Though technically an essay bound between two covers, I couldn’t help but reflexively share Adichie’s words as something which grabbed my attention this month. Aptly named, Adichie’s essay – adapted from a TED Talk of the same name – presents compelling arguments in favour of feminism being embraced as an all-encompassing ideology, as opposed to a stereotype or label for a certain type of woman; the woman who does not shave, the woman who burns her bra, the woman who cannot find a man to accept her. By sharing her experiences of gendered discrimination from as young as nine years old, Adichie shows us all how this stigmatism affected, affects and will continue to affect women and girls for generations to come, if we do not all become feminists.
Despite meeting the condition of having the highest score on a test to become class monitor, Adichie watched her ambition slip into the hands of someone who scored lower than her, and someone who had no desire to fulfil the role though filled it nonetheless, – because the teacher’s assumption was girls knew the monitor had to be a boy. Or more recently, where on a trip to Lagos, accompanied by a male friend, she tips the valet, who turns to thank him instead of her, because of the assumption that women cannot be financially independent from men. Or when entering her hotel, she is harassed with questions relating to her stay, or asked to produce a room key as evidence of her lodging, because of the assumption a woman entering a hotel alone means she is a prostitute.
Much like Pateman’s argument, Adichie questions, why, in the incident she may be a prostitute, the focus is on combatting her as the supplier, as opposed to the one who demands her. Being ridiculed by friends and family from Nigeria who claim her mindset has developed through a Western upbringing, – where attitudes and literature allegedly encouraged Feminism as a concept – Adichie questions if this were the case, why equal pay was only brought to the table as an issue in the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter fair pay act.
Though the ’80s popularised the movement, Adichie highlights in these daily assumptions regarding jobs, financial independence and social settings, how both developed and developing countries are still lightyears behind where they should be when it comes to rectifying gender inequality, because feminism remains a label with ‘baggage’, as opposed to an ideology which affects us all. It’s negative stickiness – in the words of Ahmed – means it fails to attract an audience beyond the narrow pool of women who understand a woman needs a man, like a fish needs a bicycle.
From Adichie’s Essay:
‘If we do something over and over again, it becomes normal. If we see the same thing over and over again, it becomes normal. If only boys are made class monitor, then at some point, we all think, even if unconsciously, that the class monitor has to be a boy. If we keep seeing only men as heads of corporations, it starts to seem ‘natural’ that only men should be heads of corporations.’
Simran Randhawa – better known to some as Simisear – is bearer of an extensive list of achievements, ranging from assistant political editor of Gal-dem magazine; to orchestrator of the movement #DecoloniseYourWardrobe ; to both subject and writer of Vogue. Among her loftier achievements, Randhawa is under twenty-five years old, and is working tirelessly to complete her final year of University as an undergraduate, making her work surrounding mental health, cultural and gendered issues resonate that much deeper with an audience of young women and girls able to connect to her and her words, with ease.
In the wake of widespread xenophobia Western political climates are currently exuding, and the blurred identity lines East-West upbringings foster, Randhawa is the symbol of empowerment so many teens and young adults with multi-faceted identities in today’s society need. Rooting from her shame and subsequent neglect of her Malaysian-Punjabi heritage in the face of a predominantly white group growing up, Randhawa’s work is a result of her realisation there was no shame in her culture nor heritage, for it largely shaped the individual she is today.
Her work around cultural appropriation of her heritage includes:
- campaigning to reclaim the Bindi – a decorative Indian piece commonly misappropriated as ‘festival wear’
- reminders of how growing up, Indian girls were once mocked for their body and facial hair, by the very groups now claiming the naturally thick hair and eyebrows these genes lend themselves to are ‘desirable’
- perhaps most famously, Decolonising your wardrobe; an effort to showcase the beauty of Indian culture in its entirety, by fusing the fashion of our ancestors with Western pieces (like Randhawa’s fusion of a Sari-style pinning against jeans and trainers, pictured below), whilst crediting where these pieces are from, and who and what they symbolise.
As well as neglecting the deeply embedded idea of beauty being a Western-centric, ‘one size fits all’ concept, Randhawa is working to fight the misconception that mental health only impacts individuals that look a certain way. In a recent piece she penned for Vogue, Randhawa explains how her beauty regime is actually a key element to combatting her mental health, and called out another social media user on Instagram for accusing her of being too beautiful to experience any form of mental instability. By speaking openly and honestly about her experience with mental health, Randhawa is changing the stigmatism surrounding the topic by encouraging young people to talk about their experiences, practice self-care, and treat mental health with just as much importance as physical health. In her shorter yet just as sharp uploads on various forms of social media, Randhawa addresses issues of importance to women of colour, and continues to unapologetically be herself whilst educating others on her choices.
