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Am I really disadvantaged by my gender?

The story of how I didn’t notice, why it matters and what can be done.

by a Perth mum of two

As a young woman I didn’t think of myself as at a disadvantage because of my gender, it didn’t even cross my mind.

Even when I worked in a corporate job, in a predominantly male team, it didn’t occur to me to mind when my colleagues chatted at their desks about going to strip clubs, commented on other female colleagues’ appearance/behaviour, asked me in an interview if I was planning to have children soon or even on a drunken Christmas night out when a sleazy colleague sat too close to me and told me he loved me. These were just normal, everyday occurrences to be dealt with, but I didn’t think they impacted on my career progression, which was reasonably successful. Despite being made to feel uncomfortable by some male colleagues when I was promoted above them, I felt respected by my team and I thought that my feelings of inadequacy and inability to speak up in meetings was all down to my introverted nature.

Even though male colleagues at the same level as me were paid more, I assumed it was because they were older than me and had worked there for longer, or negotiated their package when they joined the company, rather than working their way up and starting each job at the bottom of the relevant pay scale.

It was of course my privilege to not even notice or think about how I had been subtly oppressed, as many other people have been openly discriminated against on a regular basis, however, I believe this failure to notice and social acceptance is one of the reasons nothing changes. I didn’t notice or thought there were more serious injustices in the world affecting other people or thought that being a feminist was being a man hater, a convenient stereotype that has persisted through the ages.

Now I see things differently.

Now I see that men are in general more comfortable negotiating higher salaries, speaking in meetings and often bulldozing through their points of view; ignoring or speaking over anyone that is not a middle aged, straight, cisgender, white man. And that everyone else is more likely to listen to that man, even if what he is saying is nonsense (there are a few figures in the public eye that spring to mind from this description), because he is exhibiting the traits of the ‘Alpha Male’, making him a ‘good leader’.

Now, I cannot believe how readily I accepted all of the above as the norm, how as a young girl I wanted young men to objectify me, because I was so desperate to be noticed and didn’t know any better. How as a 15 year old at a youth disco when someone, who I didn’t even see, groped me as I walked past them, despite feeling uncomfortable, I was also slightly pleased someone found me attractive and it didn’t even occur to me to mind, let alone hold him to account.

It is a relief that young women now can recognise these injustices for what they are and are drawing attention to it through the #metoo movement. But it also saddens me when I hear about young men who still believe in their superiority. The Sounds Familiar report, published by the Fawcett Society found ‘Almost 1 in 5 (18%) men aged 25-34 and 14% of men aged 18-24 say that they “do not want the women in my life to have equality of opportunity with men”… and 20% of men ag

ed 25-34 say women’s equality has “gone too far”.’ These young men feel excluded by feminism and feel that their opportunities in life are limited by feminism. Ironic really. I was brought up to believe that everyone deserves equality, however this can be used as a convenient argument to maintain the status quo in many fights against oppression. The ‘whataboutism’ argument, what about all the injustices faced by the oppressor, thereby attempting to discredit the injustices of the oppressed.

Now that I have recognised the disadvantages I have faced in the past, as well as the challenges I face now, as I struggle to find someone willing to employ a mother of young children and barriers to flexible working (post pandemic I wonder if this may change), I question how things can be improved for future generations, when it appears that not a huge amount has changed in the last 25 years.

The Fawcett Society offers solutions for working towards gender equality, one of which is to educate children from a young age. This is an essential step to challenge gender inequality and stereotypes which are prevalent in society even from a young age, some examples of which I will share in my next blog entry. By educating all children and challenging the social norm I hope we can move towards a more equal society, where everyone recognises what it means to be equal.

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