Something that I’ve only recently discovered, through my own chauvinism (and it came as a bit of a surprise), is that I’m a feminist. This is a topic of conversation that many men, or at least those that are willing to discuss it, will tread with great caution. As with most things that one knows relatively little about it’s often considered wise to remain quiet and be considered a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt.
Until recently, if probed on this I would have probably responded along the lines of “Of course I think we’re all equal, I treat everyone with the same respect so what more can or should I do than that?”. However, the problem with remaining quiet is that it makes it difficult to diagnose the root cause of a problem, and a lack of discussion will hamper progress towards the common goal of equality.
So if we’re agreed that we’re all equal and someone should be paid the same or given the same opportunities for the same work regardless of gender, then why are we still living in a society where this isn’t reflected in the stats?
Is it just that it will take time for this attitude to pass through the generations? You only need scratch the surface to see the complexity of the issue. Industry, politics, education, sports, media and religion are all entrenched in cultures that are either difficult or seemingly impossible to change.
Then there’s biology, which is the one place where a difference should perhaps be taken into account, but we’re all too terrified to discuss for fear of treading on a land mine.
The catalyst for this topic for me came when listening to a series of about 240 comedy podcasts on my daily commute (by a comedian called Richard Herring), most of which interview male comedians, many of whom I was familiar with. At the end of the 16 series run there were some 35 podcasts remaining from female comedians that I had not heard of and had – consciously or subconsciously – skipped. Somewhat ashamed of this I decided to listen to them all, and whilst the standard of comedy easily matched the others, it was clear that there was a need to push the message in their interviews and material that there aren’t enough female role models in comedy, TV or politics.
This series lead me to ‘The Guilty Feminist’ podcast – hosted by Deborah Frances-White. The topic and nuances of feminism and the contradictions and hypocrisy that even ardent feminists experience in their own opinions made me feel more familiar with the term, and realise how my views were aligned with the movement and, importantly, that men can be feminists too.
When it comes to equality in the workplace men are certainly part of the problem, but we will also need to be part of the solution. So it’s clear to me that sitting by and watching the topic unfold with our approval is not going to be enough.
I write all of this as someone who has the definition of ‘Feminism’ open in a Google search tab for fear of making a faux pas that will make me seem ignorant or arrogant. But whilst I’m more than aware of the lack of equality and female role models in our society and the construction industry it’s not the only experience that I’ve had in my professional career.
Having worked for three lighting design practices in the past 14 years I’ve always had a female boss or head of practice. I currently work in a design practice that is largely recognised for its female contingent and have two older sisters, so female role models and leadership are something that I’m perhaps more familiar with than some men. Through work I often deal with confident, capable and professional women and men going about their daily jobs.
Viewed through my lens, I’m rarely conscious of any possible anxiety women may have related to their gender, especially, for example, when they’re the only female in a meeting with ten other design team members.
Yet things are not always what they seem, and I’d like to encourage men to be aware of our privilege and that the outlook displayed by our female peers might not be as effortless as it’s made to look.
It’s possible that men are uncomfortable with the concept of feminism, as it often broaches the need for ‘admission of privilege’ and ‘relinquishing power’. However, there’s a flip side to this and it’s worth exploring the merits of equality further as it provides opportunities for important yet to some ‘un-manly’ concepts, such as a more balanced work and family life and access to a massive range of inspiration.
This is a topic that needs not only support from both genders but healthy discussion too, to speed up its practice in society, but it’s important to do some research. I’ve included a few links below to some really inspirational and easily digestible content that helped me understand this issue from someone’s viewpoint other than my own and hopefully help avoid mansplaining feminism to women.
Published in Collaboration with: Women in Lighting