I recently graduated from college in December, I was glad to finally be done and was looking forward to what the future held for me and my shiny new degree. I immediately started to send out resume’s and portfolios to every place I wanted to work, and then some. I had little luck for a while, then I was approached by my, now, boss about working in the insurance industry that my grandfather had set up in my town. I gladly accepted.
Thus began my lesson.
Now I am a feminist, I proclaim that proudly and am not ashamed of it. I had heard about inequality and how women were basically fodder in the workplace, earning about 78% of what their male counterparts make doing the same job. I’ve read articles about how women are treated in the workplace, often getting the short end of the stick simply because of their gender. All of this was common knowledge for me because I was a feminist.
However I had never lived it.
I should point out that all of my coworkers, except for the Vice President, are female. So the atmosphere is a little less sexist than most office jobs. It was when I started to talk to these women, hear their stories, and see their faces that I began to really see what it’s like and reflect on my own experiences with sexism, which I won’t discuss here because I don’t want this post to be about me.
One particular story stood out to me, and I won’t reveal any names because that’s not my place, and I am an advocate for privacy. I share an office space with two lovely women, they really are just wonderful and a lot of fun. We began talking one day whilst doing our work, and one of the women began to tell me about her experiences in the insurance industry.
This lovely lady has almost 30 years experience in the insurance industry, she’s adept, smart, and a damn good worker. She began talking about how she, for most of her career, had basically been a trainer for someone else. The person was usually male, and younger; she would train these men and they would move up the ladder, she would not get a pay raise, and often made less than what the men made. “I’ve been shit on all my life when it comes to this.” she told me, and it set something off in me. I was angry, and I felt so upset for her–why on earth should she get shit on for doing the exact same job?
You may be wondering “Well if it was so unfair why didn’t she speak up?” I used to wonder the same thing, then I started to think about how society as a whole treats and “raises” women. And then I had a realization from the most unexpected source: Beyoncé.
Yes you heard right.
I came home and put on my Spotify playlist, I was mulling about when Beyoncé’s song “***Flawless” came on. At first I didn’t really pay attention, but then about a minute or so into the song, it cuts to a dialogue, I’ve taken the liberty of giving you a transcript:
We teach girls shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls: “You can have ambition, but not too much. You can be successful, but not too successful otherwise you will threaten the man.” Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage; I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a system of joy and love and mutual support, but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors, not for jobs or accomplishments which I believe can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are. Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.
I immediately stopped what I was doing and googled that speech. I was floored, it was such an “aha” moment for me! I was like “Holy hell…that’s why women don’t speak up. A.) Sometimes it won’t do much good because the man will simply see it as a woman “bitching” and B.) Women aren’t really taught to speak out! We’re taught to be “polite” and “meek.” I found that the transcript above was from an amazing TED talk (you can find the transcript of it here). Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a feminist from Nigeria, and she was mainly talking about the major inequalities in Africa, but it’s absolutely flooring how much it resonates here in America.
As women, we have to realize that we are not limited because of our gender, and that’s easier said than done because you’re talking about fighting through hundreds of years of men telling us that’s how it is. We teach our girls the same thing, and teach our boys that they are superior because they’re boys. We need to start raising our children differently, raise them to see that equality is beneficial for all. Masculinity is a terrible cage to put a boy in, he’s forced to be a certain way and not just be himself because that’s not “manly.” If we all were treated equally, not based on our gender, everyone would benefit.
I hope that I have sort of started a conversation. I am a feminist, if you believe in equality than you are too because men can be feminist too. I now plan to be more active in speaking out, not just for me, but for the generation of women who fell silent because they believed they had no other choice.