This post was originally published on Linkedin on International’s Women’s Day 2017.
I have it all: a great job in a cool company, a strong social network (a real as well as a virtual one), two healthy kids and a husband with whom I share duties evenly. As in 50:50 evenly. I work and live in an international environment, and I am surrounded by liberal, educated and open-minded people every day, all day long.
Yet, I still feel that even in this bubble I face sexist behavior all too often. Without anybody noticing it or wondering about it.
Even though I am surrounded by educated, liberal people, I face sexism every day.
I am going to walk you through a typical day of mine to illustrate how most of us still discriminate against both men and women without any bad intentions. The incidents really occurred (admittedly not on one single day), and are just some of the most prominent examples of the everyday sexism most of us face.
What could a typical day in my life look like?
Each day, I get up at 5:00 am, put myself together and kiss my sleeping family goodbye. An hour later I am in the office, and before I turn on my laptop I have coffee with my early bird colleagues to chit-chat.
She is surprised that I am not freaking out over my husband taking care of our kids.
One coworker asks me how I am going to handle babysitting for the upcoming company trip (she does not ask our male colleague, who is standing next to us and who has two kids as well), and she is surprised that I am not concerned about my husband handling the kids all by himself. As if he was not preparing breakfast, homework, and dinner every day anyway; as if he needed to be a woman to be able to juggle family and career.
After my first meeting, I notice a missed call from my daughter’s school. I follow up with my husband, who is the primary contact for kindergarten, school, and daycare (since his office is 10 minutes away, whereas I have to drive for an hour)… he was contacted after the teacher had not reached me. While he leaves work to pick up our sick daughter (and take a day off for care leave), I am interviewing my first candidate of the day.
Since I am a woman, first I went to the toilet and cried, the candidate explained.
The candidate is an experienced female leader who’s interested in a Scrum Master position. She explains to us how she handled a major challenge when leading a team, “First, I went to the toilet and cried… I mean, I am a woman.” After the interview, a candidate calls to inquire about what “HR Ladies” would like to read in a cover letter. While I’m thinking “Probably nothing from you, dude!”, I take a deep breath and explain to him what a good cover letter should entail (and write down his name just to be safe).
While heating my lunch, I notice that our marketing intern swears he was the one cooking the delicious-looking risotto (and not his girlfriend). In the meantime, my husband sees the pediatrician with our daughter and assures the assistant that she does not have to double check with me about an upcoming vaccination appointment.
Apparently a penis makes humans incapable of memorizing kids names.
After another round of interesting interviews and pre-screening potential candidates, I pack my stuff at around 4:00 pm to stop by our local shopping mall. I grab some razor blades (which cost twice as much as my husband’s… they are made for women, duh), and then check on my daughter’s upcoming birthday party. “I am amazed, but your husband did everything correctly. Fathers usually can’t handle that”, the hosts tell me. By “that” they mean listing my daughter’s name and birthday, as well as the names of her five guests. Apparently, a penis makes humans incapable of memorizing six kids names.
My son tells me he wants to get a haircut because they told him he looks like a girl.
When I get home my husband prepares dinner, and I set up our guest room. My sick daughter tells me she was allowed to watch Peter Pan (where a little girl is threatened to death by jealous elves and mermaids) AND Cars (where the only significant female character’s main job is to be the lead’s lover). Over dinner, my son tells me he wants to get a haircut because his friend told him he looks like a girl, and after the kids go to bed, my husband and I watch Game of Thrones. As we witness Daenerys Targaryen getting raped by her newlywed husband, I am trying to recall that scene in the book. Since George Martin had originally granted her a consensual, highly erotic wedding night, I try to understand why rape boosts ratings more than happy sex. I don’t. And I won’t.
So how am I handling these situations?
I address them. Every. Single. One. Maybe it’s because asking questions is part of my job (and my nature), I don’t mind asking the teacher why she figured I’d be the better person to contact. I don’t hesitate to ask the candidate why she assumes that women are supposed to cry on the toilet or if she believes that men sometimes cry too. I enjoy the silence when I ask other women why they believe my husband is incompetent just because he is a man.
I find it really important that people around me start to reflect on what they are doing, how their actions or their statements affect our roles and force stereotypes on us, that we thought were long gone. Sometimes this is tiring, but I do enjoy stirring a debate when I throw “wouldn’t a little more trust in your guy benefit you too?” out there.
My mission is to raise feminists.
As most parents, I try to create a world which enables a life for my kids which is even better than my own. That is why I’ve been raising my kids as feminists from the day they were born. I let them pick their toys and push them to try things which companies make us believe are exclusively for boys and girls. I tell my son that men have long hair, too (and that there is nothing bad about looking like a girl!), and I explain to my daughter that Tinker Bell would be happier if she forgot about Peter Pan.
My husband and I share our duties evenly, and I want my kids to notice that. They know he’s better at cooking and playing games, and I am the better reader and bike rider. They both help us with folding laundry, cooking and picking up their stuff, and when they talk about construction workers or doctors, they refer to them as “he or she”.
I am an optimist, and therefore I’m sure that my kids will continue fighting for the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. Because that is what feminism is all about!