Long before I was certain that I wanted to get pregnant, I was sure that I wanted a girl. In the same way that writers are advised to write what they know, it seemed like a good idea to birth what I was sure of.
I’m a daughter, an only child in fact, and I have such an incredibly strong relationship with both my parents that friends often comment on how they wish their own parental bond could be more like ours. Some of my happiest memories of adolescence involve my mother and I sitting up late into the night discussing my latest crush, or being wrapped in a duvet during bad period pains discussing what it means to be a woman. How could my experiences as a woman be relevant to bringing up a little boy?
Whilst it’s commonplace to nod to the basic instincts of men wishing to create a mini-me version of themselves by having a son, the notion of women hoping to recreate and reinvent themselves for another generation is often lost. The idea of passing on my experiences of being female – the inspiring, demeaning and mundane – to another female was, for me at least, a pre-parenting safety net. As I grew older I realised that there is no ‘easy’ when it comes to raising a child, whatever their gender may be but I still believed that as a feminist, it would be easier to bring my child up to respect women if she was one.
I was brought up by a fierce and gentle mother. The idea that I could bring up a son to be strong and gentle, powerful and considerate was lost in amongst the dreams of experiencing what it’s like to buy mini ruby slippers and frilly dresses, be the mother of the bride and the maternal grandmother, go on spa days and watch Sex and the City re-runs cuddled up with my daughter on the sofa. The idea of being the only woman in the home, trying to get my husband and son’s attention away from the sport on tv, was not the idyllic family life I hoped for (completely ignoring the fact that I held a season ticket at Anfield for eight years, therefore also stereotyping myself as the ‘football widow’ that I’m clearly not).
My reasons for wanting a girl – because surely I couldn’t have gone so far as to say that I did not want a boy – surmounted to feminism and fashion. It hadn’t struck me that both of these things can resonate just as soundly for a mother with her son, that I could teach my son to be a man through the feminist principles I hold so clear, or that dressing him each morning could be a complete joy.
Then I got pregnant. Seconds after taking the fateful test, before I’d set it down on the side of the bath or released the breath that I held so tightly inside my body, I knew my baby was a boy. I don’t know how or why I knew, but I did. Whilst disappointment may have seemed inevitable after my yearning for a daughter, I was one of the lucky ones who felt nothing but happiness. A few hours later, when shock subsided, I began to fall in love with him.
He’s now nineteen months old, an absolute blessing who has made me appreciate the small things whilst allowing me to dream about magnificent things. For all he is still small, I have discovered that there are so many things that I can teach him from my experience as a woman. He can teach me what it’s like to be first a boy, and then a man, born in 21st century Scotland. My female perspective will shape him as much as my husband’s male position, and our friends and family will present lots of different solutions on what kind of man he could be.
Before I got pregnant, I thought he could be one of two things. A girl or a boy. Like Coke or Diet.
Then I got pregnant and he became a definite article. A boy. Done. Finished. Complete.
And then I met him. This tiny seed of a boy who will grow and grow until he becomes a man.
I have been caught unawares by the gender-based stereotypes that threaten my boy so soon into his life. He might not have the capacity to say more than a few words, or the ability to leave the house on his own but gender stereotypes walk right in to our home uninvited and often unannounced.
Blue blankets and booties quickly becomes ‘bricks for the boys’ and ‘dolls for the girls’. When I joked, during a play session at my local library where my son looked like he may pirouette at any second, that I may take him to ballet classes, the suggestion was immediately scoffed at. “A big boy like that? Rugby is more his game.” When a male member of our social circle spoke down to his wife, I told him that I didn’t want Harry witnessing women being spoken to in that way. The reply? “He’s too young for feminism.”
And then there’s the old “A daughter is a daughter for life, a son is a son till he takes a wife.”
I’ve heard this too often over the past eighteen months. Every time it’s quoted to me I roll my eyes, whilst secretly swallowing the tiny panic it creates.
Then there are the serious concerns that are much harder to swallow down. Suicide is the biggest cause of death for young men in the UK. My (male) best friend committed suicide and I missed the warning signs, if there were any in the first place.
I have been told that I’m at risk of raising a “sensitive boy” because I have chosen to care for him full time until he is three.
