Tag - sexism

That Certain Feel of a Battle Lost
Everyday Sexism – Part Two in an Occasional Series
Everyday Sexism – Part 1 in an Occasional Series

That Certain Feel of a Battle Lost

My daughter doesn’t tweet all that much, so when she sends out a link, I sit up and take notice. Last weekend she tweeted a link to the powerful speech Shonda Rhimes’ gave upon her acceptance of The Hollywood Reporter’s Sherry Lansing Leadership Award, which recognizes a woman in the entertainment industry who is a pioneer and leader in the industry.

For those unfamiliar with Ms. Rhimes, she’s a serious force in Hollywood whose writing and executive producer credits include Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, among many others. She also happens, in her words, to have been “born with an awesome vagina and really gorgeous brown skin.” So when Ms. Rhimes speaks of breaking through a glass ceiling, she ain’t exaggerating. But the power of her speech, the extraordinary beauty of it, is that she doesn’t take much credit for it. Ms. Rhimes eloquently gives the lion’s share of credit to the pioneering women before her. The ones who didn’t break through, but who weakened the glass ahead of her. If you read the speech (linked below), I suspect you won’t come away unmoved.

The point she makes is one I’ve been struggling with recently. With all the work that had been done by my mother’s generation, especially in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, I can’t shake the feeling women have been pushed down a steep section of stairway. And I can’t help but look at my own generation–and myself–and wonder how we allowed it. I admit, it’s extraordinarily disheartening.

In 1968, Dihanne Carroll, an African American woman, had the lead role on her own show, Julia, where she played a widowed, single mother supporting her family as a nurse. Talk about groundbreaking. (Too bad she was the first, and unfortunately last, African American woman to reach such heights until Scandal debuted in 2012. But that’s a post for another day.) At the same time Julia was on the air, The Carol Burnett Show was among the most popular shows on television, and shortly after came The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Maude. Women had a prominent leading presence on TV, cast as smart, funny, capable and independent. Role models aplenty.

When I graduated from high school and entered college in 1982, there were ZERO majors off limits to women. I had sorority sisters majoring in business, communications, pre-med, engineering and architecture. We went to work and found ourselves on more equal footing with men than we had imagined we would be. Of course, early days. The glass ceiling was there, we simply hadn’t risen high enough to encounter it quite yet. Still, many of us felt confident we would be unaffected by that old idea. The mythical ceiling, after all, been shattered by our elders. Ah, the optimism of youth. Or maybe laziness.

Our early success came too easy. Our mothers and grandmothers had paved a deep trail, one earned by lawsuits and demands for equal opportunity, insistence on a workplace free of sexual harassment, and we didn’t have to break much new ground. We just plodded through the trail, stomped it down a little harder. When I looked around the office at my first job, I saw more women than men and felt a little shiver of triumph.

Hubris, more like.

Because when I looked up again in the 1990’s, women were back to being portrayed in media as little more than sexual beings, or existing to serve a man. Something felt very backward to me, as if we’d made a sudden U-turn. When I would decry how women were depicted in, for example, music videos, I was told—by younger women—I was old-fashioned, or worse, that my objection meant I wanted to rob those women of their choice to appear in such videos. That I was trying to rob them of the power they’d earned to choose to be sexualized in such a way. Ooookayyyyy.

And now, fast forward to the new millennium, where women have more workplace muscle than ever, but somehow it’s acceptable for a guy to shove a woman’s head under the proverbial water and call her a slut and threaten to rape her openly on social media, or on comment boards. Our teenage boys casually use the verb “rape,”  having apparently lost all understanding of the true meaning of the word. Women are portrayed on shows like Game of Thrones being violently assaulted, and the message is sickeningly mixed by the inclusion of what sounds like pleasurable moans in the background.

Yeah, I’m pretty positive the work my mother’s generation did has suffered a serious blow.  Maybe damage inflicted by the patriarchy, maybe by hubris, maybe by entitlement. Whatever the cause, it’s happened.

I suppose great strides in human enlightenment aren’t taken on a linear path. As in war, there are battles lost and battles won, and this certainly isn’t the Women’s Movement’s version of Waterloo. But it feels bad right now. At least it does to me, having gotten a fleeting glimpse of what I naively thought would be a straight-line trajectory.

So I’m uplifted by, and thankful for, people like Shonda Rhimes. Women who, despite the noise, the long odds and ugliness with which they are occasionally (or frequently) confronted, manage to scope out the cracks in the ceiling and power through. I take from her speech the hopeful feeling that my generation wasn’t as stagnant as it feels we were, and the hope that those following behind her will be better equipped to take a stand at the next landing, will not cede ground to threat and disrespect and gratuitous sexualization, will, instead, power up another flight. Or three.