Ultimately, Randhawa reminds us how mental health has no set-group of targets, how beauty is faceless, how there is no shame in Eastern heritage, and how we must take every opportunity we are given to change rhetoric which suggests otherwise. Thank-you, Ms. Randhawa, for filling the void we never saw, by being the hero of a generation who did not ask for one, but most definitely needed one.
Despite the progress women have made since World War II to mark not only their importance, but their capabilities in professional capacities, the way women are treated as managers as well as under-links echoes the idea that the world of work is essentially male territory. Though efforts to break the barriers preventing us from closing the gender pay gap reached a high with Equal Pay Day earlier this month, and recent legislation requiring companies to publicly disclose their gender pay gaps, an article published by the Independent illustrates that we still have a long way to go in shattering this ceiling.
Following legislation which gives employers of over 250 staff 12 months to publish their their gender pay gaps, companies have highlighted differences of up to 36% between the earnings of men and women, with London being the leading city in such disparity. Whilst public disclosure of such figures is argued to increase transparency and accountability of the long-standing issue, critics such as Sophie Walker (Leader of the Women’s Equality Party) and Sam Smethers (Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society) argue the legislation will fail to tackle the greater inequalities of women in the workplace that the gender pay gap is a symptom of.
What exactly are these greater inequalities the pay gap is a symptom of?
The disparity lies in the ‘social cost of negotiation’ where women recognise they will be creating a socially difficult situation in self-advocating for higher pay. As Nicki Minaj has highlighted, when a female in a position of power puts her foot down, or asks to be paid more, she is referred to as a ‘Bitch’ – a dragon who is difficult to work with; but when men do the same thing, they are respected for their authority. Similarly, recent studies show that male MBA graduates are four times more likely to negotiate their job offers than female MBA graduates. These issues range from economic to social to political, as highlighted by the Fawcett Society, where four interlinked categories contributing to the pay gap, and wider poor treatment of women at work are explained.
First, unequal gendered caring responsibilities, where women are more likely than men to undertake part-time positions to allow for greater time to care for ageing family members or children. These positions are not only paid lower than similar full-time positions, but often lead to discrimination if women return to full-time positions once they are no longer undertaking such responsibility. For example, women who return from maternity leave are more likely to experience poor treatment at work, (such as male colleagues being promoted ahead of them, or male colleagues being paid more for the same role), resulting in earlier resignation than they had intended.
The gender divided nature of the labour market is also a contributor for sectors dominated by women tend to be less valued and less well paid despite their contributions to society: ‘80% of those working in the low paid care and leisure sector are women’. Local authorities employ women in every three of four positions, and women are the group which benefit most from the services these authorities provide – ranging from employment to domestic violence support – meaning cuts to this sector affect women more than any other group. Furthermore, almost as a result of the above categories combined, men are more likely to be appointed to the most senior roles: ‘Out of the FTSE 100 Chief Executives, women make up just five’.
Where do we go from here?
In a post-Brexit Britain, the need for gender pay gaps to be on the policy agenda is more than pressing. Whilst membership of the European Union was vital in securing a regional standard for equal pay; improving the treatment of women on maternity leave and mitigating spaces for sexual harassment, details of how policies will now be shaped now hang with the next government. With an upcoming election in a time of increased marginal seats pushing for a more local focus, there couldn’t be a greater time to demand action from public officials in the following ways:
- Whilst the current legislation will provide greater transparency from the bigger employers, the measure needs to be inclusive of smaller ones, too; Walker suggests an extension of the policy from employers of 250+ staff to employers of 50+ staff.
- Pressing MPs about joint working with local authorities in their constituencies to combat issues affecting women, including pressuring the government to prevent further cuts to local tiers
- Raising awareness of women’s equal value in the workplace by taking part in Equal Pay campaigns, such as that of the Fawcett society’s by using #EqualValue when sharing personal experiences of why closing the gap is important
- Emphasising the wider implications of a lack of microcosmic representation of women and girls in leading positions in the workplace (details coming soon in separate blog post)
If we have learned anything of the capabilities of women in the workforce, it is that creating a society where women don’t have to ‘mind the gap’ is not only something we should do, but something that we must do, and in the words of Millar, is something that we can do.
