I’ve been using my kitchen table regularly as my office to work from home over the past 12 months.
This is different for me, and, in the beginning, the pressure to prove my productivity was intense. After a little while of convincing my naturally anxious brain to chill-out, I started to relax. Now, I use this change to my advantage without compromising the quality of my work.
I understand that I’m incredibly privileged to have this opportunity and flexibility. I also know that I am lucky to feel safe in my home to experiment with changes in work and social life. But this got me thinking.
As women in the workplace, we aren’t always so lucky.
Working from home has allowed me to choose clothes that make me feel good, without questioning what people will think of me for wearing them. I can feel comfortable taking off my jumper if I’m hot, without worrying that bare shoulders will be deemed “unprofessional.” I can take off my bra if I’m uncomfortable because that pesky wire is digging in. I can wear makeup if I want to. But if I don’t, that’s cool too. I can prioritize my sleep over washing my hair on an incredibly stressful day. When I’m hungry I can eat a snack, minus the gossip about another female colleague’s most recent diet or lifestyle change in a bid to lose weight.
What I’ve noticed is that all of these things seem to predominantly affect women.
It is socially acceptable for a man to show his skin. He doesn’t have to worry about being cat-called while waiting for the bus. Perhaps taking his top off in the office wouldn’t be approved of, but seeing his nipple through his shirt would be unavoidable, right? Or should he be wearing a bra too? He can roll out of bed every morning without the expectation of mascara to “brighten” his eyes or concealer to cover his spots. He won’t be judged for not making an effort or asked if he feels ok because he looks pale. And to top it off, throughout the day, he can eat whatever the hell he wants because he’s a growing lad or a fully grown man who needs more fuel than the rest of us.
It’s one thing to notice this, but it’s a different kettle of fish when it comes to systematic change. Regardless of my personal views, I am judged on these things whether I like it or not.
Whether it’s online meetings or face-to-face appointments with people I hope will recognize my ability, I try to dress up more to look professional. But in reality, layers of foundation and perfectly curled hair don’t make me any better at my job. I check my outfit when I’m working with certain male service users and colleagues, despite the fact it’s not my responsibility to discourage sexually inappropriate comments.
My appearance shouldn’t determine the amount of respect I receive.
I often feel guilty and hypocritical for preaching these things while still feeling influenced by everyday sexism. And, although I hate to admit it, judging myself in this way from time-to-time. Because I’m only human.
I need to remember it’s not my fault. If some of these truths resonate with you, too, it’s not your fault either.
We have grown up in a culture with internalized misogyny and sexism, which we see in both men and women, especially at work. It’ll take time, but the change will be worth it. We can start by recognizing these assumptions of other women and questioning this. Our thoughts and beliefs around other women are likely to say more about us than them.
If I ever have a daughter, I hope she will grow up to be confident to say, that’s not ok. To demand respect without ever taking appearance into account. And always feel empowered to share her thoughts and make decisions.