I’m A Useless Feminist

On a day when we celebrate women and their achievements, I find myself silently berating myself for my less than glowing feminist credentials.

By that I mean that whilst I know with every fiber of my being that women are equal to men and that no woman should come second because of her gender, I still struggle with the concept.

I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s at a time when there was a definite sea change towards a kind of social and economic freedom our mothers never knew.

But the backdrop to this was still a world in which to truly succeed it seemed as if conformity was the quickest and easiest route.

And many of us who wanted to strike out and defend a woman’s right to be everything she wanted to be with no limits, found our mothers had a completely different idea.

Two examples often heard from women during my upbringing – women were worse drivers than men and that unemployment levels would be immediately reduced if women would only stay home and look after their children, thus freeing up jobs for men.

In the Legal Profession in which I found myself quite accidentally, women were still less likely to be made partners.

I hope that this is no longer the case but I seriously doubt it.  

My friends and I used to joke (although it really isn’t funny) that women would make manager and assistant manager positions but directorships and partnerships would usually go to the men.

And less talented men at that.

So I learned that conformity was the thing.  Keep your head down, don’t make waves, don’t disagree. I was a single girl and I needed to keep my job.

This is not the image of the ballsy, go-getting feminist who wouldn’t be talked down to in meetings and would never accept the task of making the tea.

I would watch from the sidelines as the male employees would get invited to sporting hospitality events, dinner with the partners, an afternoon of golf.

Men seem to have an easier way of relating to one another.  They argue, swear and cuss at each other and then move on.

With women, it is often an endless war of attrition where sweetness and concern cloaks a fierce and ruthless ambition.

It seemed that women could not compete ‘openly’ with one another but had to resort to a set of tactics which would make Machiavelli look like a novice.

Apart from one, I can’t think of any female boss I enjoyed working for.  

They were, by and large, power-dressing, mint crunching, bobbed hair types who, when they were not ‘delegating’  (the responsibility, mind you, never any authority) nebulous projects, were just as likely to be found doing their weekly grocery shop online.

Do I sound bitter?  Damn right I am.

This was not how it was supposed to be.

I read frequently of sisters who support one another. Female managers and co-workers who build each other up, look out for each other and celebrate each others’ triumphs.

As I get older I wonder if this is some sort of feminist myth and whether, for example, in the hot-housed enclaves of the partitioned office environment so popular in Wales this ever actually happens.

I really hope, for the sake of young women today, that it does.

I find myself wondering what to tell my own daughter when she enters the world of work.  If the current economic climate does not improve, getting and keeping a job may well be more important than challenging any barriers.

Does that make me a hypocrite or a realist?

I’m afraid it probably makes me a useless feminist.

In the end, it’s all about the easiest route to self-preservation, the quickest way to secure the pay rise, the least threatening way to fit in.

Looks are still currency.  This seems to be the main belief of our selfie generation, encouraged by the Kardashian clan in their endless pursuit of reverence.

There are thousands of young women working hard to gain qualifications and skills in fields such as medicine and science.

Yet, Kim Kardashian takes her clothes off, posts it on the internet and makes millions.

And there’s the central problem.

I can’t bring myself to agree that this is the definition of empowerment, but in the face of her vast wealth, I really struggle to call it anything else.

As I said.  Hypocrite or realist?

Certainly a useless feminist.

Why can’t I name the world’s cleverest living women?

So, in a recent cosy night-time chat on the sofa with the kids, we talked about how proud I was of them and how it is almost time for Caitlin to go to junior school (part of her current school but on a different site).

Marie Curie
Marie Curie, Voted The World’s Greatest Female Scientist 

We talked about how some of her friends wouldn’t yet be going because they were perhaps not developing as fast (for example they have health issues), but that physical impairment did not mean they were not as intelligent as everyone else.

The example I used was the great physicist Stephen Hawking, a genius in a body that is failing him. He is, I told the kids, one of the cleverest men in the world.

Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa

“Mum”, said Caitlin, “who are the cleverest women in the world?”. 

A simple enough question but a loaded one, nevertheless and, I am cross with myself to admit, one I could not answer with any rapidity. 

All the women I could think of, Florence Nightingale, Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, Mother Teresa, Jane Austen are all long gone.

