Why is it that no matter what women so – it is always wrong?
I’ve just been reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book, LEAN IN, where she urges women to stop holding back at the workplace= and to start leaning in and to claim their entitlements. ‘Sit at the table’ she says; take up space. Make your views known; negotiate a fair rate of pay.
Women are behaving in the wrong way; they must become more confident, more assertive! And she is absolutely right.
But she also says – and the message is often between the lines – that women who are assertive will also be doing the wrong thing – and there is a price to pay. ‘Damned if the do and doomed if they don’t’ she says. I agree.
What I want to know is how this happens. How we are always positioned as being in the wrong – regardless of our behavior?
Women are always in the wrong. They are in the wrong when they conform to the old values of the wilting violet – and they are equally in the wrong when they discard the restrictions of femininity and claim their full human rights.
It is an issue that has frustrated women from the day they started campaigning for women’s rights. In the 19th century it was often referred to as ‘the double bind’; in the 20th – ‘the Catch 22’; in the 21st century its damned or doomed.
In England in the 18th century when women were denied education they were damned because of their ignorance; frivolous creatures who could not be taken seriously. (One of the arguments against women’s votes was that they were not educated – when of course there was no opportunity for them to attend decent schools or universities.)
By the 19th century when a few areas of education were opened to women – they were then ridiculed and damned for their ‘learning’. There was no greater insult than to be a ‘strong minded woman’ – and women were routinely mocked as bluestockings.
On a more distressing topic – women who are raped are held to be wearing the wrong clothes, are in the wrong place, sending the wrong signals, and of the wrong character.
Much the same attitude can exist in relation to women who are subjected to domestic violence or who are homeless. (And domestic violence is the greatest cause of women’s homelessness.) There must be something wrong with these women for them to be in such a bad space!
Women who do well at the workplace are often viewed through the prism of having slept their way to the top. Women who register claims for sexual harassment turn out to be ‘the wrong fit’ for the organisation.
Women who have children are in the wrong (unreliable, not focused on their work) and women who don’t – aren’t to be trusted; given the advances in IVF they might get clucky at 50!
Girls who do so much better than boys at school are clearly doing the wrong thing – and as the boys are missing out, we need to pay much more attention to the education of boys! Women who are now nearly 60% of the university population must also be doing something wrong or they would be more than half the CEOs and members of the board. And they would be paid more!
When children go of the rails – the mother was either a helicopter mother who robbed her child of any initiative – or else she was an over-ambitious mother who was more concerned with her career success than the welfare of her offspring.
There isn’t a day goes by without me witnessing the long list of women’s wrong doings. Everyone of us is the wrong shape: with either too big an arse or too small tits or the wrong jacket.
We are wrong to try and solve the problem with cosmetic surgery (Did you notice all that work he has done on her face? And I bet she has had liposuction!).
At the same time we are even more wrong if we insist that our good works and character are more important than laughter lines on our faces. (She’s just let herself go).
Our voices are too shrill – or too hesitant. We are flirts – or we are up ourselves, as we don’t take any notice of nudges, winks and ‘come-on’ looks.
We are wrong when we come up with good ideas at meetings; it doesn’t pay to be too bright. And we are wrong when we say nothing at all – ‘a sour bitch’ or a waste of space.
We are wrong when we are sexy and wrong when we are dowdy. And wrong when we make the call for a fair deal from men – whether it relates to their contribution at the workplace or the home. There are literally hundreds of words that take away our credibility and put us in the wrong; nag, snipe, prickly, shrewish, spiteful, scold, henpeck, ball breaker, witch etc etc.
These days I am even told that feminism is wrong:
Feminism has fought no wars. It has killed no opponents, It has set up no concentration camps, starved no enemies, practised no cruelties. Its battles have been for education, for the vote, for women to own their own property and keep their own wages; feminism has campaigned for better working conditions, equal pay, for safety on the streets AND IN THE HOME. It has been for family payments, protection of children, for childcare, rape crisis centres, women’s refuges, and reforms in the law that acknowledge the equality of women.
If a someone suggested to me that there is something wrong with feminism I used to ask them – what’s your problem?
But now I have come to ask – what is THE PROBLEM that would have women and women’s rights – always in the wrong.
Can we right this wrong?