Thursday, September 18, 2008

Does sexism still exist?

As regular readers will know (because I have said it a few times by now), I never used to consider myself a feminist. I went to a girls school, was raised with two sisters by parents who honestly believed we could rule the world if we wanted. I wasn't a feminist because, frankly, I didn't need to be. I had it easy.

Since moving to Australia, I have been working hard to get to know the people I need to know within my industry. Which is technology. And have come across a lot of groups and events for women in IT (as well as plenty for people of any gender whatsoever who work in IT).

I went along. I met people. I had some great conversations and I can honestly say they are some of the most supportive communities I have encountered. But something didn't fit right for me. I had it explained by a number of the women I spoke with; the problem was I am not a true geek, and am not into hard coding, which is why I don't feel the pressures of the female minority.

OK I thought, I am not going to argue. But deep down I couldn't help thinking these women were turning to a safety net which merely served to highlight the gender barrier.

But over the last week I have changed my mind.

I don't know whether its Australia (I certainly never saw this in the UK) or whether I am just more exposed in a new business network, but suddenly I am seeing people make comments and judgements which - frankly - I don't like.

It started with a mailer, depicting a woman in her undies and trying on various different costumes (this video was to get us all excited about the whole company/group bash in a couple of months - a bash I was, until this mailer, excited about). My company within the group is almost entirely women and none of us was impressed, feeling it made it acceptable for the men in the group to think of us in an unprofessional light.

Add to that the fact that I have never had it pointed out to me so many times before that Emily Is Female. I used to be in PR, in technology, good, bad, indifferent... but never before quite so adamantly that I Am Woman (and all that that implies in truth or stereotype).

Overly sensitive? Maybe.

But then there was the discussion in a Google Group I am part of. The group is designed to foster innovation within the technology industry in Australia. A fab cause and a group I enjoy being a part of. Except today one member made a flippant remark along the lines of; "I didn't mind being sat there, because PR girls are rather hot", or something.

I now understand the need for women to stick together because on all these occasions I have felt like I couldn't speak up about how inappropriate I thought things were, because it would place me outside of the collective.

In the second instance I settled for a light hearted reply aimed to bring the inappropriateness to the attention of all, while attempting to remain jovial. ("Thanks for the write up, but I wanted to add that as well as being hot stuff, PR girls are of course also often highly skilled professionals in their field.... ;-)"). But the original writer interpretted it as being sensitive... which lead to me emailing an apology to him (he did then reply and apologise too... so we are all square).

I am not entirely sure where this post is going, except in a plea...

Please can I be Emily again? Emily who comes to work, does her job, goes to the pub, talks about things she is interested in and has character traits that are all her own? I would much rather that than Emily The Girl, who is bundled into a big box marked "Female" and dismissed (or worshipped) merely for her collective identity.


pollyemj said...

Here here Emily! I find it very difficult to tread the line between genuine irritation at attitudes to women and dismissing my feelings as overly sensitive! Sometimes its a very close call...

Almost a Lady said...

I've thought about this post for ages before replying because it's obviously something that's I feel very strongly about.

I totally agree with your point that we are lucky people. Like you, I've been able to go through a large part of my life without really being on the receiving end of any kind of serious sexism. But those little, inoffensive bits that we see day-to-day - and can shrug off, because we're confident enough to do so - are nothing compared to what many other women experience every day.

Anyway, other than to agree with what you've said, this post is mostly to suggest that you consider reactivating your LJ account and signing up to theladiesloos community there. It's quite big and a lot of the posts are about what we'd deem "normal girl stuff" (some funny, some topical, some more difficult), but after you've been there for a while and skimread the range and breadth of topics, it really brings home how much sexism there still is, how many women really suffer because of it, and how many of them are women we know and see every day. And that's one of the things I value most about it - it's given me a real perspective on what other women's experiences are like. It helps me remember how lucky I am and that I do need to challenge the small sexisms that I meet, because they're part of a bigger, nastier picture.

Happy to second you if you decide you want to take a look (you need a couple of current members to confirm that you're a girl:)

Emily Wearmouth said...

Hey Almost A Lady....

I think my RSS feed and twitter have taken the spare minutes of my day that LiveJournal used to occupy (oh and I think I have lost my password), but thanks for flagging it.

We are lucky aren't we? I still can't work out whether what I am experiencing now is a result of moving to Australia or just sheer chance that it has cropped up now.

Anonymous said...

Hey Emily, I'm a student from London, I relate to your experiences and I've just recently noticed how paranoid I've become of it. It's driving me crazy I'm finding it very hard to respect the men around me because of the throw away comments I seem to come across over many discourses with different men.

it's definitely not an aussie thing lol

Deepak said...

Nice observations - one really does not know what to reply except that when I was young I was always taught by my elders to respect a lady and show that respect by opening the door for her, standing up when a lady entered the room, offering her the eats first and watching one's tongue always in the presence of a lady.
I try to follow these guidelines always - perhaps sometimes one forgets something - but I do try to be a gentlemanly.

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