The past few days haven’t been particularly mood-bolstering if you’re a champion of gender equality. Shortly after a bunch of people lost their shit because the very talented and highly respected Jodie Whittaker was announced as the next Doctor Who, the BBC released its stars’ salaries, and we discovered two thirds of the corporation’s highest earning talent is male.
So yes, like I said – not all that inspiring for anyone who believes men and women should be treated equally. And that’s only scratching the showbizzy surface of sexism.
Like every other woman, I’ve been subject to sexism, prejudice and misogyny my whole life, but I only became properly conscious of it and started to challenge it when I was 18, shortly after I started university.
I’m now 23, and after five years of being tuned in to sexist bullshit, and calling it out wherever I can, I can clearly see things aren’t moving in the direction of gender equality as quickly as they should be. In fact, during those five years a man who defiantly uttered that infamous and vomit-inducing phrase ‘grab them by the pussy’ was elected President of the United States. So I’d say things have got worse, if anything.
I’m the eldest of four siblings; my youngest sister is 14. When I get mad about the everyday sexism that plagues this world, my mind often turns to her, and how I wish she didn’t have to put up with this crap.
I really hope that by the time my sister is 23, she has never experienced any of the following:
1. Being catcalled consistently from the age of about 15 (especially when she’s dressed in gym gear – because lycra and an oversized Fruit of the Loom T shirt is the height of sexiness, apparently.)
2. Being told by a leering man who’s definitely old enough to be her father that he could ‘show her a thing or two, darling’ in an extremely seedy manner.
3. Paying £45 for a Hollywood wax because she thinks it will make the boy she’s dating like her more.
4. Having a passing stranger reach his hand up her skirt as he walks by her in Leicester Square one Saturday night, shouting ‘Fuck you, that’s not ok!’ then realising no one around batted an eyelid.
5. Living off Fruit ‘n Fibre for a whole summer because she’s been conditioned to believe her body shape determines her worth as a woman.
6. Being called bossy for taking control of a situation.
7. Being called a bitch for not smiling.
8. Feeling judged by her appearance above anything else, and wishing she could be thinner and prettier. (I know I’m too late on this one, but it’s in the list anyway because it breaks my heart that a primary school age girl can experience this, and I so want that to not be the case.)
9. Feeling like shit because a man walking past her in the street caught her eye and said: ‘Your mate’s fit, you’re not.’
10. Feeling the need to hold her door key in her fist when she walks home from work in the dark winter months.
11. Being given a rape alarm by an older female relative who means well, but is sending completely the wrong message.
12. Wearing high heels she can barely walk in that make her feet bleed before she’s even left the house, because that’s just what women have to do, right?
I do, hope, however, that by the time my little sister is my current age she has experienced these things:
1. The realisation that being deemed ‘bossy’ ‘a bitch’ ‘a nasty woman’ etc is a badge of honour that should be worn with pride.
2. Briefly becoming best friends with someone in the ladies’ toilets on a night out, exchanging compliments, hugging, then parting ways.
3. Finding the power in clothes and makeup and using them for self-expression rather than as a means of making herself appealing to men.
4. Reading words by authors like Maya Angelou and Angela Carter and Caitlin Moran and Lena Dunham and understanding it’s ok to be a woman who speaks her mind and calls out inequality when she sees or experiences it.
5. Calling out inequality when she sees or experiences it.
6. Finding peace with wearing flat, comfortable shoes on a night out.
7. The understanding that loving herself and the skin she’s in is vitally important – and really, truly doing that.
8. Not even realising she’s just watched a film that passes the Bechdel test, because all of them do nowadays.
9. Knowing society values her because she’s whip-smart and belly laugh-funny and incredibly kind, not because of what she looks like.
10. Feeling positive for the future of the world because women are paid fairly and aren’t abused for doing whatever damn job they please, and the president’s a woman now, and things are finally where they should have been all along.