The F Word
Updated: Aug 31, 2019
By AXIS Network Committee Member Sarah Clark
We all know the word I’m talking about. People just drop it into sentences and it makes you shudder a little, but you try being cool and nonchalant so only the slight raise of the eyebrow gives any indication of surprise and, dare I say, disgust at the word. Of course you know I mean....feminism!
Would I say I was a feminist? Well, I’ve found myself saying “I believe in equality, but I’m not a feminist.” It’s such a dirty word. I associated it with a bunch of man-hating, bra-burning, hairy women, who it’s impossible to have a two-way conversation with. Their way was right, and if you sympathised with men YOU were wrong.
However, the more I’ve researched this emotive subject over the years, the more I’ve come to realise that I am a feminist, and the bra-burning-man-haters are just the extremists within the group.
So let’s break this word down. Fem-i-nism: is about political, economic and social equality of the sexes. (1)
‘Feminisme’ was first coined by a French utopian socialist called Charles Fourier in the 19th century. The reason it’s Feminism and not Equalisim, despite being for equality amongst the sexes, is because females are the gender that are the underprivileged, underserved gender - which stems back to the Latin language’s need to gender associate words. (2)(3) That’s it! That’s the only reason why this word exists in its current form. Wow, that’s pretty simple, right?!
When I established the meaning of the F word, I started reading into how and why this still exists in the 21st century. My first port of call was to read ‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook. Lean In was a great place to start, because it doesn’t blame men. It breaks down the many different reasons why women have failed to lean in to opportunities over the years. One of which struck a chord “not moving away or changing job because you’d start over again and part of the worry it will take longer to find a husband.” Hands up, I’ve definitely had that thought cross my mind; which was madness at the age of 24 (the time of reading that book). Other aspects of the book explored the female need to be extremely sure before making a leap to a new role waiting until they’re around 95% ready, whilst men are more likely to go for a job - even if they think they’re only 65% ready. Essentially women are more risk adverse, which isn’t a bad thing, but can also holding us back; so we need to be more confident in our abilities, and we should support our colleagues, regardless of their gender. Finally, it touched on unconscious bias. We have more girls taking up STEM subjects in school and university, however unconscious bias is the biggest blocker towards return to work, retention and promotion. It’s our unconscious that’s stopping us from being equal. Which we’re all guilty of it.
So how do we turn it all around, make us an equal society and banish feminism from our lips for good? In my eyes, there are three key aspects; confidence in our ability, getting men on-board and being aware of our unconscious.
Confidence By increasing the confidence of our female compadres you’ll make them believe they can lean in much further, and go for opportunities much, much, earlier than they currently do. But confidence doesn’t stop there. We also need to give men confidence that women aren’t here to steal their jobs, you can ask to go part time if that suits your life, you can also compete to get the corner office with a woman - and let the best person for the job win. We should applaud the individuals who choose to stay at home and bring up their children. That is a huge job, the responsibility of bringing up the next level of society, and the concern of forming children into decent members of public is probably one of the most difficult, stressful, and overly criticised jobs in the world, and you’ve got no idea how you’re doing until your kids have left the home. If it’s someone’s choice to take on that role full time we should give them the confidence to say so, regardless of their gender.
Equality doesn’t exist unless we have everyone on-board, men also face inequalities, they’re just different, often less obvious than what women face.
Men still face huge pressures to provide for their families and as such will sacrifice their family time in order to achieve this. Now, I’m going to be careful here because there’s a difference from wanting to provide a better life - and as such working away from home for example which my dad did - and sacrificing. When I say sacrificing I’m talking local to your job and life. Say your child got sick at school, men are less likely to ask, and be allowed, to leave work early to go pick up their child, but for women it’s so normal no one would really bat an eyelid.
Companies are becoming better at flexible working, but there’s so much pressure to deliver, and in engineering, which is where I reside, the majority of the employees are male, so the impact of flexible working has a much greater, perceived, impact on the ability to deliver.
Additionally, men are more likely to suffer from mental health issues, and less likely to seek help. Our last Axis event of 2017 coincided with International Men’s Day and was in association with a charity for mental health, highlighting that we all need to support each other.
The final – unconscious bias
I’m not a fan of the numbers game. I don’t think many companies do this, but there is pressure to make up for the numbers, the lack of which I feel is to do with government and education. Gender bias is formed between the ages of 5 and 7. We’re clearly missing an opportunity in our education system to engage our future society members so that they can chose ANY profession, and that there’s no such thing as a ‘boy’s’ job and a ‘girl’s’ job. Engagement once they’re in high school is too late.
At a certain age, children start losing interest in the STEM subjects. I suspect it’s because that’s when science becomes more complex, and we’re naturally programmed to run away from pain; this being mental pain. I think boys are encouraged to keep going and persevere, but with our girls, we let them sit back as we want to protect them. Why is this allowed? This comes down to unconscious bias that subjects are still associated to genders! The problem is the negative impact is not on the education system, society has to absorb that impact and we get back in to this vicious cycle where we have a shortage of women in trades and engineering, and a shortage of men in care giving roles such as primary teachers, nurses, etc.
We need to support each other, no one is perfect, we all want different things and lifestyles and there’s not one cookie cutter for all.
I personally wish to strive to resolve this problem so that by the time my kids are old enough they don’t encounter this problem, and inequality becomes a thing of the past.
I conclude by saying that yes, I am a feminist; and if you want to be treated equally, or you want for your kids or your parents or your partner to have the same respect and chances, regardless of their sex, you’re a feminist too.
References: 1. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/feminism