The first of our monthly guest blog series is from Andrea Millard, AKA Raising a Rebel on Instagram, I can think of no better way to celebrate International Women’s Day than with an everyday story about habitual sexism.
Over to Andrea….
So where do I start? If I were to be asked if I had experienced sexism before the arrival of my little girl then I would’ve most likely said ‘No, not really.’ But why the ‘not really’? Well because it’s so weaved into the ‘every day’ that I just took it as life – no big deal. But ‘it doesn’t happen to every guy and it is a big deal!’ (If you grew up in the 90s you’d love this quote from #f.r.i.e.n.d.s) It’s the normality, the ‘is what it is’, it’s the habitual nature of sexism that makes it so god damn hard to highlight! That makes it so god damn hard to eradicate! It was the arrival of my little rebel girl, who burst into the world ready for anything that opened my eyes and sparked an intense yearning to defend her; protect her; shout for her. An obligation to make sure I did whatever I could to ensure that this little rebel girl, with no inhibitions, no preconceptions, no limits, no barriers, no prejudice, had all the opportunities that her male counterparts have. But it’s not just about the same opportunities but to be treated with respect and integrity along the way – to be treated as equal.
One day I hope I never have to write what I’m about to write; that it won’t be necessary but for now I feel it is…
My disclaimer as a feminist:
I am a woman. I don’t care what gender you are, if any gender at all. I don’t believe that the future is female, if I did, I too would be sexist. I do support other women doing their thing (as long as it is done with integrity, for the greater good and legal!) I do believe that standing for feminism is about equality of choice, opportunity and treatment whatever your gender. I don’t hate men. I don’t think ‘girly’ is a bad thing (whatever ‘girly’ is – but that is another blog post entirely!) If a women wears pink, likes unicorns, is a housewife by their own choice and freewill then all power to them! If a woman is an RAF pilot, fire fighter, CEO then, I echo my previous statement… all power to them! I’m not an extremist. I’m not a terrorist feminist. I’m fairly sure I’m not scary. Oh and I do shave my armpits and legs (admittedly more frequently in the summer but that is due more to the desire to hibernate in winter than to make any kind of statement.)Have I missed anything?? Oh, I don’t hate men. I’ve said this, I know, but it’s worth just throwing it out their again!
So…what about sexism?
Growing up in the 80s and 90s as a half Chinese girl that could pass as ‘white’ depending on the environment, I’ve been on the receiving end of racism (casual and otherwise) and sexism and at times racism and sexism rolled into one giant ball of crap. I will call this hybrid ‘rasexism’. At Secondary school, surrounded by the majority of white girls and boys my racial concoction was somewhat of a novelty and as it wasn’t as obviousas being black the casual racism was just life. It was acceptable. To be honest I embraced it and tried to own it but at times the ignorant little twats pissed me off and at worse it hurt. And then came Wayne’s World… and along with it the seemingly first Chinese ‘hot’ women to grace our screens. Tia Carrere, character name – Cassandra Wong. As the sex symbol of the film, it meant that it was now okay to refer to me as Cassandra and then the casual ‘rasexism’ began. The echoes of ‘schwing’ as I walked down the corridor were never addressed by teachers, male or female. And then one day as I walked alone down the corridor (late for registration as always!) a boy lifted my kilt (yes, I wore a prince of wales tartan kilt to school) as he shouted ‘schwing’, high enough to reveal the gusset of my attractive green tights, only to be caught by the male head of year right in front of me. I say caught. Caught would imply that the head of year thought the boy had done something wrong in order to ‘catch’ him. As you can imagine, I was mortified. Not sure who I was more embarrassed had seen my knickers (thank god I hadn’t discovered thongs yet!) the boy or the head of year. Now, what do you think would be a suitable consequence for forcing me to become an involuntary public flasher? Something? Anything? Well, according to the head of year, NOTHING. The boy was told ‘to stop being a cretin’. (I actually remember looking the word ‘cretin’ up after the ordeal in the hope it was suitably harsh. I was disappointed.)
