Published June 19, 2015
On the day this issue hits the streets, June 19, Iceland celebrates the 100-year anniversary of women’s suffrage. This milestone is actually being celebrated through the year with 100 events meant to champion women and increase their visibility in society (read about this here). All of which has got me thinking…
I was talking to a colleague the other day about how I regretted not using this space to write louder or more harder-hitting editorials. “Do you think it’s because you’re a woman?” my colleague asked, almost immediately. “I don’t think so,” I replied, almost as immediately. Our conversation turned to something else, but his question lingered on my mind.
Writing this brief missive is typically the very last thing I do before we send the paper off to the printers. With the illusion of calm, I typically sit down to tackle it when I’m sure that everything else has been taken care of. Still, his question got me thinking, maybe there’s something more at play.
The idea that being a woman might be a disadvantage didn’t occur to me before I graduated from college in the States, moved to Iceland, and started working full time. Although I probably would have had the same experience at home, it was here, in the country that supposedly has the smallest gender gap in the world, that I sincerely felt, for the first time, that I was struggling to enter a Boys’ Club.
As a woman, I have never felt inferior to a man. I grew up with two brothers and was the only girl in a neighbourhood full of boys. We spent our days running around outside, playing every sport under the sun, and I didn’t once feel like I couldn’t hang with them. In fact, I always thought I was as good, if not better, than them at whatever we were playing. The same goes for school; I didn’t once feel like I was less capable than the guys. Not once!
At the same time, I have always kept these beliefs firmly to myself. It’s funny to think about it now, but I actually went to great lengths to hide the fact that I was a straight-A student through college. Modesty, I believe, is a great trait (in fact, writing this actually makes me feel really uncomfortable). Yet, conditioned modesty might actually be one of the roadblocks in women’s struggle for gender equality.
Having grown up with a healthy belief that I could do anything I wanted, the inequalities and double standards that I’d started to notice became increasingly infuriating.
I’ve seen women leave their jobs in response to an overwhelming workload while I’ve seen men in a similar position negotiate better deals for themselves. I’ve been amazed again and again to see how confident some men (#notallmen) are about their writing, prefacing whatever they submit with, “I think this is really great” or “I think you’ll like it,” while women who submit really great work preface their submissions with something along the lines of “I hope this is okay” or “let me know if I need to make any changes.”
Men are also often better at promoting themselves and their projects, demanding to be featured prominently, for instance, while women seem to do so less frequently. Perhaps this is a contributing factor to the reality that the media is more likely to feature men. I know from experience that it’s not a conscious decision to favour men, but that doesn’t make the trend any less troubling.
I can relate to people who are uncomfortable tooting their own horn, but the fact is that men do it all the time, and reap more visibility and media attention as a result. Still, I wonder if there isn’t also a good reason that women tend to be quieter. The way that women are treated—whether they are paid less than men or given a lesser title for the same work or a worse deal— undoubtedly has an impact on their confidence.
Although I’m not telling you anything you haven’t already heard, it seems to me that it wouldn’t hurt to hear it again.
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