There are pressures on a young man to conform, to bite their lip, to prey on the opposite sex.
Last month I read a blog from a woman who has been abused by men. She writes: “If a man wants to prove to me now that he is “not all men”…then he has to work damned hard at it. That isn’t my fault. It’s the fault of his team.” I understand her position and as a woman, I am glad she has stated her position clearly. But as a mother watching her seedling grow into an increasingly beautiful tiny boy, I fear for what he will grow up to understand about “his team” and which position he decides to play.
There are many much-needed causes and campaigns both here in the UK and internationally that I support, advocate and, in some cases, volunteer my time and skills for. Behind every woman’s story on Everyday Sexism is a misguided, mistaken and, in most cases, a complete misogynist of a man. Yet there are many more men who put their shoulder to the wheel of movements such as No More Page 3 and 50:50 Parliament.
It is at this point in my thinking where I realise just how much I have to give to my son. How my experiences as a woman will inform how I bring him up. Up to speed. Up to manhood. Up to the challenge of being a good man.
As #HeforShe continues to build momentum, it would be irresponsible to ignore the need for #SheforShe.
I was discussing Page 3 with a female friend today. She’s a confident, assured woman who enjoys a successful career in an industry dominated by men and is a mother to a three-year-old daughter. We were talking about how I think Lucy-Anne Holmes (Founder of No More Page 3) is nothing short of a genius, a woman with an amazing balance of vision and confidence, courage and kindness. I wish I had the ambition and foresight of Holmes in 2006, during my one-woman campaign challenging Mancunian newsagents as to why they sold ‘lads mags’.
And then my friend turned to me and told me that she doesn’t see anything wrong with porn being in a newspaper.
Now, I have a couple of friends who don’t care too much if Page 3 exists or not, and they generally think that it’s outdated, harmless enough or in one case they were a bit surprised that it was still in existence but carried on drinking her coffee with a shrug of the shoulders and a roll of her eyes.
However in this instance, I’m not only taken aback by the “Page 3 is absolutely fine for 21st century life” argument, but most people I have spoken to about this who are comfortably nonchalant about Page 3 don’t consider it to be porn. I’m utterly shocked that a woman can be okay with images of topless young women in a national paper that, for better or worse, until recently reported the news to more people in this country than any other printed publication.
Sit me down next to a person with opposing views for a scheduled discussion, and I can debate passionately. However when I’m confronted with a woman who thinks severe sexism is okay, I’m speechless. I then spend the rest of the day considering if I am in the wrong for questioning – or should that be judging? – my friends for not having the same belief system as I do.
Perhaps today’s conversation wouldn’t have made me feel as queasy if it wasn’t for two more shocking examples of women against women that have occurred over the past week.
Nice Guys Commit Rape, Too
Last month, after a brief chat on twitter with an editor of The Good Men Project (GMP), I sent a few examples of my work in the hope that I could become part of what their tagline refers to as “the conversation no-one else is having.” I was becoming quite excited at the prospect of examining what it means to bring up a boy with feminist principles in the patriarchy of our society, whilst having the opportunity to write for a unique and ever-so-slightly chaotic project.
My email with my ideas and examples of previous features was well received. I was then asked to write something “on-brand for GMP” with a view to a regular blog. I was in the middle of writing said piece when I happened to google upon a discussion with an apology for rape at its core.
When I spotted the title “Nice Guys Commit Rape, Too” I read it sarcastically, expecting that the eye-catching title would lead to a feature on how rape is wrong. Rape is wrong. Once more for the nice guys at the back. Rape is wrong.
The feature, written by freelance writer Alyssa Royse, describes a real life situation where her male friend rapes a woman whilst she was sleeping, and then later asks Alyssa if it was indeed rape. It’s at this point in the article that Royse makes the point that more often than not rapists are not known to their victims prior to the attack, before going on to suggest that more often than not rapists are just guys who “may genuinely not realise that what he is doing is rape.”
She then digs deeper by stating:
“In this particular case, I had watched the woman in question flirt aggressively with my friend for weeks. I had watched her sit on his lap, dance with him, twirl his hair in her fingers. I had seen her at parties discussing the various kinds of sex work she had done, and the pleasure with which she explored her own very fluid sexuality, all while looking my friend straight in the eye.”
