SEXISM, STEREOTYPES & SABOTAGE (why are we our own worst enemies?)

Everyday Sexism

This post has been bubbling away in my brain for a while now; brought on many small things I’ve noticed in the previous months that are all underlying signs of a much bigger problem.

The final straw for me was watching one of the recent Celebrity Big Brother evictions when the crowd started baying: ‘Get Saira (Khan) out!

Now, I do understand why she provoked a reaction: she was a straight-talking person who used her ‘honesty’ to fire painful bullets of truth. She was that curious mix of being too thick skinned to understand when she was hurting people’s feelings, but super sensitive as soon as any criticism was directed back at her.

But she wasn’t nasty – just really bad at reading a room.

Stephen Bear’s behaviour, on the other hand, was vicious and vindictive. He antagonised people for sport, but if someone dared to come back at him with an actual or perceived slight, he gunned for them with biblical-style vengeance.

We had two people, both being obnoxious in their own ways, so why did the woman cop all the flak? Why are females vilified for having confrontational personalities, while males are more likely to be let off as ‘just the way they are’?

EVERYDAY SEXISM

It’s this kind of everyday sexism I’m noticing more and more often – perhaps it’s because I have two young daughters, and I’m thinking ahead to the world they’ll be tackling on their own in a decade or so. Perhaps it’s because I’m angry that this sexist rubbish is still occurring 25 years after I had to put up with it.

It annoys me that I had to argue with someone the other week about why women tennis players at Wimbledon deserved the same amount of prize money as men. ‘But they don’t play as well as the men,’ was his justification. ‘Women have a different biological makeup,’ I replied. ‘As a result they’re going to play differently – but that doesn’t mean they’re not trying just as hard, or achieving just as much on a relative scale.’

Saying someone deserves less of something – recognition, money, success, respect –  simply because they’re female is the same as discriminating against someone because of their skin colour. It’s just wrong. 

There’s been talk about how the coverage of women Olympians focused more on how they looked and what they were wearing, than the amazing sporting feats they were achieving. Which segues me nicely me to this video, released late last year by #CovertheAthlete.

We’re so immune to the trite, sexist language women are subjected to every day that we don’t even comprehend their full obnoxiousness until we hear those same words directed back towards a man. How sad is that? 

The other day I was listening to one of the songs by US girl band Fifth Harmony, who are billed as strong, modern, sassy women: ‘I know you’re always on the night shift, but I can’t stand these nights alone, and I don’t need no explanation, ’cause baby, you’re the boss at home…’

Seriously? 

Surprise, surprise – a bit of digging revealed the song was co-written by five men. C’mon guys, it’s 2016, not 1961. I don’t want my daughters absorbing that rubbish into their subconscious.

Then, on Channel 4’s social experiment, Eden, where a group of men and women are dispatched to a remote Scottish peninsula to set up their own self-sufficient community.

The show deliberately throws together a mix of people, skills and personalities – just like real life – and observes how they interact as they create a new world from scratch. What shocked me was the chauvinistic attitude of some of the men: a handful of them were incredibly disparaging, completely writing off the women in the camp.

One woman in particular, Tara, was singled out. To be fair, she wasn’t providing the same level of manual labour as some of the others, but – although vitally important – life isn’t ALL about the grunt work, and a successful community needs a wide variety of skills and talents to work.

Rather than giving her some time and encouragement to figure out her meaningful role in the new society, a couple of the men branded her a ‘waste of space’. They plotted to make her life miserable, and bullied her emotionally until she ended up walking out.

GIRL VS GIRL

But what saddens me the very most is when women work against other women.

We already have the gender hurdle to overcome before we can reach the professional and social heights men are handed by birthright. So why do we insist on putting additional obstacles in each other’s way?

I noticed it at the BML 2016 blogging conference; the eye-rolling and behind-the-hand whispering when some of the bloggers were speaking. Why? Even if a person isn’t your cup of tea, we should ALL be proud of women who are scaling new heights, defying stereotypes, and forcing open doors.

