Lean in? Ladies, you’re not the problem — and there’s a crowd of us to tell you why
In 2019, gender inequality is still alive and well. And it pervades more aspects of our lives than we tend to realise…
Xafina | Content Creator at She’s A Crowd
Our lives are an amalgamation of moments, however big or small, that come to define how we navigate the world around us. One of my earliest memories was from year three. I remember being one of the few students who had not been accepted into an accelerated learning program and I was devastated, weighed down by an overwhelming sense of failure and inadequacy. While consoling me, it was my mother who taught me a valuable lesson that day. If you want something, you can get it. Yes, it might not happen right away. Yes, there might be obstacles. But with hard work, dedication and determination, there is nothing you can’t achieve. Coupled with a moral compass, this set the hum to my life mantra, and applied not only to my professional life, but also my personal life.
After months of pouring through extra work, on top of my homework, I was accepted into the program. And so, I started to live my life by what I thought was an infallible concept: hard work would get me there.
But sure enough, cracks started to form. It started with a pebble at my window — and no, it was not a ‘perfect man’ trying to woo me (stick with me on this analogy), but more so a nagging tapping. Annoying, but manageable. But over time, the pebbles persisted, the tapping went on, day and night, tap tap tap, until what was just annoying became something much more damaging and sinister. And I began to notice that the taps were not just those at my window — but also at those of the women and girls around me.
Being rated out of 10 (with a reversed scale signifying how many drinks a guy must have before wanting to sleep with me), fending off unwelcomed lingering hands, ass gropes, being labeled a “slut” or “bitch” when the answer “no” was provided, hearing guys praise a woman’s attractiveness by saying “yeah I’d rape her”; these experiences were the first taps at my window. At the time, I readily accepted them as a customary corollary to being a female.
But the taps turned into cracks and continued as I began to acquaint myself with the corporate world. In addition to super flattering rankings and come-ons, I’ve been told to “show my tits” when entering a workplace. I’ve heard the terms “diversity” and “inclusion” bandied about in various workplaces as dutiful lip service, only to hear experiences that completely undermine such initiatives — from sexist slurs to the allocation of meaningful work and promotions. It can be as simple as resorting to women to undertake more administrative tasks, from taking meeting minutes to my all-time favourite of cleaning the office’s dirty dishes. I’ve been asked whilst voicing my opinion to a male colleague whether I was on my period. I’ve engaged with clients wanting to leverage a female employee to ‘seal the deal’. Not to mention countless stories from friends and colleagues of unwanted sexual touching, only to be told they “brought it upon [themselves]” and they were “dreaming” if they thought the perpetrator would be reprimanded.
What do these all have in common? They constitute a litany of isolated incidents that speak to a broader structural and cultural issue. They speak to a system, a series of socialised standards that normalise what is nothing more than sexist behaviour. And to think that many of us, men and women alike have come to subconsciously ingratiate these standards into our daily lives. After all, it’s what we have simply come to know and accept as ok. But is it really ok? Is it ok that we abide by a system that perpetuates and arguably implicitly encourages the discrimination, harassment and assault of women in our communities?
It is a system that objectifies and hyper sexualises women, attributing their value and worth to their appearance and rationalising male entitlement to their bodies. In Australia alone, more than four in five women 15 years and older have been sexually harassed at some point in their lifetimes, with almost four in five experiencing multiple forms of sexual harassment¹.
It is a system that adheres to conventional stereotypes of women, from being rewarded for placidity, selflessness and deference to being belittled or othered for being assertive, ambitious or simply trying to enter and thereby threaten environments traditionally the domain of men. Research on students studying STEM, for example, overwhelmingly finds that men rate their male peers as more knowledgeable than their female counterparts, despite women performing better in class. In one 2016 study, researchers estimated that the gender bias among male students was 19 times stronger than among female students². When reflecting on her experiences, Gwen Pearson, who holds a PhD in entomology, remembered a male classmate: “He said, to my face, that he had no idea how I was admitted to the program because I clearly wasn’t smart enough to be there…He said having me as a fellow graduate student ‘lessened the value of his degree’”.³
It is a system that places the male perspective and experience on a pedestal — a system that fundamentally disadvantages women economically, socially, politically and personally.
So while it might sound like I’m oscillating between two extremes — from a flippant sexual jibe to sexual assault — they all speak to the same underlying attitudes. When we sit by and allow a male colleague to consistently make disparaging sexist remarks to a female colleague, we remind her that her worth is not based on her professional contribution, but on her ability to sate the male sexual appetite. When we sit by while female survivors of sexual assault face questions such as “why did you get that drunk / wear that dress / dance that way?”, we are reminded that women, of course, are “asking for it”. We become all too aware of the impenetrable fortress that is male privilege, a fortress underpinned by a man’s ‘right’ to a woman’s body, a fortress so deeply embedded into society that we shift the blame to the victim.
Still women feel ashamed, invisible, and scared to speak out. In a society which, every day provides a new example of how women are undeserving of society’s respect and value, this is understandable. Speak out in the workplace? Risk losing your job. Go to the police? Risk re-living the trauma of your experience, just to be told that you somehow brought it upon yourself. In the wake of #MeToo, women all around the world have turned to storytelling as a form of catharsis, a process through which they can come together, share their experiences and collectively heal.
Only so much time can go by before the taps slowly wear away at us, turning into cracks that when ignored, threaten to spread and break our strength, our identity. I cannot ignore what has happened to me, or the women around me. I am worth more than that. We are worth more than that. Hearing founder Zoe speak at a pitch night on She’s A Crowd, I felt invigorated and inspired. I knew it was time to tell my story.
When I was in grade three, I learnt my mantra. If you want something, you can get it. Whilst my experiences as a woman have attested otherwise, I want to live in a world where women, and men, are treated equally. And together, through sharing our stories, I know we can make a start.
Xafina is the Content Creator (Blog Project) at She’s A Crowd. She has spent two years working in finance, and loves sharing a meal with friends and cozying up with a good book.
Want to share your story? As part of the She’s A Crowd Blog Project, we will be interviewing women from all communities to share their experiences. If you would like to get involved (or know someone else who might), please e-mail email@example.com.
She’s A Crowd uses storytelling data to make cities safer. Using digital crowd-mapping technology and data analytics, She’s A Crowd collects data about harassment and sexual assault to empower decision makers to take preventative action on gender-based violence.
 Australian Human Rights Commission. (2018) Everyone’s business: Fourth national survey on sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. Available at: https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/document/publication/AHRC_WORKPLACE_SH_2018.pdf.
 Bach, D 2016, Male biology students consistently underestimate female peers, study finds, UW News, http://www.washington.edu/news/2016/02/11/male-biology-students-consistently-underestimate-female-peers-study-finds/.
 Fox, M 2018, Not smart enough? Men overestimate intelligence in science class, NBC News, https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/not-smart-enough-men-overestimate-intelligence-science-class-n862801.