As a teenager, I had little in the way of guidance (consequences?) and I had teachers at school I respected and teachers, well, that were just poor. My head of Year was dreadful. So, I voiced my disgust, my shock that ‘this cretin’ wasn’t getting a detention and went to registration. (I was a nice person, I really was. But hormones!) Okay, so not the best way to deal with it but my point is that I didn’t get angry because I thought it was wrong; I got angry because I was embarrassed. Unfortunately, incidents like this were common at my school (yep, you’ve guessed right, my school was sub-standard) put it this way, the boys used to play terribly juvenile games that were hugely amusing to them but just caused the girls misery. I actually remember my maths teacher saying ‘boys will be boys’. I mean, really?! But at the time, we accepted it. EVEN the teachers. Casual, habitual sexism/harassment weaved into the fabric of our everyday lives that we accepted it. Laughed it off.The good thing is, I think, I hope, we’ve moved on a little from this blatant sexual harassment.
I haven’t been on the end of sexual harassment in my adult life, thankfully, but sexism…well, I challenge any woman to honestly say that they have gone through life without any discrimination due to their gender. Now when I stand back and look at my life so far, I can’t say that it has been massively oppressed by sexism because it hasn’t. I have strove for what I want and I haven’t felt I’ve been held back by my gender. I also don’t think my gender has shaped what I wanted in life. I’m a primary teacher, which is arguably a female dominated profession, but I was drawn to this as I wanted to have an impact on children’s lives; I wanted to provide the guidance that I didn’t have. I also considered joining the RAF reserves (if you know me you will know why this is ridiculously hilarious!) and the only reason I never got round to sending off the application is because you needed to pass a fitness test even for the administrative roles and I’m a ‘float in a ring on a lazy river type swimmer’, soooo…
Anyway as you can see, my career choices weren’t influenced by gender stereo-types. I don’t know where this outlook on life came from but I’m proud of my younger self for not letting my gender be a factor. But not all people are like this and the everyday influences filter in and without even realising it young minds, male and female, are taking shape. Language is pivotal to our thinking. So when we say things like ‘throw like a girl’, ‘man up’, ‘grow a pair’ or our focus is on how pretty a little girl is, it all plays a part in setting those pathways in those little minds. A pathway that suggests girls are weak and that boys are tough and that we should aspire to be tough and suppress our weaknesses. My god this is dangerous for boys and girls! Let’s think mental health people! All of it becomes weaved into our thinking. Writing this blog post I wondered what the ‘present me’ would’ve said to the ‘teenage me’ who sat in front of their head of year, disguising her true feelings with anger, after being on the receiving end of blatant sexual harassment. So if I could, I would’ve said something along the lines of…
“Take a deep breath. You have no reason to be embarrassed. Take a deep breath. What he did was wrong. Take a deep breath. Talk to someone who will listen – use this experience to help educate and facilitate change.”
And then I thought, what would I tell my daughter? What advice would I give her? What advice can I give her that will resonate and sit in her sub-conscious, so that she can refer to if the need arises?
To my daughter,
- You have the right to say no – so use it.
- You have the ability to speak up – so do it.
- You can use your experience to educate – so facilitate it.
Respect is Respect and does not discriminate – not gender, colour, species, race or religion. If it feels wrong, it probably is.
It’s not about being scared about what to say to a girl or woman; it’s not about being ‘PC’ and it certainly isn’t about shaming men. When I see extreme feminists that bash men it infuriates me as they undo any good pathways a real feminist has forged and they give ammunition to the likes of Piers Morgan, who seemingly just wants to antagonise any sensitive issue. It sparks defensiveness amongst men that don’t understand where we are coming from – that don’t understand what it feels like. That is not an accusation it’s just fact. So, how can we be understood without being radical, without being extremists, without being preachy and self-righteous? How can we express what everyday sexism feels like? It’s such a fine line. However, I feel that I have found something that may just help! In the form of a quote from a comedian, Peter White, who just nails it!
“The golden rule for men should be, if you’re a man, don’t say anything to a woman on the street that you wouldn’t want a man saying to you in prison.”
So good right?! It’s a thinker! And so true! The things that have been shouted at me walking down the street (albeit in my younger years!) have ranged from ‘beautiful’ to ‘I bet you’re tight’ *Shock* This was when I was 13. I remember because I didn’t really understand what he meant until my best friend enlightened me. So, guys? How comfortable would you be with this being shouted at you, whilst you walked alone in prison?? Uncomfortable? Scared? Well, maybe that will help you understand why women are speaking out. Why I am proud to call myself a feminist. Why I need to be a feminist for my daughter. So that when she is 13 she doesn’t hear those words shouted at her from across the street and then resort to walking an extra ½ mile through a dark alley, to her friend’s house just to avoid the men at the car garage.
You can find Andrea’s work at Live and Learn