Two articles today started me thinking about how society seems to still see fit to keep women down.
First this, in the Independent – detailing how one in four girls interviewed (aged between 11 and 17) had low self-esteem, buckling under pressure to conform to an idealised notion of how she should look. Leading to a loss of future potential as they grow up believing they aren’t good enough because of how they look (or don’t look).
It struck me that as much as how we should look, women are also kept down by expectations as to how we should behave, dress, how good at our chosen profession we are, and so on. That somehow in order to be successful as a woman, you have to be better than the best (which is of course impossible, you can only be your best).
And then up crops this Barbara Ellen piece at the Guardian – “Sometimes I wonder if present-day society is missing an 11th Commandment: “Woman, thou shalt be judged!” ” I don’t think either I or Barbara would suggest men never get criticised, but why is i t women receive such vindictive attacks on their looks, outfits, or skin tone? And what does that say about what we value about those women anyway?
Which brings me to my wee anecdote. I used to work in the environment sector in Scotland. I appeared on television and radio as my organisation’s representative, I met with Ministers, MSPs, MPs, MEPs. I gave evidence to parliamentary committees, I supervised a Supreme Court intervention. In fact, I just about ruined my sanity acting up when we were between CEOs. And yet, twice I was told I didn’t have ‘gravitas’.
I have yet to work out what this means other than being a small, young looking woman who doesn’t wear grey trouser suits and sensible shoes, but may occasionally use wits and personality to get a point across, and not a suited and booted white man (preferably with a beard, what with it being the environment sector).
I am singling out the sector, as I did find this to be less of an issue for other areas of work. For instance, the Edinburgh Book Festival, who repeatedly employ me to chair sessions in Charlotte Square with authors including Will Self, Adam Thorpe and Maggie O’Farrell don’t think I lack the experience or skills necessary to do the job at hand. The people I met a reception in London who work in health, social welfare and housing charities didn’t question my ability to speak authoritatively about Scottish politics. The politicians who spoke at the fringe events I chaired this spring conference season didn’t underestimate me.
So you know what, I may not have gravitas. And my self-esteem may be in the gutter. But I’m doing my best. So please don’t judge me because I’m a woman. Judge me by what I say and do. Please?