Shonda Rhimes Sherry Lansing Leadership Award Acceptance Speech




The Equalizer (2014) Poster

Image Credit: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0455944/

WARNING: This post contains SPOILERS about the the movie The Equalizer

I was super excited to see The Equalizer, not just because of all the hype surrounding it, but also Denzel Washington. But I came out really disappointed. And angry. I thought of doing a rant, but you know what they say about a picture and a thousand words. So here it is: The Cow’s Summary of . . .


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Everyday Sexism – Part Two in an Occasional Series

This wasn’t the blog post I had planned for today. But then I read this article in the Sydney Morning Herald and I had to respond.

Essentially what the link says is that it’s ridiculous that women are asked questions about how they balance work and home life and men aren’t (true), and that the answer to this is not to stop asking women this, but to ask men as well. It’s the latter premise which made me go “Woah, WHAT?!”

This idea is so flawed it makes me want to scream. The problem with asking questions like this to women in a male-dominated (or in fact any) workplace is not that men aren’t asked them too. It’s that they are offensive on a much more fundamental level. Firstly, they assume total incompetence on the part of the person being asked. The subtext is always how could someone like you possibly cope with this job and all it entails and deal with anything else. It doesn’t matter if you ask that question to a thousand men and one women, it’s rude, offensive and built on an assumption that they can’t cope.

Secondly, it also assumes that all the people out there who don’t have kids a) don’t have to juggle home life and work, and b) anything they do is far less important than all the kid things other people are doing. Let’s take a look at that for a second. I don’t have kids, but 99% of the things which make a home run like taking out the rubbish, paying the bills, doing the cleaning, making sure there is food in the house, they all still have to happen even though I have no small people demanding attention too. As for part b, well, I have responsibilities in the form of pets, which also need me to care for their every need because they can’t do it themselves. And let’s not forget all those people who are unpaid care workers looking after elderly or sick relatives. Or those of us who do things for neighbours who can’t – for years my husband and I did the shopping for the lady who lived in the flat above us because her mental health problems made that sort of chore difficult for her.

So rather than asking your employees or colleagues such an offensive question as how do you manage it all, why not stop asking it entirely. Instead, start asking the following question:

Is there anything we (the company) can do which would make it easier for you?

And then see how you can implement that. It might be something small, like someone needing to start earlier and finish earlier a couple of days a week because they need to collect their kids from school or get their horse in from the field before it gets dark, or take their neighbour to a support group, or get to training for the sport they play outside of work. It isn’t about why they are asking, it’s about showing them you trust them to do their job and everything else in their life, and you value them enough to want to help them do everything more easily. It’s about recognising that just because someone doesn’t have kids, that doesn’t mean their life is automatically easier, or more manageable, and that regardless of gender, we all have outside stresses which trouble us at work.



Everyday Sexism – Part 1 in an Occasional Series

I work in a very male-dominated industry. I’m often (usually) the only woman on the project team, and usually the youngest by about ten years[1].

90% of the time this is totally fine. But just occasionally I come up against some proper everyday sexism. And now I’m going to share it with all of you. Sometimes it makes me laugh, sometimes it makes me rage, and sometimes it does both. Today’s episode is a “made me rage” version.

Many years ago, my boss at the time sent round an email to the whole team saying he had a spare ticket to a black tie do that evening, and did anyone want to go. Myself and a colleague figured that a) there was no harm in being seen out by management, b) we weren’t doing anything and c) there was free booze, so we said yes.

On arriving in the room it was apparent that women were not welcome. The ‘comedian’ booked for the after dinner speech was more Jim Davidson[2] than Eddie Izzard, and the night was topped off by this spectacular interaction between a client and my colleague:

Client: So is that [gestures at me, even though I am TWO FOOT away], Simon’s[3] girlfriend?

Colleague: Err no, this is

Client: [cuts in] Well why is she here then?

Me: About that free booze. . .

My colleague made a valiant effort to introduce me as a useful member of society, but it was clear none of them wanted to know. So I made the most of the free drink, stayed until I could leave without looking like I’d run for the hills, then got a taxi home. Which I charged to the company, because I figured they owed me for not throwing a drink over the client.

I was about 25 when this happened. These days, I call people out on that kind of stuff, as you’ll see in future episodes.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Ok. Maybe more like five years these days.
  2. If you’re American and don’t know who he is, don’t google him. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
  3. Names have been changed. Obviously.

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