I have always felt a sense of discomfort being described as a feminist, it leaves me feeling cold and self conscious. Feminists cause trouble, they burn bras, defend their right to grow armpit hair, make men feel nervous about saying the wrong thing, look down their nose at chivalry and make other women feel inadequate for making less feminist choices than them, they miss the point about choice. It has never felt like a particularly empowering title to me, more of a throw away insult in the same category as ‘tree hugger’. I understand the term and would never denigrate anyone that felt this describes them but I have always felt that it is a bit separatist, an elite club and have always preferred equality to feminism. I wouldn’t say I have ever consciously made a decision to do/not do something because of or in spite of my gender, preferring to think that I am in control of my own destiny no-one, male or female, is determining my potential. I work in the gender balanced field of leadership development, my professional peers are mixed genders however our audiences are predominantly male. My personality is Northern English ‘no nonsense’, take no prisoners, give as good as you get. This approach and the confidence it gives me has served me well when delivering courses to rooms full of males, I have always felt respected as a trainer, never once considered my gender to be in anyway an disadvantage or advantage, it was irrelevant. I have always had this sense from the delegates too. I have always felt equality was alive and well and a given and never felt the need to be linked to feminism.
Last Tuesday I was forced to reevaluate my views. For the first time in my career a delegate made a public lewd, gender based comment about me, I chose to react with my aforementioned ‘northern lass’ aplomb with a professional put-down, but I didn’t call him out, I didn’t tell him it was inappropriate, I didn’t discuss it, I didn’t pass it up the chain of command to be dealt with internally, I did precisely zero, nada, zilch. My initial reflection was that I had dealt with it my way by not allowing him to think he had embarrassed me, I had won, I’d shown him by ‘bantering’ back. The more I thought about this the more I felt this was wrong, by not reacting more assertively I have allowed the behaviour, given him permission even. This has made me question myself, firstly, was this me being passive, not confronting inappropriate behaviour? Secondly, have l let down other women who are less assertive than me by not ‘calling him out’ publicly in the same forum that he so publicly was lewd towards me? My reflections have served no purpose other than to confuse me, am I a good feminist, or as I prefer to think of myself, a good equalitarian, new word? My only conclusion is that I should definitely have done more, banter is not the answer in a professional setting, it doesn’t matter how good I am at banter socially, and boy am I good, professional standards should prevail and the least I can expect is not to have to hear unwanted lewd comments about myself at work. I should have seen it as inappropriate there and then and not on reflection, it wasn’t acceptable, he was wrong, he was unprofessional, he was inappropriate. Will I react differently next time? You bet!!! Does that make a feminist after all?