One woman’s success doesn’t take away from another’s – quite the opposite – it paves the way for bigger, better and more plentiful opportunities for all of us. And, perhaps more importantly, it creates visible, accomplished female figures our own children can see, and be inspired by.

We complain about being judged on our looks, yet what is the first thing we do to other women? We scan them up and down. How many times have you heard another woman mutter under their breath: ‘Oh my God, what on earth is she wearing?!’

WHY DO WE SABOTAGE TO SUCCEED?

Dr Sally Austen, of AUSTEN PSYCHOLOGY, has some interesting insight into why women can be so harsh on each other.

‘Fundamentally, people are competitive,’ she reveals. ‘We are each consciously or subconsciously fighting for survival, and this instinct often overrides logic or compassion.’

She uses the analogy of a cavewoman to illustrate her point; in prehistorical times females needed to compete against each other to attract the best mate. This was so they could bear the genetically strongest babies and also to give them, their families and their DNA lineage the best protection moving forward. This deeply embedded drive to ensure ‘survival of the fittest’ was the foundation of human evolution.

Even though tens of thousands of years have passed and we no longer routinely die from starvation, or childbirth, or pterodactyl attacks, it seems some of those prehistoric instincts still remain.

‘There is still within us a sense that we can only promote ourselves if we demote others,’ Dr Austen explains, ‘the analogy of crab trying to climb out of a bucket pulling each down, rather than giving each other a leg up.’

She also says it’s part of our inbuilt survival instincts to spot negatives more quickly that positives: ‘Cave folk standing around admiring the sunset died sooner than those spotting trouble ahead!’

This is why the words that fall unchecked from our mouths are more likely to be negative and competitive than ones that are more considered. Makes sense right? 

Dr Austen says men AND women are both equally guilty of these ruthless reactions, but they may seem harsher coming from women due to the stereotype that women should always be supportive and nurturing, rather than strong and assertive (compared to men, who are encouraged to be aggressive – particularly in business).

WHAT CAN WE DO? 

So the simple answer could be for us to think more before we speak – take a deep breath and let those judge-y initial thoughts subside before coming back with something more supportive and encouraging instead.

But it’s not all bad news for modern feminism, as there are also some amazing things happening at the moment: the UK (somewhat unexpectedly) has just seen its second woman Prime Minister come to power.

The USA might very soon (please, please, please!) have their first EVER Madame President (edited – sadly, we’re still waiting for this momentous occasion), while Poland, Myanmar, Namibia, Norway, Bangladesh and Germany already have female leaders.

There are successful businesswomen smashing glass ceilings or creating entirely new industries to excel at (shout out to Sheryl Sandberg, Ella Woodward, Zoella and even our own Vicki Psarias-Broadbent), and strong record-breaking female Olympians (to many to list them all, but you can read about all the winners HERE).

We have hardworking mothers revealing their family lives – the good, the bad and the ugly – through beautifully written blogs. There are entrepreneurial mums running successful businesses from their kitchen tables while simultaneously breastfeeding the baby and cutting up toast for the toddler.

We see smart, capable women standing alongside and supporting their influential husbands without being reduced to smiling, waving arm candy (hi there, Michelle Obama).

And, for the first time I can ever remember, we have a blockbuster big-budget film that stars FOUR brave, funny female lead characters who are seriously kicking some supernatural butt, whilst turning the ‘helpless supporting actress who gets screams a lot and eventually gets saved by the man’ Hollywood stereotype backwards, and inside out.

It’s so important for girls and boys to grow up seeing these examples in the public eye, so that successful women are considered the norm rather than the novelty. I’m heartened by the fact there are so many wonderful female role models out there today for our children to admire, and aspire to be.

So let’s stop competing with each other, and start supporting each other instead.

We’re doing such phenomenal things already with the odds stacked against us – just imagine what we could achieve if we all worked together to turn them in our favour.

