Everyday Sexism. Are We Really Powerless?

Woman-power symbol (clenched fist in Venus sig...

Here’s something you might not know about me: I’m a bit of a control freak.  If ever a situation arises wherein I lack control, it tends to bother me. A lot. As a woman who has difficulty giving a hairdresser free rein over her fringe, I find it particularly hard to relinquish all power to Mr Random on the street, or Mr Banter in the office. Yet that’s what I find myself doing almost every day, when confronted with casual sexism.

As I pointed out in my last post, every woman’s experience with sexism is slightly different to the next, as are every feminist’s reasons for identifying as such. Personally, my feminist Kryptonite is the issue of casual, everyday sexism.

‘But we’ve moved on from the 50s – we’re a civilised bunch!’, I hear you say (possibly). You’d be right in thinking that sexism isn’t quite as prevalent or overt as it used to be. You only have to watch one episode of Mad Men to be reminded that a heavenly wardrobe was the only good thing a woman was entitled to in that day and age. But back to today, and the constant drip-drip-drip of casual sexism has led to us barely noticing, or even simply accepting, much of it. It’s dangerous stuff, this Kryptonite.

Ask any woman and, feminist or not, she will surely be able to reel off a list of instances in which she has been targeted and treated unfavourably simply for being a woman. Instances in which she loses all her power as an individual, and becomes simply an object for ridicule, a target for unsolicited abuse.

To illustrate this point, here are a few examples of my own brushes with everyday sexism. Off the top of what might, in these situations, be referred to as my ‘pretty little head’…

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Am I a Bad Feminist?

Let me just start this post by clearing something up… I’m probably not the World’s Best Feminist.

No, really, it’s very kind of you to argue otherwise, but I’m not. I don’t spend my spare time picketing and campaigning, and I’m yet to rescue an oppressed woman from a burning building. I just write a blog. Until recently I’d always assumed that just BEING a feminist was enough. I was sure that at the mere utterance of the words ‘I’m a feminist!’ I’d be ushered into a secret club of strong and understanding women, inspirational ideas, and probably cake. I thought I’d at least get a badge. I hoped that reading about and meeting other feminists would help strengthen and validate my beliefs.

What I didn’t count on was that it would actually leave me questioning everything I believe and don’t believe, and even wondering if I’ve unwittingly entered into a hierarchical structure I didn’t even know existed. I’ve recently started reading more and more feminist literature, and following lots of feminist bloggers. Inevitably I’ve found myself comparing my beliefs to those of many other feminists and, when identifying gaps and discrepancies, have ended up wondering… am I a Bad Feminist?

Let me, like a second-rate local MP, lay out my (quite flaky at present) feminist manifesto.

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Women Aren’t Funny? LOL.

I recently deleted an acquaintance from Facebook after he posted Christopher Hitchens’ infamous article on why ‘women aren’t funny’. This Facebook ‘friend’ of mine accompanied the post with the caption ‘LOL, wot a leg-end’. (No, seriously). Several of his friends then commented on the post, in full agreement with Hitchens, and openly upholding the assertion that women can’t possibly be funny. One of them even reiterated Hitchens’ point that female comedians only ever joke about ‘tampons and babies’ (without backing this up with any evidence. Which is a shame, as I’ve been trying to track down this comedienne ever since – she sounds like a leg-end!) The upshot of the whole thread was ‘Sorry, love, you might try and do a funny now and then, but ONLY MEN CAN PROVOKE A REAL LOL’.

Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve encountered men – both in the media and in my own life – with this opinion. It seems some men genuinely believe that it isn’t possible for women to be witty, quick and laugh-out-loud funny. As a feminist, this could make me angry. The argument is so fundamentally flawed, however, that it provokes nothing more in me than a weary shake of the head.

Let’s start with the basics here…

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Women’s Magazines: Friend or Foe?

I’ve got a confession to make. I’ve just spent £1,500 on magazines.

Ok, so by ‘just’, I mean over the past ten years, and the £1.5k figure is a rough estimate (or guesstimate, if you insist on being an insufferable human), but whichever way you cut it, it’s a lot of money to have spent on magazines. And we’re not talking National Geographic or New Scientist here. We’re not talking anything that could have broadened my intellect or even aided me in scoring a Pointless answer; oh no – we’re talking Grade A trash. The only thing these magazines could possibly have taught me is what Kerry Katona has in her fridge.

Several years ago, an acquaintance confronted my magazine obsession with the charmingly condescending question: ‘why would an intelligent girl like you want to read trash like that?’ It wasn’t until I left the ‘anything goes’ safe haven of my student years that I discovered that, in the professional world, this seems to be a view shared by many people. I’ve lost count of the number of colleagues who seem to find it impossible to reconcile the idea of a woman with a fully-formed brain and career reading an article entitled ‘My New KKK Boobs Have Snagged Me a Hot Nazi Toyboy’.

Even more incomprehensible is the notion of an ACTUAL FEMINIST enjoying the very literature often thought to objectify women and fill them with insecurity and self-loathing. The reading of my beloved trashy literature has therefore become a clandestine activity for me, and many lunch breaks are now spent poised in a defensive crouch, with the words ‘IT’S ESCAPISM, OK?’ already half-formed on my lips.

But does it have to be like this? Or is there a chance that I can justify this grubby habit of mine?

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Who, what, why? No, seriously, why?

So… this is my first post on this blog. Or on any personal blog, for that matter. I’ve resisted having a blog up until this point, for fear of not having enough to say. More specifically, for fear of my witty, biting posts slowly descending into an unrelenting assault of identical faux-vintage images of what I’ve eaten that day (moussaka and many, MANY rice cakes, if you must know). No, I wasn’t going to waste time writing about food when I could be doing something far more important, like eating food.

And as much as I love food, and music, and fashion, and the many other frivolous things that fill my days, I already have outlets for airing my views on these. You see, I like to talk, and I like to ask questions. Lots of questions. I probably do have more questions than your average human. I actually noticed recently that my driving instructor has gone from inviting me to ‘ask all the questions you want’ to commenting, regularly, that I ‘ask way too many questions’. Quite the U-turn. (Little driving joke, there). What can I say? I feel like it’s in my nature to question things. Even if I am questioning whether I can drive into the yellow box, for the fifth time in an hour.

My boyfriend, friends, family and even work colleagues are good enough to humour my unending barrage of questions, garnering opinions on my new favourite album, biscuit or Peter Pan collar shirt. Sometimes they even talk back at me, and the sharing of opinions becomes satisfyingly two-way (although my boyfriend might struggle with the shirt). I therefore feel that my needs in these areas are being met.

So, why the blog?

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