Whilst she clearly states on a number of occasions that the act of raping someone when they are asleep is indeed rape she continues to tell the reader, who are presumably looking at the Good Men Project because they are interested in reading features about genuinely good men, that her friend is a nice guy and that society is “partially” to blame for the temporary blips nice guys can have when they rape a fellow female.
The truth of the matter is that we don’t need Royse to tell us that her friend is a rapist. After reading the feature, we know she knows (and for the record we know he knows) because this is about as clear cut as it can possibly be.
What women around the world need is for Royse to not write statements such as:
“The problem isn’t even that he is a rapist.” (YES, it is)
“But if something walks like a fuck and talks like fuck, at what point are we supposed to understand that it’s not a fuck?” (How about when she is a-fucking sleep for starters?)
There are points within Royse’s piece which I agree should be discussed openly and courageously, such as the pressing need for society to educate people on sexual boundaries or what it’s like to have a friend commit an atrocious crime. I empathise with the caring, confused friend in Royse who wants to “partially” blame society for the behaviour of her rapist friend. My own close friend from school was found to have sexually abusive images of children on his computer. I removed myself from his life and him from mine the second he admitted it to me.
Royse’s friend may have been a nice guy prior to raping a woman whilst she slept, he may forever regret what he did, and he may one day become a nice guy again. But none of this has anything to do with the fact her friend is a rapist. When, as a widely read writer and public speaker, she puts her name to such a sickening idea as –
“But if something walks like a fuck and talks like fuck, at what point are we supposed to understand that it’s not a fuck?”
whilst discussing the rape of an innocent woman, Royse herself becomes part of the problem society has to deal with. How can we live in a world where we have a universal #heforshe when we are so far from achieving a universal #sheforshe?
If there’s one thing I hope GMP are correct about, it’s that I no-one else is having a conversation quite like this.
Loose lips sink ships
This piece was originally intended to end with the last point on GMP, but as I write a twitter alert has caught my eye. It seems that yesterday Judy Finnigan fucked up her debut on Loose Women whilst discussing convicted rapist and professional footballer Ched Evans’ return to Sheffield United upon serving two years for raping a woman in a hotel room.
Loose Women is the flagship example of women against women. During the early weeks of maternity leave I did watch this show until I realised just how damaging it is to hear famous women berate other women (celebrities and non-) in front of a live audience of women who laugh and applaud rotten comments and opinions. Judy must have watched too as she took that idea and ran with it.
During a conversation which was intended to discuss whether a convicted rapist who had “served his time” had the right to return to a professional footballing position, Judy stated that the rape “was not violent”, that “he didn’t cause any bodily harm to the person” and “she had far too much to drink.”
Why are intelligent women who enjoy privilege and position – and have daughters and mothers – doling out excuses whilst offering a pass to certain men (too many men) to continue to undermine and abuse other women?
I celebrate the fact that there are many different ideas and movements within the network of feminism, some pulling together and some pushing away from each other. I accept this and I’m thankful that it’s happening in my lifetime. However when female writers publicly support the idea that a man can rape a sleeping woman because he finds her flirtatious behaviour confusing, or when a well-known female tv presenter refers to how much alcohol a rape victim consumed prior to the attack or when female friends think it is okay for the largest images of women in a national newspaper to be pornographic, I begin to realise how far we do still have to go before we can confidently say that every woman knows what her fellow female is capable of, how she is entitled to be treated and how to support her in achieving those things.
Can Women Have It All
Five tiny words that on the face of it are supposed to allude to the incredible capabilities of womankind but are in fact dragging us down to a place of doubt and a stressful existence.
Pre-motherhood I had never considered how utterly ridiculous the statement is – and make no mistake, whatever your outlook (and lets face it, it’s rarely positive) those five words are a position, not a question. Having a working class background and coming from a family who have taught me that anything is possible as long as you are loved and you love, has created both a work ethic and a confidence which fuels me. Like so many of my generation from northern-English mining towns, I have carved out many firsts. The first to leave my hometown, my region, my country for a new life. The first to go to university. The first to get a degree.
