The internet has exploded this summer with opinions on casual sexism. Whether it’s bras in the Tardis, Andy Murray or the BBC’s gender pay gap that has piqued your interest this week, you couldn’t escape the conversations around sexism and whether women are disadvantaged in the workplace. As women in business, Lucy and I cannot embrace these conversations enough. For years we have watched as women’s achievements are not lauded as highly as mens, and have not been short of sexism imposed on us either. In short, I love that these conversations are happening to combat the issues, but oh my Lord, are we really discussing bras in the Tardis in 2017?
This is an excellent example of how much work there is to do around women’s roles in the workplace. Jodie Whittaker has been given an amazing opportunity, and one that is clearly deserved to anyone who has seen her ever do her job before. She is a wonderful actress and I have no doubt that she will be an amazing first female Dr Who. A woman in the role can only bring a new and diverse perspective to the show and one that will be exciting for viewers come Christmas day, I have no doubt. And yet, haters gonna hate. And people are going to make comments about a Tardis filled with Bras. Cos, you know. Women LOVE bras. We love nothing more than draping them about in our place of work just to piss off men. Oh really? Just me…? Well, now I’m embarrassed. I mean, come on. Has anyone EVER taken to twitter to discuss skid marked boxers strewn about the Tardis for the previous 12 doctors? No? So why are we talking about a woman in this way? And poor Jodie (we’re on first name terms now): She lands a brilliant job, the first woman to achieve it, having had a great career and is all set to prove the haters wrong and the Great British Press haven’t let us down. What do they do when a woman has an amazing career breakthrough? Praise her? Write interesting articles about why no woman has been cast in this role before? Speculate as to what new direction this diverse casting will bring? That’s right folks – they publish naked pictures of her. Because, you know, it’s totally relevant. And the same treatment has been shown to all previous male Dr Who’s, right? If this isn’t mainstream sexism at its finest, I don’t know what is. What it does very successfully of course is smack Jodie firmly back in her place. To stop thinking of her as Dr Who and instead start undermining her acting abilities in order to place her as Dr Sexy, Dr ‘Phwar’, Dr ‘Id-do-her-alot’ as that is what women should be known for. Being sexy at all times, not as driven career women who have landed roles on their own merits.
Of course, we are talking about Jodie Whittaker, not sexism in real life. Naked pictures of me won’t be spread across the front pages of the Sun, but that doesn’t mean that this particular brand of sexism doesn’t permeate our lives almost daily. We were recently asked by a professional male at the top of his field about our salaries. His immediate response – without missing a beat – was to ask how we can afford make up and shoes. That was his first thought, was that we would be struggling to buy sexy shoes and wear enough make up to be objectively attractive to any passing males. Now, I’m a single mum, working hard to build a business so that I can provide for my son. I am the only breadwinner in my house. My number one concern is NOT whether I can afford a pair of £50 Ruby Shoos, but whether I can continue to put food on the table. This man doesn’t know my personal situation, but quite frankly it doesn’t matter. If a top professional, who owns several companies employing hundreds of people (presumably many of whom are women) immediately jumps to women only being interested in frivolous things, is he really going to take them seriously for job opportunities? Is he ever going to take the women who are striving in life to succeed and create a successful business seriously enough to offer them the same respect as men doing the same? It seems highly unlikely.
And while we are on the subject of not being taken seriously, hands up if you think she will be paid the same as her male counterparts on the show. No one? You in the back? No? Thought not. My favourite argument for the gender pay gap within the BBC this week has to be that perhaps female talent gravitates towards female agents, who do not negotiate as well as men. I am face palming in case you were wondering. This is sexism wrapped up in a whole other layer of sexism, with sexism sprinkled on top. How this argument is any better than a good old fashioned gender pay gap is beyond me. Now we are not only saying that women are paid less, but also that female agents cannot possibly be as effective as men. So rather than blaming a male dominated workforce who consistently appear to value mens talents over womens, we will blame other women instead. Rather than discussing ways this pay gap can be closed and women be given a greater voice within the industry (without taking their clothes off), instead we will say that it must be their own fault and go back to business as usual. Excellent.
So in conclusion, I hope that these conversations can continue to happen and we carry on chipping away at the idea that women are somehow inferior within the workplace. That a woman’s achievements can be recognised and not undermined by the way she looks, or an assumption that she wants pretty shoes over being taken seriously. And a recognition that women work incredibly hard to succeed. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. A friend told me he overheard locker room banter in the gym recently that went something like this: Man 1: “And she got promoted?” Man 2: “Yeah. She’s only 35” Man 1: “Well, you have to appreciate how hard she must’ve worked to get where she has by that age”. Now men, THAT is locker room banter that I can get on board with. Respect to all those awesome guys out there who are fighting as hard as we are for equality.