• photo ‘Empty highway and traffic sign over it‘ courtesy of Shutterstock

23 Comments

  1. vicky hall-newman - August 30, 2016

    I find girls can be nasty to each other and I agree about the BML. There is a lot of jealousy in blogging and sadly that is the nasty side to our hobby

    • Jacqui - August 31, 2016

      So sad, isn’t it Vicky? Especially considering it’s an industry that – ironically – relies so much on friendship and goodwill. x

  2. Nikki - August 31, 2016

    What an absolutely brilliant post. I agree with everything you have written.

    • Jacqui - August 31, 2016

      Thanks Nikki, it’s such a simple thing – to support one another – but gets so easily overlooked. There really is enough space in this world for all of us to achieve our dreams! x

  3. Elanor - August 31, 2016

    I’ve recently been the focus of someone’s negative comments and it’s frustrating when we are working in the same field. It’s not necessary to drag others down in the workplace, especially when you achieve so much more when you work together!
    Elanor recently posted…An Evening of Colours and Cocktails in Castle GalleriesMy Profile

  4. John Adams - August 31, 2016

    Well, as a guy and stay at home dad you might expect me to wade in with a different view, and I will! But first, I am a dad of two daughters. I have no sons and I am very aware of the sexism they will face as women. It exists and you can’t deny it and the example you give of the song is a classic. But…this post does come over a little as one way traffic. As a SAHD, I fear I have seen and experienced things that would upset anyone genuinely interested in equality. Try being male and seeking medical treatment for your child without being treated as a second class citizen. While you talk of women being successful in business, I’ve long felt more men should be encourage to work in childcare, (workforce = 98% female) early years teaching and nursing (both about 90% female). Men and women need to work together to bring a bit of balance to these issues. But please do send the guy round who was claiming women can’t play tennis. We need to have a serious chat. #BrilliantBlogPosts
    John Adams recently posted…House of Experiments: easy science experiments for children on YouTubeMy Profile

    • Jacqui - August 31, 2016

      Haha! Sending him round now… 😉 Obviously as I am a woman and this is a personal opinion piece I can only comment from my female perspective – which is not to say there aren’t just as many grievances from the male perspective about inequality, but I’m not privvy to them, nor qualified to make any comment on them. Which is exactly why it’s fantastic to hear your side of the story, and why personal opinion pieces are great for opening up conversation and encouraging differing viewpoints. I’d be really interested to hear more about what you mean by medical treatment – do you mean people look a little suspiciously at you if your child has been injured? In which case that’s absolutely shocking!

  5. Rhian Westbury - August 31, 2016

    What a brilliant post and I agree that there is too much everyday sexism which is just deemed as part of the everyday normal world x

  6. Zoe IKIWN - August 31, 2016

    I agree with a lot of what you have written here, sexism is sadly still very rife and very quickly dismissed by those it does not affect. All I can hope is that as we make more and more progress, we can educate those around us and that come after us that these outmoded attitudes are no longer acceptable. I enjoyed reading this, and there are a few bits here (particularly the psychology bits) that I am off to read more about. x
    Zoe IKIWN recently posted…A Relaxed Summer Look for Under £20 with BooHoo PlusMy Profile

  7. Ickle Pickle - August 31, 2016

    As a mum to two girls and two boys, my one wish for them all is to respect each other and both sexes equally. Luckily my teens are dead against negativity to men and women and fiercely believe in equality on every level. Kaz x
    Ickle Pickle recently posted…Heading into AutumnMy Profile

  8. Kacie - September 1, 2016

    Great post! I think we’ve come a long way in the battle against sexism, but there’s definitely still room for improvement.