On paper, I look incredibly ambitious. It’s true I am, but in the context of the debate about whether women can have it all the word ‘ambition’ has become so narrow and limited. My ambition originated as an enthusiasm and a zest for life. It was all encompassing, exciting, limitless. It pushed me to want to hear every song, read every book, celebrate life with my family and friends, travel to every place on the map, be successful in my career, be healthy of mind and body, be an active part of society and watch crap tele. I was enthusiastic and I was driven to squeeze every drop of life out of life.
Then I left university. I suddenly became aware of the concept of having it all, and truth to be told, I bought in to it. Who wouldn’t want to have it all? In four years I went from Marketing Assistant to Chief Executive. I am proud of my career so far – both the voluntary positions and those with a salary attached – and I don’t think I would change a thing. That is, except for the wild goose chase I was in with regards to ensuring that I worked myself stupidly hard whilst I could, so that I could take a few months off to have a child and then jump back on the merry-go-round, I mean, career ladder.
When I got pregnant I felt the rug being pulled away from under me so fast. I felt stuck. Who would have me – in professional terms – now that I was with child? Everywhere I turned there were headlines about maternity discrimination, phone-ins about women’s inability to have it all, the battle between children and career, and how women can’t earn as much once they become mothers.
I was a successful woman living some of my dreams whilst dreaming up some more, and yet everywhere I turned I was being told that my value in the workplace was diminishing with each trimester. And I believed it.
That is, until I was home from hospital with my son. I’ve discovered many things since becoming a mother. I don’t accept the idea that my value has suddenly gone down just because I gave birth.
The message I was being force-fed was that I couldn’t continue to climb the ladder (spoiler: I’ve discovered that the most fortunate lives aren’t ladder-shaped), to develop my career or to earn the same as I did before I had my son simply because I had had my son.
I don’t accept that.
Society is telling women that their value depreciates between checking in to the labour ward and walking back in to our workplace. What I have discovered is that the opposite is true.
Society is telling women that having it all amounts to a career and children. Is that it? Two things? In 2014, is this the best we can come up with? We deserve so much more than to think about our lives in these narrow and restrictive terms.
If we spent more time looking out over the horizon, the white noise that is the question ‘can women have it all’ will eventually disappear. Women must ignore the question, it’s connotations and the crippling doubt that it creates. For those women who live in a free, democratic and peaceful society who are blessed with opportunities and chances that some will never get to experience, it is a sad truth that their chances of a different life are being taken away from them. Following maternity leave women are often being released in to an unfulfilling life of trying to first find it all, and then keep it.
I urge every parent to be as ambitious for themselves as they are for their children, to recognise their own rebirth which occurs during the transition of becoming a parent, and to focus not on what’s above but what’s beyond. Beyond the bullshit, beyond the horizon, beyond our wildest hopes.
Earlier this week, it was announced that the gender pay gap is widening.
Since the beginning of the recession in 2008, over 820,000 more women have moved in to low paid and insecure jobs. That’s more than 137,000 women each year being forced into taking lower incomes, zero hour contracts, limiting and limited roles whilst all the while saying goodbye to opportunity, training and the peace of mind that comes with the feeling of being appreciated as a member of the human community.
The latest statistics shouldn’t be a surprise. We know that women are regularly and blatantly undervalued in the UK today. If women were treated and respected as equals there would be no need for No More Page 3, Everyday Sexism or 50:50 Parliament, let alone the countless organisations set up to support victims of rape, domestic violence and bullying. The gender pay gap is another curve on a relentless spiral of demeaning, destructive and damaging ways we have of keeping women firmly in their place.
It may not be a surprise but what I don’t understand is why we aren’t shocked. Shocked in to action, shocked in to making a change. Even if we were to believe (and I for one do not) that all men are sexists who think that if women must be allowed to leave the boudoir/kitchen sink stereotype, the only roles they can occupy in the workplace are – depending on their age and vital statistics – sexy secretary or frumpy dinner lady, 48% of the workforce are women. How is it possible that half of the workforce – half of the population – are being discriminated against and modern society simply sighs and whispers ‘never mind’?
According to a recent Chartered Management Institute study, women have to work 14 years longer over the course of their lifetimes before they earn the same amount of money as men. Women are working in positions that they are overqualified for, one in four women who are in low paid employment are educated to degree level. Women in their forties earn less a third less than men the same age.
