When I was at school, I had a fantastic English teacher whom I really admired. What I loved the most was her feminism. She truly believed that women could do anything; she believed it so much, she would reword the Bible with inclusive language. Such was the culture within the All-Girls Catholic school I attended.
As a teenager and young adult, feminism dominated my very existence. I needed to achieve the best marks, have a successful career, travel the world and buy my own house, car, designer clothing and handbags. I suspect that my ‘daddy issues’ intensified my passion for equality. I even took a Women’s Studies class at university which equated to three hours of men bashing each week; and I loved it! I worked in a hardware store and consistently had to remind the male clientele that my eyes were actually much higher than their gaze. A close friend and I regularly engaged in passionate discussions about our need to complete a PhD thesis on the inaccuracy of original sin. The snake that tempted Eve was actually the phallic symbol that to us, linked original sin to men. The list went on…
As I grew older and wiser, my feminist attitude mellowed and my passion to succeed was no longer rooted in the feminist ideal. Sadly, the last few years have highlighted increasing sexism the workplace. The perception being that we are not assertive but bitches and our expression of emotion is simply a feminine weakness caused by hormones. Even though research increasingly demonstrates how women and men process information differently, function differently, and express emotions differently, it does not prioritise one way over the other.
So how does this background information apply to me now?
Over the last few years it has become increasingly obvious to me that sexism is alive and well. Despite each professional achievement I make, it is becoming more and more obvious that my femininity directly affects how people perceive my ability. In fact, I am consistently being under-estimated. As if I wasn’t already challenged to overcome the stigma of epilepsy, I now find myself dealing with the consequence of having a well rounded pair of breasts, blonde hair, blue eyes and a childish sense of humor!
Whilst I refuse to join the testosterone fuelled pissing contest that seems to dominate leadership, I have come to the conclusion that something needs to change. Unless I am prepared to turn into that scary spinster stereotype, I am going to have to find other ways to ensure my skills and knowledge are valued as equally as other male colleagues in similar positions.
For now, let my actions be guided by the philosophy of Oprah Winfrey who said:
“Excellence is the best deterrent to racism and sexism.”
Look out world, for ‘I am woman, hear me roar’!