Being a relative newcomer to Twitter, I have only just discovered the ‘Everyday Sexism’ project, but I want to say how necessary and important I think it is, and why social media is a great way to share and communicate these things that go on all the time and mainly go unchecked.
I have always believed that the personal is the political; my beliefs influence my decisions every day, from what I will or won’t buy (nothing made by Nestlé for example) to making a point of walking slowly across a pedestrian crossing to emphasise that it’s my right of way. Whilst I would call myself a feminist because I believe in equal rights for all and think that there is still a long way to go, I can’t say that sexism has really ever affected me in a personal sense. Yes, I understand that we have to fight it on a societal and cultural level, and yes I understand that it is institutionalised and that there are structures of power that block the advancement of women in many aspects of life. Of course it makes me angry (everything makes me angry).It makes me furious. But for myself, personally, I can’t say that I can really relate to the experiences described by some 20,000 contributors to the Everyday Sexism project.
As a small child, I grew up on an estate where most of the other kids my age were boys. I never saw this as a problem; we were all treated the same. We would go out riding our bikes, climbing trees, getting muddy, in fact our favourite thing was to look for fossils because we were all crazy about dinosaurs, but sometimes on a rainy day we would be just as happy staying inside and playing with dolls. In fact some of the boys were a lot more fastidious with dressing them and brushing their hair than I ever was!
At school I never felt limited; I was never told that I couldn’t participate in something because I was a girl. I was just as good at science, maths, technology and sports as I was at languages and music, and none of my teachers ever insinuated that their subject was gendered. I was useless at art but that’s because my teacher had no interest in teaching me to draw horses which was all I wanted to do. I once accused my Dad of being sexist when he wouldn’t let me have karate lessons, but then he wouldn’t let me go horse riding either, not because I was a girl but because he didn’t want me to get hurt (a friend of mine had recently died after being thrown from a horse, nothing makes a parent think twice quite so much as that) and he would have been exactly the same if I’d been a boy. I think I accused him of sexism again when he wouldn’t buy me a pair of Doc Marten boots, which he didn’t want to buy because they were hellishly expensive and he knew it would just be a fad. Poor Dad. It just goes to show that I didn’t even know what the word meant.
At University, I made a lot of friends both male and female, and if there were any divisions or inequalities that I felt, to be perfectly honest it was more of a class thing. Perhaps it’s a particular chip I have on my shoulder, but I had never been surrounded by so many middle class people in my life before and I felt a bit like a fish out of water. But once I got over my silly hang ups I realised that they were a great bunch for the most part and we set about building our own tribal boundaries anyway based on which halls we lived in – an even more arbitrary marker of identity!
In the world of work, I have never felt that being a woman has held me back in any way. My first profession was teaching, and I felt that the first school I taught at treated all their staff equally badly. We were all overworked and unappreciated, gender didn’t come into it. When I started working in Local Government, I was still relatively young and as a fairly senior officer I felt that I was viewed with a bit of scepticism because many of my colleagues were a lot older and had a lot more experience than I did, and yet there I was, purporting to tell them how to do their jobs more efficiently. But I never heard any comments about not having the right to do my job because I was female. Perhaps they knew I had a black belt in Kung Fu. Or perhaps it’s the icy glare I perfected whilst in the classroom, who knows, but it just never happened.
Have I ever been wolf whistled from a building site/groped on public transport/accosted in the street? Quite honestly, no. Not me personally, on my own. When I was a student in France, I spent a lot of time with a large group of girls, and sometimes we did attract the odd weirdo on the tram. One guy tried to propose to one of my friends with a baguette, it was bizarre to say the least. But, being rather loud and brash, I managed to see them off by shouting assorted obscenities in a very Northern accent and they would usually scuttle away like vermin. But it didn’t happen when I was just on my own.
Why? Have I just been lucky? Maybe it happens and I don’t notice it? Perhaps I am not such an obvious target; I’m small and a little bit androgynous, so maybe I go unnoticed. Or maybe it’s the fact that I walk with confidence and purpose, and look people in the eye, it’s not so easy to pick in someone who looks like they might give you a piece of their mind. And I have given out so many pieces it’s surprising I’ve got any left! Maybe that’s what living in a state of perpetual anger does for you.
For whatever reason, I have not suffered the awful, shockingly casual abuses described by the Everyday Sexism campaign. And I think that’s why it’s so relevant; because otherwise, people like me would be naively thinking that the gap had narrowed, that progress has been made, just because I haven’t personally had to deal with these things. But I’ve never felt the impact of racial discrimination either, it doesn’t mean I can’t hate it and fight against it in any way I can. I fully support this campaign and would encourage everyone to contribute, not just the obvious things like sexist jokes but when you can’t find a card congratulating someone on having a baby that isn’t pink for girls and blue for boys, in fact why mention the gender at all? Perhaps this will wake us all up to the sort of things that have been accepted for so long, and challenge them together, for the good of all of us.