All across the country – no, scratch that and reverse it – all across the world, society is turning a blind eye as women continue to be penalised in the workplace (I know…not just the workplace). In the USA women earn 77 cents for every $1 a man earns. Obama has gone on record to say that this is wrong, his mantra being “equal pay for equal work”. That is, until it was discovered that female staffers at the White House are paid only 88 cents for every $1 male staffers earn.
Everyone wants to talk about the gender pay gap issue, but no-one seems to want to offer any solution other than blaming women for being the child-bearing gender. Earlier this week (Tuesday 19 August) BBC Radio Scotland’s Morning Call programme featured a live phone-in focusing on the question ‘Are women being penalised in the workplace?’
Here lies part of the problem. It is clear that women aren’t being treated the same as men. Until the media, our government and our employers stop framing the debate around the question “are women being punished” and start to deal with the problem (“why are women being punished” and most importantly “how do we stop this unnecessary punishment and prevent it from ruining what could quite easily be – in gender terms – an equal society”) then we are doomed. Despite the fact the Equal Pay Act came in to force in 1970, I despair for the next generation of women.
Back to the radio programme. Morning Call was about to become Morning Sickness as it wasn’t long before the world’s biggest ever non-question reared it’s ugly head.Yep, you guessed it…Can women have it all?
And. There. It. is.
Women have to work 14 years longer than men in order to earn the same amount of money. Fourteen years. Almost the length of time it takes to raise one of those children things that women are so keen on having. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Morning Call guest Marcus Wood, Managing Director of Fleming Banfu Executive Recruitment agency informed listeners that a couple of decades ago employers may have asked the age of a female candidate but not any more. He declined to mention that this is because it’s illegal to ask the age of a candidate (or indeed if they are of childbearing age) rather than because of a fair and just modern work environment. Disappointingly he doesn’t mention the 50,000 women each year who are forced to leave their jobs because of maternity discrimination, or the countless women who struggle to get back in to work because of rising childcare costs.
According to Wood, women choose to earn less. (Who are these women? I’ve not met one) In fact, according to Marcus Wood it’s “predominantly” the fault of women that they earn less than men.
Now lets see. I do remember deciding which course to do at university. I remember deciding which positions to apply for as I progressed along my career path. I remember choosing which cities I would live in, and deciding to get married. I even recall choosing to try for a child despite holding the position of CEO at the time. Crazy, eh?
What I struggle to remember is the day I decided to be the person who held the womb, not to mention the responsibilities and punishments that come with it. Was it when I was in my own mother’s womb, or when I was born, or when I decided briefly aged 5 that pink was my favourite colour? Oh, that’s right. I didn’t choose to have the responsibility of the missed period, the pregnancy, the hormonal rollercoaster, the countless questions (and assumptions) from people as to whether I would look after my baby full time or return to work, or worst of all the expectation (from others, not myself) that when I return to paid work I won’t be able to return on the salary I earned before having my baby.
During the BBC Radio Scotland programme, a male member of the public referred to the experience of pregnancy and child birth mentioned in the above paragraph as “popping out children.” The presenter, Louise White, did not flicker at this major understatement of what is arguably the most important job in the world. In fact it was White who read the comment out.
Yet when a female caller, Morag, referred to the fact that most men want children so that they can enjoy their little princesses or their little footballers, the presenter immediately interrupted stating that this was sexist. For me, Morag was the only person who spoke any sense – albeit sometimes through the ever so slightly gritted teeth of frustration – and she was the only one to be referred to as sexist by the presenter.
As a woman who expects to be able to have both the time and space to take care of my child full time to school age whilst also being able to enjoy an exciting career, I found it nerve-wracking to hear Louise White, who has two children and a career at the BBC, to say the words “women can’t have it both ways.”
However it’s unfair to single out White as there are many, many examples of women in both the public eye and amongst the general public who let damaging comments pass them by (myself included). We’re so used to childbirth being referred to as ‘popping it out’ and the temporary fog of tiredness that is being a new mother (note: not father) as ‘baby brain’, that we let it slip by. This has to change.
Believe me. Whatever else is said about the gender pay gap, there is one thing that is indisputable. There isn’t a woman on this planet who wants to be paid less than her male colleague for the sole reason that she is a woman. There isn’t a woman on this planet who deserves to be paid less than her male colleague for the sole reason that she is a woman.
