Issues  

Today, just celebrate yourself


If you feel like you need one, here’s permission to celebrate yourself. Speaking of gender equality in a diversity workshop the other day, we discussed how many men were naturally a lot more inclined to swagger into the CEO’s office and ask for a pay rise, whereas most women cowered and cringed even at the thought of it. I had heard of stories where men would demand a pay rise as their wives had just been made redundant or quit work or gone on maternity leave and they were as a result the main breadwinner. They often got what they wanted.

Until my perceptions of what is acceptable were challenged the other day, I thought such audacity was unimaginable. Then the workshop trainers asked, “Why shouldn’t you demand what you are worth? Most men do it with no encouragement.” Thinking about this statement, I realised there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a woman sauntering into the CEO’s office and asking for a pay because her husband has been made redundant, or she’s received a better job offer elsewhere, or simply she deserves it. It is often unimaginable because we, as women, can’t imagine doing so. Far from us being such demanding divas!

Instead we clip our wings and cut ourselves down to size daily so we can fit into the pigeonholes we’ve conditioned ourselves to believe we should fit in. And sadly, this goes right back to our childhood – as one of my colleagues admitted that growing up even though she was the younger sibling she saw nothing wrong in her mum asking her to cook for the family or iron her younger brother’s shirts. Interestingly, it wasn’t until the discussion on stereotypes during the workshop she realised she had never questioned the assumption that no matter her age she was the caregiver of the men in her family.

Looking at power politics, we discussed how once the minority find themselves in a position of inferiority, the reaction is often anger followed by the desire to be more like those in authority. Hence women trying to be more manly in contexts where men hold the power and women are seen as inferior. Sadly, this inferiority complex also results in women pulling or keeping other women down so they can look more authoritative. How many times have you seen a woman putting another woman down so she can be perceived more senior by those in authority?

Men do the same thing of course – putting someone of their own gender down – to have the upper hand, to look smarter, richer, more virile – and the list goes on. Yet, as men have the traditional position on power in most societies, women putting each other down or throwing each other under the bus just to be accepted into this elite club of power is somehow more disappointing. That constant sense of competition, frustration that one can never really, truly measure up to standards we set so highly for ourselves.

Sadly, we cut ourselves down to size most times, without any help from another woman – sometimes to fit round bottoms into square expectations and somehow for the sheer fear that we will be cut down to size by a man so it may as well be self-inflicted. Which is another reason men are far better at accepting compliments. Tell a man his suit looks good, or his presentation was top notch, you will only see him swagger with even more braggadocio. Tell a woman her outfit is amazing or her sales report for the month was excellent, she will either make excuses about ‘this old thing’ or refer to her work of blood, sweat, tears as ‘oh it was nothing.’ We downplay ourselves.

In this article:
Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo
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