Last autumn Alicia Keys took Hollywood by storm with her decision to ditch wearing make-up when in the spot-light, and otherwise in her daily routine. In a powerful essay on Lennyletter, Keys outlined the reasons behind her decision, which ranged from self-reflection, to looking at the bigger picture of how the concept of beauty is constructed, and ultimately, distorted.
In an age of a multi-billion-dollar beauty industry, fuelled by Kardashians, Beauty Gurus and Touch-up teams, Keys’s decision is both bold, and unorthodox. Keys details the personal insecurities which developed as a direct result of the juxtaposition of her need to appear ‘strong and tough’ during her New York upbringing, against the stark Hollywood backdrop that demanded a far ‘softer’ and ‘more feminine’ image. These demands slowly grew to burden the reality of her identity, with fears that she did not dress or look the way she ‘should’.
For one, Keys’s story highlights the assumption that one cannot be strong and tough whilst being feminine; how the adjectives are too often placed on polar opposite ends of the scale as though they cancel one other out, when really, who is to say they do not work in conjunction? The widespread belief that to be strong and tough is not feminine, because to be strong and tough is not within the fundamentals of being a woman (clearly whoever thought up this dichotomy has never read a book, looked outside, or heard of Chrissy Teigen). Second, this story highlights how young women are falsely led to believe there is a universal standard of beauty that they must adhere toward to be successful in almost every professional capacity. To wear their hair in its natural state, to dress as they please or leave the house bare-faced would be a faux-pas.
Though Keys’s decision has attracted criticism in some arguing her actions have created a ‘new standard of beauty’ (that women must be just as beautiful without make up as they are with it), and others pointing out that she fills in her brows and follows an intensive skin-care regime, Keys herself presents the disclaimer that echoes the primary issue every feminist movement is working toward; choice. Keys’s decision to go bare faced is not founded on shaming women who are not comfortable in going bare faced, but instead, empowering those who are, but are constantly put down by societal standards that teach them otherwise.
In Keys’s Words:
‘I was really starting to feel like that — that, as I am, I was not good enough for the world to see. This started manifesting on many levels, and it was not healthy.’
Seeing and hearing Keys on a multitude of platforms every day, embodying success, happiness and dare I say, beauty, it would be difficult to phantom her having such thoughts. The idea that a singer who has sold over 30 million albums world-wide, felt she was not good enough to be heard, purely because Hollywood made her feel like she was not good enough to be seen. In the true nature of a Game-changer, Keys stepped aside and decided to look the way she wanted to look, instead of the way Hollywood wanted her to. For this courage, I both applaud, and thank you, Ms. Keys.
Though not every mother-daughter relationship is privy to the openness, honesty or friendship of Lorelai and Rory, at some point, almost every girl finds herself in search of advice from the one person she can count on to have her best interest at heart – her mother. For most of us, this moment doesn’t begin until our twenties; the lost years that we are bound to make mistakes within, that aren’t as easily forgiven as the missteps of our troublesome teens, and continue long into the years of adulthood.
Unfortunately, for Spragins, these moments were cut short, when she lost her mother at the age of thirty-two. From this moment on, Spragins couldn’t help but wonder what words of wisdom her mother would have offered through life’s trying passages, and in search of answers, gathered the words of 42 exceptional women. The first in a three part series, this book is the work of women offering others pearls of wisdom in the form of letters they write back to their younger selves.
These women range in occupation from Activists to Writers to CEOs to Olympic Gymnasts, writing on both professional and personal obstacles, with the recognition that life continuously makes us choose what our priorities are, naturally creating room for doubt on whether or not we have made the right decisions. In this book you find comfort in knowing that you are not alone. One or many of the women in this book have probably been in very similar predicaments, if not the exact same, and share a distinct correlation in the things that were once their biggest weaknesses, and are now their biggest strengths. I carried this book everywhere in hope I’d have a few minutes to fill with reading one of these letters.
From Spragins’ Introduction:
‘Only in hindsight can we see that our fears and worries were unwarranted, that insecurities and doubts were just illusions, or that we should have taken a risk or dared something new sooner. It’s humbling to compare yourself to the women in this book. But at the same time, it’s encouraging to know that even women at the top of their fields have suffered private fears, longings and missteps. To know that these talented women didn’t enter the world as finished products… is to understand that it is within our grasp to reach loftier levels then we might have dreamed of. Choosing to grow during trying life’s passages can be lonely work. I hope this book will make that choice less solitary, because you’ll be in the company of great women’