Lets be honest with ourselves. Women are being punished for being the only gender that can carry children. (Missed) Period.
For a considerable chunk of my twenties the concept of my ‘having it all’ was omnipresent. Whilst I was always aware that the phrase was, essentially, a sexist con to separate the men from the women (or should that be the men from the mothers, be it current or potential), it has taken a baby and the decision to look after said baby full time to realise the emptiness of the question: Can women have it all?
Taking a quick glance at my twenties, it’s clear I was ambitious and focused on my career – starting at 20 as a Marketing Assistant, then Senior Assistant, then Senior Marketing and Communications Manager, before moving to Head of Audience Development, and at 27 becoming Chief Executive. Back then I believed I did have it all, although I now ask my 20-something self how I could think that? In truth, I wanted it. I wanted to believe I could have ‘it’.
A tiny word meaning everything.
Back in 2010 I remember telling my Mam that if I had a child, I’d go back to work as soon as possible. She listened as I told her that that’s what women like me do, it makes us happy and therefore our families are happier. I never questioned what I was saying and neither did she, although now I come to think of it she was smirking somewhat.
When I got pregnant in 2012, I was elated but professional panic set in quickly as I tried to work out my maternity leave options. I thought that’s what women like me do, because having it all makes us happy and having both a career and children is what having it all is, right?
However two of my favourite words are opportunity and options. I believe that a blessed life has both in abundance. After my baby was born and once I’d relinquished the painkillers, I realised that my being catapulted back in to the workplace wasn’t an opportunity for me if it wasn’t a choice I’d made. I had been led to believe that it was a given that first comes maternity leave and soon after, my baby would go to nursery and I would return to my career. Then it hit me – if it’s a given then there has been no choice. If I haven’t had to make a choice it’s because there weren’t options to consider. Ultimately somewhere down the line I had been conned into thinking that there were no options. Worse still, if I dared to hunt for options I would be doing a disservice to feminism.
‘Having it all’ quickly became ‘having to’. As I listened to many of the ‘mam-friends’ I met on maternity leave telling me how they hated their jobs but they would have to go back to work, but they were doing the lottery/praying/crossingfingers/panicking in an attempt to quit their job, I realised that I wasn’t alone. This is not to say that some of the women I met are not happy at the prospect of returning to work. I have friends who love the balance that being a mother and going out to paid work brings. I hope that in years to come I too have that experience. Nevertheless listening to women – all of them near strangers – tell me how sad they were to go back to a job they hated without considering any other option brought it home to me. It was then that I made sure that there was one ‘all’ I would have – all of the options available to me.
The truth is that there isn’t a man or woman alive who can have it all, that is, everything in the world. Simultaneously. Forever.
Before I began writing this I wondered if the notion was outdated, and perhaps my eighties upbringing had something to do with my once-upon-a-time quest for kids and career. Then I searched google for ‘women having it all’.
Recent features, and by recent I mean in the past few days to six months, include:
“We should all aspire to having it all” – The Telegraph
“Can women have it all?” – Toronto Sun
“You Can’t Have It All: 40% of Women Professionals are Hanging on By A Thread” – Forbes
“Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” – The Atlantic
“Women Can’t Have It All” – The Daily Mail
and perhaps my most favourite, “Women, Quit Bitching, You Just Can’t Have It All By 30, OK” from The Telegraph.
Whilst we’re so focused on this question, regardless of whether the answer in these features turns out to be yes, no, or quit bitching, then we will never look out over the glass horizon and see ourselves as people with lives full of opportunity and options aplenty.
A tiny word meaning everything.
Does this mean if we can’t have it all, we have nothing? Not at all. We have options.
I am currently working with 50:50 Parliament as a Consultant. Last Monday evening I retweeted a picture which, on the face of it, was a visual indication of just how far women – in politics, in authority, in the world generally – still have to go before they are taken seriously. In fact it was the faces that were the problem. Six of them. All white, all male with the words ‘Global Summit of Women 2014. Paris, France’ behind them.
Alongside the image I tweeted the words “There’s something not quite right about this photo…”
It was instantly retweeted with some people adding their disgust, dismay or even mild amusement at the April-Fools-Day-esque vibe to the image.
