Sunday, March 8, 2015

#MakeItHappen for International Women's Day 2015

Happy International Women's Day!
In a celebration of women in work, the pictures throughout this post are from a stunning set of 39 photos capturing women's work around the world.

Today's theme is #MakeItHappen. Today's post is on what it feels like for a woman navigating her way through some big cities in the West. It seems we've come to a point where, in the West, we think that gender inequality is elsewhere. I'm hoping this post will shed some much needed light on prevailing issues that continue to affect the way women experience their lives, and the negative effects of the inequalities they experience.

After reaching out to friends on social media and thinking over the conversations
I've had, here is an amalgamation of thoughts below.

A common complaint was the second shift - that after a full day at the office, women then come home to a second workplace: the home, where cleaning, cooking, child care and often the care of the elder, the sick and husbands all await. Although younger mothers stated that they had helpful partners, they still felt that the brunt fell to them. That the consequence is women feeling anxious (replete with elevated heart rates and levels of stress) when thinking of the home, should come as no surprise.

Some female friends reported that in the workplace, their ideas were often overlooked by male colleagues. One friend said that when she explains a product, she is often questioned at length, but when a male colleague explains the same product in the same way, his version is accepted without question. This, no doubt, contributes to the ever-present confidence gap and the impostor syndrome that women feel in the workplace, accounting for a lack of women asserting themselves for positions for which they are fully qualified.

The Workplace (capitalized) remains a difficult place for women. While overt discrimination is generally not as prevalent (unless we all displayed our salaries or spoke of how we experience children and work), women still face the gendered double standard (also called the second-generation gender bias). In an environment that rewards workers who tout their accomplishments and self-promote, women get punished for similar behaviour, and for speaking out, speaking up or asserting themselves in traditionally male ways. This quote from a sex discrimination lawsuit in Silicone Valley perfectly highlights what women are told to do:

“Speak up - but don’t talk too much. Light up the room - but don’t overshadow others. Be confident and critical - but not cocky or negative.”

I'm as confused as you are as to what that means.

Calling out catcalling trended successfully on social media this year, but that doesn't mean it has stopped: one woman described experiences of catcalling so negative that she found alternate routes to the gym and to work. "I may not be harassed with the physical violence of Tahrir Square protestors, but when I fear going outside because of being called a bitch or a slut if I don't respond to someone's whistles, it feels pretty violent to me."

Facing constant micro-aggressions in the workplace was prevalent for a black friend who spoke about having to represent the entire black culture, and be the token black woman playing up stereotypes to placate white colleagues. Intersectionality is a key issue in feminism today, and affects a wide range of women in different ways: from trans-women to disabled women, women of lower socio-economic class to women from racialized backgrounds. The intersection exacerbates the discrimination felt under each lens.

Women continued to mention the constant unwanted touching that plague their every day: from hands on backs and shoulders at work to grabs and gropes on the street and in restaurants or on public transport, women's bodies seem to still be the property of men. To highlight this pervasive issue, Al-Jazeera presents an amazing series of photos of male 'entitlement' to women's bodies.

On that note, did you know that 1 in 3 women report being sexually harassed in the workplace? This includes sexual comments and unwanted touching to lewd emails and texts. If catcalling makes public spaces into soft war zones, how come we aren't offering more protections for women in the workplace, who, when confronted with sexual harassment are more likely to get fired for reporting it then protected by workplace policies?

"When do I have a kid?" One prominent female partner at a Bay-street law firm let me know that 30 years into her career, she was being asked the same question by young associates as she had asked her seniors 30 years previous. "Nothing has changed," she continued, "family-friendly workplace policies are a joke, as is paternity leave. Three top lawyers sat down a male colleague to tell him not to take paternity leave or he might lose his job." Clearly we're doing something wrong if companies still haven't figured out how to accommodate, encourage and promote their female employees. Women take a severe economic hit when they have children (even upon their return to the same position!), continue to be unremunerated for the work of being a mother, and are hired and paid even less on the wage gap scale than women without children.

A comprehensive analysis on women in the Canadian workforce can be found here. As you may have expected, equality is far from achieved.

Did you know? Women like sex, want to have sex, and don't want to be labeled negatively for it. Slut-shaming has got to go. For all the cases where women have been accused of 'bringing this on themselves,' its time to retire the concept of whore, slut and that ridiculous virgin/whore dichotomy.

Finally, it seemed that through all the responses and conversations I've had, its the general daily indignities* that women face, simply for being a woman, that wear us down. The everyday sexist comments, the harassing stares, the constant interruptions, the mansplaining, the uncomfortable gendered spaces, the sexual pressures and ambiguities of consent, the silencing of voices, the being told what to do, the expectations and the stereotypes.

In conclusion, yes, gender inequalities are alive and well, even in Western, developed, big industrial cities. And yes, although they are, women and men can work together to prevent the toxicity that their existence brings.

Here's to #MakingThatHappen.

*I purposefully did not speak to sexual and gender-based violence as I think that deserves a piece in and of itself and to demonstrate that even without violence as we understand it in a physical sense, structural violence still persists. 

No comments: