Monday, December 15, 2008

On women

I have had a number of conversations over the last week in which I have had to question female stereotypes. What has confused me a little, however, is my immediate emotional reactions to the conversations and then my second, considered reaction later on.

1) I had a call with my client. We were talking about staff attrition rates in a particular industry (one in which a lot of women work). The gist of the conversation was about encouraging women back into the workplace after they have had their children so that they could go on to hold more senior roles rather than languishing on the lower rungs of their profession. My comments included vehement assertions that we needed more women in the board room. I strongly implied that women *want* to return to work, it is merely situation and inflexible work practices that stop them. I also came very close to tutting at the statistic that 2/3 of the women did not return to work after having their children. After all - how sad is that?

Within an hour of the call I realised that I had been carried along with the conversation and my feelings are actually more complex than that. I deplore the idea that a woman may not reach the full potential of her career *because* of her sex, but when we look at these statistics we make the assumption that in the 21st century it is normal for a woman to want to return to work. As I have added years to my own career clock I have learnt that this is not the case. When I started out in the world of work I was possibly one of the most ambitious people you could have met (I am very aware that if I met myself now I wouldn't necessarily have loved me)... Now, I can very easily imagine that (if I had the means) I could happily give up my career and become a stay at home mum. Indeed, my sister is in the process of making that very step. Its hard - money will always be tight - but its absolutely the right thing for my highly intelligent and motivated sister. When she finally escapes the workplace in April I am going to be jolly jealous of her days at home with her four year old and 18 month old.

As a wise woman once said; "Women *can* have it all. Just not all at once", which, I think you will agree, is not all that dissimilar to men (who might find it easier to work late once they have children than their female colleagues, but you bet many would rather be bathing their child and reading to them before bed).

2) This weekend was the final of Miss Bondi. No explanation on that needed, its a classic beauty pageant and saw beautiful, tanned women strutting in bikinis in front of judges. A friend of a friend was one of the judges... a position awarded because he works for a beer company, which I think sets the tone well. I unleashed a classic feminist response; I hate beauty pageants that encourage women to step up to the plate and be judged how well they comply with society's stereotypical image of the perfect woman.

Is she thin (but not boney)? Are her boobs natural, but with that look that silicon always attempts to mimic? Does she have a tan (fake is fine, if its well done)? Does she tick a box for "personality" (probably because she said something feminine yet genuinely funny)? Is she, in essence, the best woman in Bondi because she looks hot in a bikini?

I dislike pageants not because (and I hope this is a genuine truth, I think it is) I feel inferior, but because I don't think the women involved realise that they are being objectified.

But a little after my attack on beauty pageants I began to wonder whether I really cared too much or whether I am just defending women because I feel I should? I have to say I am now back with my first opinion. I am not going to turn up with a protest sign next year (I am probably more likely to enter myself, just to make a point), but I want people to understand the implications of these events.

The winner's tan may be a healthy fake, but how many women does she inspire to bake and risk cancer? The winner may be naturally thin despite loving pizza more than life itself, but how many others pick at a salad tonight because they hate their god-given curves?

I had two separate conversations with two beautiful female friends yesterday, both of whom admitted that they hadn't hit the beach yet this year because their body wasn't ready for exposure. These women are stunning. One is in a long term relationship and the other had just made us laugh uproarously about her current dilemmas dating two men. Yet their perception was they weren't good enough for Bondi beach. I pointed out that there are bigger girls on the beach, and teeny ones too, but yesterday while sunbathing and aimlessly watching passers by I thought the most beautiful woman I saw was the one who had a squidgy and beautifully curvacious figure - who probably rated higher on the BMI index than she should. And her boyfriend seemed quite happy too.

I guess this post (rambling as it is!) is just about our perceptions of women. How sometimes in our efforts to modernise and fight the good feminist fight we ignore what our fellow women actually want. And how sometimes we do need to keep fighting, because its all about opportunity, fairness, choice and awareness... and helping each other see our strength and beauty.


C Agius said...

I hear you Emily! I think women around the world should strut their stuff! Be loud and proud - that's what I say! :)

Emily Wearmouth said...

Hmmm, not sure that was what I was saying Con hon..

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