Last Tuesday the BBC ran live debates all day in a bid to get people talking about serious issues that are hindering and affecting women from all walks of life.
An ambitious feat, the BBC managed to engage communities of women from around the world and have them discuss issues surrounding various topics.
The evening at the Southbank Centre was one full of shared ideas, thoughts and passionate opinions that not only set our social media timelines on fire, but ignited something within us too.
Our group, the Migreat South Asian Blogger’s Network consisted of Sara Khan, Chayya Syal, Hasina Dabasia, Ruchi Hajela, Aina Khan, Priya Changela and yours truly. Together, we tackled three pretty wide topics; leadership, image and relationships.
A lot was discussed and I particularly liked the way the BBC organised these debates which were inclusive of women from around the world. Each segment began with the group watching a video supplied by the BBC and consisted of specific questions for us to discuss. As you can imagine, there were a lot of opinions the group were keen to share.
It is preposterous that there has never been a female General Secretary. The girls and I let out a collective gasp at that this little fact.
Though the World Health Organisation is headed up by a female, there are many roles like this one that are still dominated by men. The first question, are women who act like men more likely to become leaders, drew a number of nods but there were drawbacks to acting in this manner such as being labelled as bossy and even sexualised within the workplace.
How inappropriate would it be if women objectified men when they exhibited authority and assertiveness? Chances are it would be frowned upon and deemed highly unprofessional – so what makes it okay for some men to do this – even if it is in jest? Women should not have to act like their male counterparts in order to gain the respect of their peers and leadership roles should welcome women as they are. There are so many authoritative roles that women could assume and yet, there doesn’t seem to be many prominent females that stand out. Sure, America celebrates their First Lady, but she isn’t the President. She assumes a secondary and supportive role to her husband.
Discussions around leadership also reminded me of an article I read a while ago about the way men and women approach a job specification. Whilst men will have a look and mentally check off the responsibilities they can do, women sifted through and identified tasks they didn’t feel competent enough doing. This in itself is very revealing. On the one hand it shows that men will take a chance if they meet the smallest percentage of a job spec, but it also suggests a lack of confidence women have within themselves.
Even in our day to day life, how often do you apologise for the smallest things? When I stopped to think about this point Chayya raised, I realised I do this way too much. Why should I apologise if I have a question? Why do I try and belittle an opinion I have, before I’ve even voiced it? These little faults soon become habit and although we can cover up and say it’s merely us being polite, to a degree there’s a level of insecurity within our own abilities. Once we start questioning what we’re capable of, that opens the floodgates for other people to do the same.
Questions surrounding a woman’s image tied in very nicely with our leadership discussion. The issue of whether better looking women were likely to succeed got a resounding yes. It sounds so insane, but there have been studies that reveal that attractive individuals are seen as valuable members of a company as they bring in more money and find that people want to engage and interact with them. Attractive people also have desirable personality traits – like higher self confidence – which are incredibly appealing to employers.
Aina’s tweet above is an excellent example of how much emphasis is placed on image. Hillary Clinton has transformed the way she looks since announcing her bid to run for presidency. While it is important to look presentable, we shouldn’t forget that intelligence and aptitude are equally if not more important traits to consider, especially when it comes to being a President!
What I love about Hillary in particular is even though she has raised the stakes in her image, she isn’t solely relying on this to win. Dressing presentably and equipped with her knowledge on pressing issues affecting Americans and how she plans to navigate her way through them is a powerful combination. In this instance, there is absolutely nothing wrong in being stylish and smart. The issue of image takes a negative turn when we start crossing that line from presentable to desirable and believing this is what we need to do in order to succeed. In a way, we can’t be angry at men if all some women are going to present is a pretty face and long legs.
That doesn’t mean we should abandon our basic sense of style. Rather, we should keep this in mind…
Hoping that a pretty face will get you to the top is not only wishful thinking, but doing yourself a disservice. In a day and age where there are ridiculous beauty standards, I’m not surprised women feel somewhat pressured to stand out from the crowd or in some cases, conform.
Pop culture and now social networks like Instagram and YouTube perpetuates these standards at an alarming rate. The number of beauty vloggers on YouTube for example may have a love for make up, but are indirectly awakening a very superficial side to young girls.
The only thing that should be ‘on fleek’ is your intellect. Fact.
The idea of being subservient is something that has always perplexed me. In some cultures to this day, women are expected to take a back seat and almost obey their husbands and the men within their family. To be perfectly honest, there shouldn’t be an expectation for girls to act this way. I’m all for being respectful, but if someone’s opinion of me is determined by how dutiful and submissive I am then I’d rather they keep me at an arms length.
This idea of being subservient, especially in a relationship, feeds egos that would otherwise be damaged by a strong, opinionated female. It’s great that some men admire these qualities but others who claim that they want a strong woman by their side find that they don’t know how to handle a partner who is just as opinionated.
As a group we ascertained this could be the result of some men not having prominent and strong female figures in their life. As they’ve grown up within a community where all women conform to this behaviour, it’s almost a shock to the system when they venture out into the world and find that there are women who say what they think and have a militant work-ethic.
As we were discussing this, I came to realise that I couldn’t relate to being subservient at all. In comparison to those men who have never been exposed to strong female figures growing up, I have found that my Indo-Caribbean background was paved with fiery women. My grandmother, my mother, my sister… they’re all pretty outspoken women. When you compare the two contrasts, I personally much prefer having that exposure and influence, which has naturally rubbed off on me.
There is so much to be said about this subject but overall I’ve found that in order to change attitudes towards women, women themselves must start that change. We’ve identified what needs to be done and though our group is small, it’s definitely a step in the right direction to get people thinking, talking and taking action.