Story of a Feminist Hangover

14 Sep

The recent storm of controversy around barrister Charlotte Proudman’s denunciation of a “sexist” compliment from a married older man only shows to illustrate why ‘feminism’ is an outdated concept.

It looks to many like she over-reacted, doubtless frustrated at the invisible ceiling which means any progress up the ladder brings the tap on the head which reminds her she is a woman; and as such, outspoken opinions and naked ambition are not proper to display.

 

Is Femininity a Weakness?

Consensus is, some well-placed flirting can be helpful in some arenas (for example, hospitality or secretarial work). But generally speaking where men and women are supposed to work together as equals, men and women behaving in an overtly ‘sexualised’ way are less likely to succeed in a highly competitive workplace. Sex is a distraction, but this is true for men as much as women.

Someone whose place in the office hierarchy hinges on their relative attractiveness to the opposite sex is living on borrowed time. You need to get on with people inter-personally without either side objectifying the other. But this includes knowing how to graciously accept a compliment without making it into a gendered issue.

At a recent corporate photoshoot I was told my one of my senior employees that in one of my shots I looked ‘like a filmstar’. ‘Thank you,’ I told him candidly. And we discussed how important it is to widen your eyes and lips if you want to really connect with the camera. My mum is a portrait photographer, so I have survived several photography sessions (slash ambushes) with a vastly improved screen presence.

I did feel that he slightly lost respect for me professionally after seeing how well I was determined to photograph, but hey…. Men will be men. Once you remind them of your intellectual bite, the occasional flash of vanity will hopefully be overlooked.

Scientific Proof

So men do lose respect for women they perceive to be overtly concerned about their appearance. Unfortunately it is the case that some traits, particularly those signifying dominance – when displayed in a female, are also seen as negative. While in a man they would be overlooked or even seen as positive.

I cite a psychological study which Cordelia Fine draws on in ‘The Real Science Behind Sex Differences: Delusions of Gender,’ which found that, when two fictional male and female candidates for the position of English professor were offered to students to assess, the female candidate was only selected if she was perceived as being personable, or likeable.

There were no such caveats for the man’s professional ability. When the excellently qualified male and female candidates were presented under the same condition, describing their style of literary criticism as ‘ruthless’, rather than the alternative condition where it was described as ‘tactful’, the so-called ‘ruthless’ male candidate, ‘Edward’ was chosen by the vast majority of participants. The author concludes that being a cutting and pitiless critic was seen as acceptable behaviour in a man, but not in a woman where the identical behaviour made her unlikeable.

Fine also cites a study by Victoria Brescoll and Eric Uhlmann which “found that while expressing anger often enhances men’s status and competency in the eyes of others, it can be very costly to women in terms of how they are perceived.”

And it is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman who sacrifices her social life for her career is pathetic, a loner… perhaps even (whisper it) a lesbian. A man in a similar situation might be admired.

God forbid anyone should toe the imaginary line society has drawn between ‘male’ and ‘female’ behaviour. Newsflash, people: the vast body of psychological research indicates there is no biological evidence for what we perceive as ‘male’ and ‘female’ behaviour.

Cordelia Fine effectively topples Simon Baron-Cohen’s once-popular theory that there is a male ‘systemic’ brain and a female communicative, multi-tasking, touchy-feely brain. Men are not biologically programmed to be better at mathematics or spacial awareness. Women are not hard-wired to be better at languages.

But how to deal with gendered behaviour at work?

Well psychology and common sense teaches us that shouting someone down or overreacting to behaviour you believe is unacceptable will usually trigger a defensive overreaction from them. Far better to gently compel them to think about how they would feel if placed in a similar situation, or explain how their action has made you feel.

A better response from Charlotte Proudman would have been “Thank you, but I hope the fact I take a good picture is not one of the key things you would take into consideration if you wanted to work with me. Regards to your wife.”

I leave you with an anecdote from an evening I spent waitressing (part-time) at a Freemasons dinner. We got to the end of a very long shift, and the seriously sozzled men in gowns were calling for their port, and staggering gradually from the dining hall. There were a couple left sniggering at a table, and I noticed they were pointing at me.

“Oh look, they’ve got a ginger. For equal opportunities, you know. Good to see they’ve got some (ethnic) minorities on the team.”

“Did you just call me ginger?”

“No. Well, yes, but…” and they tried to explain. Basically, some guy in a comedy sketch show made the point originally, and they were just parroting it… but it was just hilaaarious. They could not understand why I too was not rolling around with laughter.

“Ok, so I’m giinger. What do you want me to call you?” I said, with my Stepford Waitress freeze-dried smile. I had just spent five hours serving them a four-course meal, and been forbidden from touching so much as a roll of bread. We had carried stacks of plates high enough and long enough to constitute the exercise equivalent of an hour’s weight-lifting class.

And somehow, this experience epitomises why I’m not a feminist. Because it’s not helpful. Chauvinistic pricks will not change their ways because you have a feminist rant at them. In fact, it just gives them ammunition – something to poke fun at. Close your eyes to the ‘patriarchy’ when you bump into it, put your fingers in your ears, and walk around it.

Most human beings, though, will respond to common humanity. Be polite, be honest, and always be the better person. If you don’t get your reward right away, just remember what goes around comes around. Eventually. If not in this life, maybe the next…

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3 Responses to “Story of a Feminist Hangover”

  1. SteveB October 11, 2015 at 7:52 am #

    Hi, Great blog and I follow you on WP – I must tell you that I have nominated it for the “Blogger Recognition Award”. Please check out the 4 Rules at http://expatinbacolod.com/blogger-recognition-award/
    If you wish to accept the nomination – SteveB

    • The ultimate authority on Everything October 13, 2015 at 12:07 pm #

      Aw thanks, both for the recognition and for motivating me to update my blogroll. So many class writers out there unrecognised. Cyberspace is a lonely place : )

      • SteveB October 13, 2015 at 3:25 pm #

        Hey you have talent. Go for it and don’t leave it too late like me 🙂

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