Women journalists, bloggers and other writers went on the record in the UK quality press last year about threats and abuse they’ve been subjected to simply for expressing their opinions in writing. It reminded me of my suspicions that I’d been treated unfairly, and certainly viewed in a bad light, for being a forthright and assertive woman who was unafraid to express her opinion in the workplace (or elsewhere for that matter).
Although, thankfully, no one threatened me with violence or suchlike I recall one particular occasion where a colleague complained to my boss that I’d been aggressive in a team meeting when hand on heart I can say that although I had disagreed with the female complainant in said meeting, I was not aggressive. I simply made my point. I thought her suggestion was a bad idea for our team and disagreed with what she was saying.
I also remember telling my male boss that I thought it a ridiculous complaint and him responding that ‘other people’ (it turned out this actually meant one other colleague – who was a man not known for beating about the bush) had made the same observation about me. That was when it hit me. It wasn’t about me being ‘aggressive’ it was about me being a woman who dared to speak her mind when she thought something wasn’t right.
I could think of countless times when my boss or male colleagues had shot ideas down in flames, sometimes in a less than gentle manner, but no one complained about them. But it wasn’t fashionable to point sexism out in our relatively leftwing and politically correct workplace (How could such a thing happen here? Don’t be silly etc etc) so I ended up putting it away and wondering whether my feminist antennae were being over-sensitive. Until I read about the reactions from some quarters to women writing their opinions. And then I remembered something else.
I was suddenly reminded of my 18-year-old self. I was heavily influenced by the film Thelma and Louise, by another less well known Australian film called Shame* and by the character of Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. I wanted to be physically strong, muscular and tough and literally able to take on all comers – especially sexists and misogynists. I was full of fight and, back then, I was aggressive, and belligerent too. I wanted there to be a battle. I wanted to be as violent to those men who hate and hurt women as they are to us.
I feel now that my younger self was wrong in her desire to be violent but I still believe that it is a good thing for a woman to be able to successfully physically defend herself should she be attacked and that physical strength is something women and girls should aspire to and not be ashamed of possessing. So I was overjoyed to read this article by Julie Bindel: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2012/feb/03/michelle-obama-ellen-press-up-feminist in which she expresses many of the same views I have and also hails one of my role models Sarah Connor (Yes, I still think she is marvellous!).
While many battles of feminism have been won, leading to laws on the statute book that ban discrimination on the grounds of sex, there is still a war to be waged against attitudes to women that would put us in tiny little boxes and try to make us all behave according to a narrow set of so-called feminine norms.
Instead of things getting better, on this front over the last 20 or so years they have become worse, the rise of sexualised culture, the prevalence of reality TV and the lack of diversity in the representations of women in the media generally – as if the only females that existed were thin, enthusiastic about baring their breasts and desperate to be looked at; rather than coming in all shapes and sizes and being capable of ACTUALLY DOING things rather than merely parading around while people watch them doing nothing (or pretending to be lesbians).
It may take a great deal of courage to refuse to behave in the way ‘women are expected to’ but the more of us that do the easier it will become for us to be who we really are and the harder it will be for those who want to diminish us.
And if you think it’s aggressive of me to say so you know what you can do with it.
*Shame was released in the late 1980s and starred Deborra-Lee Furness as a motorcycling lawyer who tries to win justice for a young woman who has been gang-raped in an isolated outback town. The strong, independent and leather clad Furness was a potent role model for me – despite the outcome of the story.