-middle-class-reasonably-intelligent-supportive-family-fantastic-education. The only way I could be more textbook is if I was a dude. Phew! Dodged that bullet!

I have been blessed, without a doubt, and I’m trying really hard to remember that. To think before I speak and acknowledge that every fact I can spew about a topic doesn’t hold a candle to what someone who has lived through it can say in a word. I’m trying really hard to make sure that The Condition doesn’t make people think I’m an opinionated airhead or worse: lose me any friends.

Like Like

Coming into adulthood there are a lot of confusing things you have to learn to navigate. Budgeting quickly becomes top of the list when you realize you can’t buy a whole new wardrobe every week just because you don’t know the difference between laundry powder and flour. It occurs to you that leaving your dishes in the sink to spawn a variety of fungi and bacteria is not so much a science experiment as a social experiment to test your roommates’ patience. And you have to choose between leaving your windows open constantly so you wake up shivering and covered in mosquito bites, or leaving them closed until your room begins to smell like muddy socks and stale bread.

But the worst thing you have to learn to deal with is relationships.

Moving out of home puts you in constant contact with people you have previously had no exposure to; roommates who have no concept of personal space, classmates who can’t comprehend what the ‘group’ in ‘group assignment’ is actually referring to, lecturers who love their subjects so much they make little jokes you only pick up on when you’re watching the lecture on catch up for the third time the night before the exam, and random people in the street who don’t understand road rules, walk on the wrong side of the path, and look at you funny when you get on the bus. Personally, I’m learning to deal with these people. It’s the other elusive type that messes with my head: romantic interests.

Now, as previously mentioned my dating experience is diddly squat. Nada. Zilch. The one and only boy I’ve ever had a crush on was one of my very good family friends. People kept telling me for years that we would date, that we should date, that it would be cute if we dated…. I don’t know whether I actually liked him back then or not, but I do know I was determined not to date him because other people said I should. I’m stubborn like that.

By the time I realized I might have had a thing for him one of my other best friends was head-over-heels, stars-in-her-eyes, practically-drooling-when-he-walked-by, in love with him. I knew it. She knew it. He knew it. Actually, EVERYBODY knew it. The problem was that they were oh so very different. Friends, but opposites. He was science, she was arts. He was sports, she was dancing. He was David Attenborough films, she was broadway musicals. It couldn’t possibly work.

But then, he and I couldn’t either. We were too similar, we’d known each other too long and it would have been awkward.

At the end of the year a group of our friends went camping, and by the end of the week they were a couple. It made no sense to any of us, but for some reason they worked. After all, opposites attract. Now when I found out about this it was at a Christmas party and my friend – the girl – approached me and apologized and checked that I was OK with their relationship and… To be honest, I was fine. Utterly.

Now, I’ve decided that there are two possible conclusions to draw from this. Either a) I never really had a crush on him (I just wanted to want someone) or b) I can compartmentalize the hell of of everything and I’ve just sectioned my feelings off from the rest of my brain. I’m inclined towards the former….

My search for love didn’t end there, of course. I moved towns and was suddenly deposited in the city; a small, not overly-attractive fish in the big sea. I was terrified. I AM terrified. For the first few weeks, every guy I talked to was a possible relationship. To some, that may seem like an insane approach, but I’m sure there are many of you who completely agree with me: everyone you meet is an opportunity for a new relationship – romantic or platonic! I blame Hollywood: women are constantly exposed to men who approach them in a coffee shop and compliment the book they’re reading and men are confronted with sexily clad women offering to buy them shots in smokey bars. It’s completely unfair to both sexes!

But that’s not my point.

After all these years – of crushes, of feelings, of daydreams – we are all just those same, innocent primary schoolers aren’t we? Asking ourselves if we like that person or if we Like Like them.