Once the kids were in bed, I had to ask myself the more important question “why do I not know who the world’s cleverest women are”. 

Is it a factor of my social media usage? The papers and magazines I read? 

Is it because society now finds Kim Kardashian’s change of hair colour a far more useful barometer of a woman’s value than the achievements of the unsung legions of women at the forefront of scientific, technical and artistic endeavour?

That cannot be true in a thinking society can it?

So, please can you help me out – and I promise to share. Let’s name these inspirational women so that our daughters (and sons!) know their names and their achievements.

We surely owe it to the next generation of the world’s cleverest women.

Caitlin Hobbis
Caitlin 

I’d love it if you share your ideas in the comments below or tweet me with your thoughts. 

Can’t Stand Her On Sight? That’s Not Very Sisterly

Today the Daily Mail, that august tome which, in its “Femail” section peels bare the issues we women are clearly all discussing on a daily basis (ahem), carries an article by journalist Claudia Connell entitled “Why are there some women you just LOATHE on sight” raising the question of why some women hate other women.

Why do some women hate other women? Woman in black against a dark navy backdrop

Ms Connell lists her current female bete noires as including Katherine Jenkins and Victoria Pendelton whilst the online comments (always the most entertaining, informed and grammatically correct part of the article) feature the name of Cheryl Cole with monotonous regularity.

Which gets me thinking – isn’t this just female cattery of the kind that shouldn’t have made it into print? Is this anti-feminist cant which is encouraging women to judge, not on talent or success in their field but whether their despised celebrity is prettier, sexier and able to wear a size zero without looking like a mobile kebab?

My grandfather, sadly now deceased, used to take instant dislikes to both men and women for the most spurious of reasons – for no other apparent reason, primarily, than he enjoyed it. “Look at him”, he’d say in a broad Plymouthian accent – “he’s a right goon”. As far as I could gather, a goon was someone who was too full of their own importance,  wore shiny shoes and look like they were enjoying themselves.  In those days all Tories were automatically ‘goons’ to him, whilst the labour supporters reeling scrumpy-soaked from the local social club in the small hours were salt of the earth.

Much as it galls me, though, I have to admit Ms Connell has a point.  La Jenkins has never seemed entirely genuine to me where Charlotte Church seems much more so.  I break out in hives if I so much as hear the theme tune to Loose Women whilst hubby is allergic to Katie Price, Jodie Marsh and Kerry Katona.  My hackles rise at Carol Vorderman, whilst Helen Mirren always passes my ‘irritation radar’ with flying colours.

You know, I think what it is that lots of women REALLY dislike whilst slogging their way up the corporate ladder or juggling part-time work and motherhood, is to see success rewarded without apparent effort – the very thing that our reality TV culture promotes.

The irony of this is that Katherine et al have probably worked damn hard to get where they are but all evidence of any slog has been erased by a fleet of stylists and make-up artists. The old ‘Puritan work ethic’ lives on – to succeed, one must suffer (loudly!).

The first part of Hilary Devey’s “Women At The Top” on BBC 2 this week made interesting viewing. The percentage of women who make it to middle management, executive and board level is staggeringly low.  The male/female ratio in middle management is 70/30 and it is 83/17 in senior management.  The effort involved in reaching these levels for many women is huge, as is the competition.  No wonder then that some women hate other women who they consider to be their rivals.  And how galling to see media celebrities rake in the cash for basically doing very little.

Devey’s own amazing success with Pall-Ex is an inspiration but I would rather have seen her turn her attention to the career progression of women through SMEs than huge companies like P&G. I’m sure most self-employed entrepreneurs are not so much worried about a female ‘talent’ drain’ as they are about supporting maternity leave with the financial costs and the implications to the workloads of the remaining staff.  Perhaps this will be covered in the next episode in which Devey will be looking at the career progression of women in her own company. Another point made was that the UK has the highest childcare costs in Europe.

One thing’s for certain though, denigrating other women’s success on the basis of their looks won’t get any of us very far.  I’m always surprised though, at just how ‘unsisterly’ the ‘sisterhood’ can be.  I take comfort from the fact that whilst some women hate other women, most of us do our best to get along.