Then something peculiar happened. People began to reply to me informing me that the photograph was ‘intentional’ or ‘deliberate’.
“Well yes,” I thought, not understanding the point being made. When I first saw the image I assumed that it was deliberate, that six men were invited to sit on a stage and discuss issues relating to and impacting upon women. The fact that people were tweeting me, with what I believe were genuinely kindhearted motives, to tell me that this photograph was essentially okay because this is what the organisers had wanted to happen – well, I was astonished.
When I had referred to something not being quite right, I was referring to my assumption that undoubtedly good intentions from someone behind the scenes had ultimately resulted in a cock-up (pun originally unintended but it does emphasise the point somewhat).
As @labisiffre said on twitter:
“There is NOTHING quite right about this photo. The all-male panel were invited. I understood this. I tweeted it because the juxtaposition of the all-male panel and the title of the event ‘The Global Summit of Women’ is funny, and at the same time, on the serious side, encapsulates the positive discrimination in favour of men that the organisers of the event are opposing. There is NOTHING quite right about this photo.”
Really? Did @labisiffre have to explain this?
It seems so, and in no small part because of a piece by Amanda Hess for Slate. Hess states that the “outrage” generated by the distribution of the photo is typical of a kind of “quick-take feminism”, suggesting that anybody who thinks that this scene is wrong cannot possibly believe that the six men taking part in the debate are there with good intentions. This is not true.
I’m in no doubt that the panel of men wanted to be there to share their vision for an equal workplace – even if the reasons behind this vision are solely financially driven – and to add their voice to a conference that welcomed more than 1,000 women from over 70 countries. I also agree with Hess that true gender equality can be reached only if we have agreement and collective working from both men and women.
This is exactly the point. The panel of men does not set an example for collective working, it does not portray men and women sitting down together to discuss where business has failed or what it can achieve. It highlights the problem women are facing around the world in business, politics or even walking down the road.
When men want to join a debate, they simply pull up a chair. The Globe Women newsletter confirms that the reason the discussion was scheduled at all was in response to a challenge from Taj France CEO Gianmarco Monsellato “to include more men in women’s events as part of their own continuing education in gender relations.” The result was a panel of men getting exactly what they asked for (namely being centre stage at a conference for women) whilst the women listened and watched in silence presumably crossing their fingers for a Q&A section so that their voice may be heard.
When women want to join a debate, they have to fight to get to the table. At 50:50 parliament signatures are being gathered which will be presented to party leaders asking for a debate in parliament on addressing the fact that only 23% of MPs in the House of Commons are women. We have a very long way to go before we can embark upon the first stage of presenting the petition. When women challenge, it takes a long time for male dominated institutions to respond.
I don’t think a Summit for women about women is the place for men to continue their education in gender relations. If they really wanted to learn something they should be sitting in the audience listening to the voices of women.
When the photo of the ‘Global Summit Six’ was originally tweeted by commentator Marie-Andree Paquet she tagged the image with “A picture speaks a thousand words.”
It’s no longer about words. Words are spoken and forgotten quicker than last week’s tweets.
It’s about voices. It’s about women having the right to speak on behalf of ourselves, and not being pushed aside by men who either want to oppress us or speak on our behalf.
A picture may speak a thousand words, but the image above of the House of Commons does not suggest a variety of voices. We are repeatedly being told to step aside by male dominated institutions who are eager to speak on our behalf. Whether it’s school or work, at home or on the street, a Summit in Paris or a Government in London, it’s a problem that isn’t going to go away. Not unless we speak up, shout out and use our voice.
Back in May, Serena Kutchinsky’s piece for Prospect entitled ‘Why are there so few women on top?’ struck such a chord with me that I’ve read it at least once a day since I first came across it. Kutchinsky highlights a number of themes that I have been contending with since I became pregnant two years ago whilst holding the position of CEO within a charitable organisation. The points raised in her blog are serious and urgently need to be addressed at every level within our society today. Just as Kutchinsky’s blog didn’t provide the answers for the multitude of questions so many women have on how to be a professional and raise a family, I’m not going to attempt to provide the definitive guide here or now. It’s impossible and as she herself says, it’s confusing and confused.