  9. Sharon Parry - September 2, 2016

    This was a really interesting read – especially the bit about evolution and the need to attract the stongest mate. If this has developed over thousands of years of natural selection no wonder it’s taking a long time to reverse!! As a Mum of three teen daughters, this is a subject that gets brought up very often. They often accuse their father of not letting them do things because they are girls and argue that if they were boys he would be more laid back. I’m not sure if that is true, but I guess that teen girls do face a different set of dangers than boys. Not more, not less, just different. I can’t help feeling that true equality is not assuming that males and females are the same, because they are not, but in recognising the unique contribution of both.
    Sharon Parry recently posted…Meningitis in students – what you need to knowMy Profile

  10. Themotherhub - September 2, 2016

    This is great and I couldn’t agree more with everything. I also write about feminsim and gender stereotypes – I’ve found that once sexism is on your agenda, you notice it everywhere , which is utterly depressing . I agree as women we need to stop judging each other, accept my choice is not your choice and live and let live . #brillblogposts

  11. Cecilia Keinapel - September 2, 2016

    One of the backsides of being a blogger is that often girls can turn on each other, because of jealousy. I haven’t (thankfully) noticed any in my comment section but I used to receive a lot of hate on my old blog in Norway. This can also happen on events when people are talking about their success other women turn their heads or start talking shit to about this woman. It is very sad…. the world would be a better place if we could lift each other up instead

  12. Jenna Von - September 3, 2016

    This is literally my favourite post EVER. I agree with every single thing you have written specifically women targeting each other. I hate it. I am such a supporter of other females. Whether it’s in the street, online etc. I smile at strangers, I support women trying to succeed on social media and so should everyone else.
    Dismissing them won’t help anyone.

    Jenna Von

  13. Fola lewis - September 10, 2016

    How true this post is. It saddens me too that my daughter is growing up in a world with so many walls to climb over. My most painful experience of gender discrimination was from my female managers at work who wrote me off as soon as they found out I wss pregnamt with my first child. It was a crashing down to earth kind of experience that made me realise that as lomg as us women try to keep esch other down, the men will never treat us as equals. Thanks for sharing, great read!

  14. Helena --babyfoote - September 10, 2016

    I agree with everything you’ve written (except the big brother stuff, I don’t know anything about that so I’ll just smile and nod at that bit). I think we kind of forget how to be kind as we grow. As children we’re shown or told to be gentle, share, be kind and then at some point, maybe there’s a reason for it like the cave woman thing, we forget or ignore our childhood training.
    Women need to support women. We all need to be kind to everyone. Brilliantly written post!

  15. Rachel Hancocks - September 10, 2016

    This was a great post! I have some really strong female friends working their butts off to make a difference for us women and their children! I am so proud of you all! Us girls need to stick together! A self employed working Mother of two gorgeous strong minded girls

  16. Nell (the Pigeon Pair and Me) - September 10, 2016

    Really thought-provoking post. A friend of mine did a thesis on why people feel the need to talk about each other (ie gossip) – it’s human nature, but there are ways of doing it. I’ve noticed that, over time, the people who succeed are the ones who’ve bigged up their friends and allies, and avoided negativity. The people who sit there tearing down every successful person they see, will never do well in the long run. As for sexism, that’s a whole other story. Really interested to read what you’d said about Big Brother, as I’d missed all of that.
    Nell (the Pigeon Pair and Me) recently posted…A sneak peek inside a Siblu three-bedroom Elegance mobile homeMy Profile

  17. Ebabee - September 11, 2016

    YES to everything you have said. And so well said too. And you’re right – first and foremost women need to be less judgemental of each other. I won’t say much as it’s been said above but I am so glad you wrote this fab post. And I will leave you with this – hope you can see it!
    https://s3.amazonaws.com/visualnews-wp-media-prod/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/11163222/lifteachotherup_libbyvanderploeg.gif
    Ebabee recently posted…A summer break + big changes comingMy Profile

  18. Sruthi - February 15, 2017

    Excellent post. I sincerely agree that women should support each other. We need strong role models to dispel the deeplyrooted stereotypes. Successful women should definetely become the rule rather than the norm.

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