Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Gender inequality is still a major issue and women are still expected to shrink themselves in order to accommodate men.

 Please close your legs.

No, it’s not what you think… You’ve heard of mansplaining, manflu and all those other deeply annoying habits or behaviour attributed to men, right?

On the whole I don’t hate men, but to make a sweeping statement, they are problematic. You know, patriarchy, misogyny, sexism, etc - and I do know that there are women who advance these ideologies and yes, yes, yes #notallmen.

It seems like women continue to have to shrink, to accept having our rights encroached on and generally change our behaviour to suit men’s proclivities.
For those who don’t know what manspreading is, think about the last time you used public transport and had to rethink your seating plan because a man had splayed his legs invading your (or someone else’s) personal space.

We don’t wear short dresses to avoid rape, we take longer routes home to avoid the street corners that are notorious for being littered with catcallers and harassers, we don’t breastfeed our children in public, and we don’t talk about our periods publicly to avoid contempt and disgust.

The way in which girls and boys are socialized contributes to how we eventually behave as adults – from manspreading to having to hide sanitary towels on your way to the bathroom at work.

We learn there are things that boys can do but that girls cannot. As a child, my mother would scold me each time she found me lying on the couch with my legs spread while watching television. “Musatigarire beya” she would shout – Sit properly like a girl!

Photographer Marianne Wex’s photobook has around 5000 images that document men and women in different contexts and the differences between their body language – women have for decades, actually centuries, sat or stood to make themselves take up less space.

Why? Because men have a long history of social conditioning to sprawl out across as large an expanse as their testicles need ventilation.

It seems like women continue to have to shrink, to accept having our rights encroached on and generally change our behaviour to suit men’s proclivities.

Or tucking in or twisting our limbs around us to accommodate others.

But we don’t.

We need to take back our spaces. Men, join us, by closing your legs and accepting women as equals.Bottom of Form

Sunday, 3 September 2017

When BAME women struggle to Champion each other at work.

Like many BAME women I know, I have been incredibly fortunate to have had some amazing BAME women as mentors and colleagues. We‘ve supported each other, shared our knowledge and championed each other when other folks didn’t want us to succeed. My good friend Eugenia played such a role when I first came to the UK. And while I am grateful for the amazing BAME women who have blazed trails and been my sponsors along the way, I too have had to contend with women who looked like me who worked steadily and steadfastly against me. My experience many many moons ago in Botswana comes to mind!

Here are some ways of learning to put these disappointing experiences into perspective without losing your mind.

BAME Women are not monolithic

The idea that every BAME woman you meet wants to see you do well, is a fantasy. People come to the workplace with their own set of values, experiences, and objectives. There is no prototype for BAME women in the workplace. Don’t assume that just because someone shares your cultural, racial, and historical experience that she is wired to be in your corner. Two weeks ago I wrote about the queen bee at the work place and to an extend as women we can also be our own enemies BAME or Caucasian.

Remember BAME women aren’t immune to jealousy, competition and poor character. Figure out what you are dealing with and do what you can to mitigate the damage.

What Challenges is She Navigating?

Sometimes we wrongly assume that a BAME woman who appears to have ‘’arrived’’ isn’t still negotiating her own set of challenges just to maintain her position. She may be struggling to maintain her position , jumping through interoffice political hoops. She may have a position but not have the full power of her role or the institution behind her to help position you. Some organisations believe in visual diversity, but they aren’t built to lean into BAME women’s decision making and power.

While white men are said to be judged for their potential, women – and BAME women in particular- often find themselves in situations where their track records and successes are challenged on almost daily basis.

Internalized Racial Inferiority Might be a thing.

In short, internalized racial inferiority refers to the acceptance of white supremacy by people of colour. In practical terms, it leaves BAME women vulnerable to normalising and elevating other values and supremacy in the workplace. It leaves some to almost always defer and defend white supremacy in the workplace and to question not only her value and worth, but the value and worth of other people of colour at work as well. It can be likened to a kind of racialized Stockholm Syndrome- but it is always a clear signal that this particular sister won’t have your back.

Internalized racial inferiority is compounded by the fact that many workplaces that espouse mentoring and collaboration as core values, generally look askance at BAME women circles of support- Are you a gang? What are you up to? BAME women who support each other may find themselves penalized in the workplace and conversely BAME women who choose to go the road alone may find themselves rewarded. Either way this is for real and it complicates things.

Your Mentors Don’t have to look like you.

My BAME women mentors have helped me to navigate the racialized waters of the workplace over the years- waters where I am almost always being judged and where my words, actions and achievements are always weighed by my dual identities in a sexist and racist society. That being said, I have had wonderful white male and female mentors. I have been mentored by white folks who understood the nuances I’ve had to traverse, and who were in a unique position to help me view my capabilities and potential beyond the constraints of race and gender in ways that might not have occurred to me. (You know yourselves folks and thank you).

Remember, the reality is that no one owes you anything and you are in control of your own destiny. It doesn’t matter who supports you and who doesn’t. Be clear about who you are and what you are capable of.