Instead, I am going to highlight some of the issues raised within her blog and, hopefully, over the coming weeks and months provide insight into how each of them have impacted upon me as a CEO, a leader even, and as a mother. I want to be clear about a couple of things before we start. Firstly, I am in no doubt that tomorrow my main tasks will be dodging flying mackerel as it’s thrown at me from a highchair, reading Peter Rabbit’s Finger Puppet book two hundred times before my husband leaves for work, and assessing the household requirements for a trip to the chemist as I complete the daily Calpol stocktake. I will be balancing this with a conference call with a client, drafting a social media strategy for said client and continuing my ever increasing obsession with twitter. I couldn’t be happier.
Secondly, I am confident in the knowledge that I am still a CEO, a leader, a marketer, an asset to any organisation, an enthusiastic learner, and a brilliant producer of ideas. I am all of those things, and I am confident in my position that I don’t need to be all of those things or do all of those things tomorrow in order to retain those skills. It’s not the mother part of me that is staying at home, it’s the CEO who is temporarily mothballed.
The crux of the ‘pregnancy problem’ as Kutchinsky refers to it is the same two things that plague many women at the beginning, middle and end of their careers regardless of whether they have ever been pregnant. The problem is doubt, or in other words, a lack of confidence. However with the prospect of motherhood comes not only our own doubts in whether we can function as both parents and professionals (despite the men-folk doing a bally marvellous job of it), but the doubts of society, media, our employers, our families, our friends, the friendly grandma’s on the bus who engage you in half an hour of conversation before narrowing their eyes to ask “You are breastfeeding, aren’t you?’
We are all at it. What is it about becoming a mother that instills such fear into the minds of us all? Baby brain is a myth, you know.
Kutchinsky touches upon many ideas in the piece, including:
For Kutchinsky, confidence is crucial in shattering all of the above to smithereens and I for one agree with her. Over the years I have repeatedly witnessed my female friends, my female colleagues and my female employees have crises of confidence whilst the men in my life go for whatever they are embarking upon with a ‘lets do this’ attitude. It’s unnecessary and it has to stop. Whilst we’re all second guessing the capacity and capability of womankind we’re stifling the potential and opportunity for everyone, women and men alike.
Over the coming weeks and months I’m going to be addressing some of these issues, and would love to hear from people who have thoughts, experiences and ideas to share.
Three years ago, almost to the date, a complete stranger predicted that I would work for myself and it would be “sooner than you’d think.” At that time in my life I thought that it would be the twelfth of Never before I’d make the decision to become a freelancer, director of my own company, business-owner or anything else that didn’t start with a tour of an office and end in a P45.
Three years on and here I am setting up on my own and what’s more, for the foreseeable future, it’s on my terms. I’m taking on a select number of clients over the next twelve months, and I’m keen to work in sectors and with people that are unfamiliar to me (although I already have two brilliant projects in the arts sector working with people who I have connected with in the past). I’m interested in working within Scotland but also in other areas of the UK and internationally.
I’m also concentrating on two personal projects which I will be blogging about from time to time later this year and in to 2015.
I thought I’d be more nervous than I am although, don’t get me wrong, the nerves are there. With sixteen years experience inside me to draw from, I’ve suddenly become very aware that the skills, contacts, ideas, networks, passions, strengths and lessons learned are all mine. Wherever I work, whoever I work with and whatever I do, all of the amazing experiences and wonderfulness that is a career filled with success and laughter and learning and yes I’m going to say it, passion – all of it comes with me. The biggest surprise of all is that I am having a ball. Meeting new people, connecting with old colleagues (sorry, former NOT old) and realising just how much I have to give to sectors I thought I knew nothing about.
Three years ago I couldn’t see the bigger picture but now I would like to shake that stranger by the hand. Perhaps she planted the seed or perhaps she saw something in me that I couldn’t possibly see before I became a parent (there’s an awful lot of planning time during those midnight feeds). Three years ago it wouldn’t have been right. Now is the time.
This week I am most excited about 50:50 Parliament, the new project I am working on. Like any other worthwhile project I’ve worked on throughout my career, it’s inspiring me in many ways. More on that soon.
I’m currently looking for one – possibly two – more projects to complete my portfolio of clients for the next twelve months. Please get in touch for more information on how I can help you.