What Women Want?

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I don’t get political on this blog very often. There are few issues I feel strongly enough about to be bothered to argue, frankly. But there are a few I get emotional about, and one of them seems to have been in the spotlight rather a lot of late.

I consider myself a feminist. I can’t stand the sweeping generalisations that society seems to make about how people should behave based on gender. But this is me: I am a woman, and proud to be so. I don’t know how to fix a car if it goes wrong, and I can’t put up shelves. I also can’t cook, I hate cleaning, I possess no maternal instincts whatsoever, and I have no interest in shoes or handbags. And I categorically do not know how to put up curtains, as I have discovered this week.

But my husband can’t fix the car either. When it goes wrong we take it to the garage. Neither can he put put up shelves. We pay someone to do these odd jobs for us when the need arises. We also pay someone to do the cleaning. He is perhaps a marginally better cook than me. Neither of us likes ironing, so we have an arrangement – he irons his clothes, I iron mine. Generic items like sheets and tea towels do not get ironed at all.

And Hubby hates football. Which is good with me, because so do I.

After thousands of years of evolution, we have arrived at the twenty-first century and rampant sexism still exists. It makes me very sad, because it seems the human race has learned nothing. I would like to draw your attention to this website – the Everyday Sexism Project. Though I admire what this site is trying to do, if I spend too much time on it, I just get depressed.

A lot of women whose blogs I follow have talked about their own experiences of sexual harassment. The fact that so many people have stories to tell makes me very sad. I’m going to draw your attention to two, just because they are recent. Sarah Ellender has recently blogged about sexism, drawing on her own experiences of harassment in the workplace. And earlier this year, Sonya Clark wrote an excellent post about being a girl.

Fortunately for me, I don’t really have any stories of my own to add. I have spent many years being a secretary, working for both male and female bosses. For a long time I preferred female bosses, as I saw too many men who wanted their secretary to either be a glamorous dolly-bird, so he could preen to his colleagues about having the sexiest secretary, or a mother figure who would look after him. Since I am neither a glamour girl nor a mother figure, I tend to be hired by people who just want someone to do the work.

Occasionally I get hit on, if I’m in the pub having drinks with female friends, in spite of obvious presence of wedding ring. I do not consider this a compliment, especially since the men in question are generally looking at my chest and not my face. But it has to be said I haven’t gone through life having to constantly fend off unwanted attention, and as a teenager I did not have boyfriends. Boys just weren’t very interested, and in some ways things haven’t changed much. A lot of men appear to find me too intimidating. I do not conform to what society tells us is a model of attractiveness. I do not look like a Bond girl. But I am not fat and I am not ugly, even though it’s taken me all of my life to get to a point where I can accept that. I am intelligent, I am opinionated and I can be brutally blunt, which some people think makes me a bitch. A lot of men don’t know how to deal with that. And there are some people in this world whose opinions are informed by how society dictates men and women should behave. I’m not interested in many of the things women are supposed to be interested in. Some people find that rather disconcerting, which is probably why they think I’m a bit weird.

I grew up in the 1980s, where girls were encouraged to be Superwoman – have a career and a family. Thirty years on, I think we’re going backwards. A lot of young women seem to be interested only in marrying footballers and having babies. I want to yell at them, “Where’s your ambition?” It especially annoys me when women don’t vote. Women had to fight very hard to get the right to vote. We shouldn’t take it for granted.

And now we are approaching the dreaded Festive Season, where sexism appears in abundance. Asda’s offensive ad has already been mentioned in the blog sites I pointed you at earlier. I go crazy at all the ads that assume generic ‘his’ and ‘hers’ gifts – with ‘his’ gifts being video games, and ‘her’ gifts being perfume and make up. The only thing I wanted for my birthday was Resident Evil 6. Which I got, but Hubby – who it has to be said has far better taste when it comes to picking women’s clothes than I do, in spite of being straight – took me out shopping because he thought I should have some new clothes too.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that people think I’m weird. There are plenty of people in my life who value me in spite of my weirdness. But it saddens me that as a race we keep making the same mistakes over and over again. When I was a teenager, I thought I could change the world. Now I’m older, I’m a lot more cynical.

There are a lot of countries in the world where women have a far harder time of it than we do in the West – in some places, daughters are little more than commodities, to be married off to the highest bidder as soon as they puberty. Denied education, denied the right to drive, denied the right to vote.

A few years ago on a trip to Africa, we visited a small village where one particular charity had worked very hard to set up schools, with computers, and were endeavouring to give an education to as many local youngsters as possible. One woman in particular had worked very hard with these children. We encountered a young woman who came to talk to us, to practise her English. She was 18, and in her final year of school. She told us she was in no hurry to have a husband and children. She was going to go to university. She wanted to be a lawyer, and she wanted to help women suffering domestic abuse.

That young woman, who had clearly been inspired by the woman who worked so hard so help the youngsters of that African village, gave me encouragement that maybe things are changing, slowly. But the change is coming rather too slowly, and we’ve still got a long way to go.


5 comments so far

  1. Laurel on

    Right on. I can’t fix cars either. And hate shopping. Unless I’m in a book store. I do like to bake though. (Emphasis on “bake” not “cook”–I’m all about the sweets.)

    I agree with you that things are definitely trending backwards. I don’t know if you’re in the US or not, but I feel like conservative ideals are coming more to the forefront, and becoming more commonplace, than they were just ten, fifteen years ago. It’s frightening and really sad.

  2. Linda Adams on

    I don’t like a lot of what I see either — I grew up wishing I could find books with girl protagonists that weren’t pining to get married. And all I see today are book covers that portray women as objects and TV shows where they put the women in as little as possible. We’re people folks!

    • sayssara on

      Linda – for a while we had crime series with kick-ass women (VI Warshawski and Kinsey Millhone were two of my favourite characters). Now we seem to be regressing again.

  3. sayssara on

    Hi Laurel – thanks for commenting.

    I’m in the UK, but what happens in the UK impacts on us, and it’s all very worrying.

    I am all about the sweets too – I bake occasionally, since I still like to lick the bowl afterwards!

  4. That Time Again « Imaginary Friends on

    […] of Christmas adverts (particularly Asda’s Christmas advert – see my earlier post on sexism for more about this) is still intensely irritating. Every time yet another perfume advert comes on, […]

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