The Importance of Appreciating the Company of Women

The Importance of Appreciating the Company of Women

It is a rather bizarre time to be a woman. We have more independence than ever before, but we are also a part of the generation that still lives at home with their parents because the cost of living is so extortionate. In the UK, we have a female Prime Minister, Theresa May, who appears to have a track record of backing anti-women policies. Not to mention that no-one voted for her. Women are now taking up the space they should have had anyway. But because it is relatively new, there is something bittersweet about it all. And, of course, with any lack of experience comes a fair share of error, as well as the reluctance to give up what is familiar.

The Feminist Debate

The concept of ‘space’ is a feminist issue. The politics of feminism established the personal as political because, for a long time, the space which women occupied remained restricted to either the domestic or worse, to forced labour and slavery. The claim that the personal is political is a breakdown of the dualism between the private and the public. It is essentially a claim that what happens behind closed doors can, and should be, a matter of public concern because that is where inequality manifests. The space we share is so important to the health of the relationships we have with one another. We cannot afford to overlook or misunderstand what a shift in women’s company really means.

Ultimately, it means great things. It means some women are more financially independent. It means women have more choice. It means women have more public and authoritative roles. It means women are more vocal.

New York-based Brand Aesthetics Director at Anomaly, Lydia Pang, sums it up as: “Being a woman has always been my superpower. In branding, it is pretty white and phallic. Difference means you are exceptional, you can offer alternative insight, bring fresh perspectives. Also, being a woman in advertising (an inherently fucked and oppressive medium) means you are able to change and affect the ugly beast from within. I am proud to work in the industry I do, although much of the marketing has contributed to gender inequality. I see myself as fixing it. Infiltrate, destroy, rebuild. That is what I live by”.

But as women share space beyond the restricted domains of their past, we must evaluate our progress and see where we are falling short.

The Inequality Issue

Often inequality between the sexes is seen as something confined to the past because people no longer see it. Part of the reason the concept of space is important is because it conceptualises something we have in common with those around us. It makes us visible and it makes us relate. Women are more publicly visible than ever before. However, what we seem to be getting collectively wrong is the unfair standard we impose on professional and public women that we do not seem to do to men. It is about time we gave women the same privilege that men are entitled to when it comes to distinguishing between personal and professional affairs.

The characterisation of women as weaker, emotional, sexual or superficial impacts both our personal and professional relationships. We must take the task of overcoming it if we are ever to make a significant change.

If the coverage of the Olympic games this year revealed anything to us, it was the barriers even the highest achieving, dedicated, professional women can face before being taken seriously. There are countless examples of women who have been intrusively questioned about their lack of children. What happened, and continues to happen, to Jennifer Aniston parallels a witch hunt. Andrea Leadsom later apologised about her tactic of using the fact that she is a mother and Theresa May is not as somehow relevant to a political leadership campaign. But the fact that this even occurred in the first place says something about how we still view women.  

Then there was Zara Holland, who was recently stripped of her Miss Great Britain title for having adult consensual sex. As if being a public woman means you hand over the ownership of your body and morality to the public. The debate surrounding France’s burkini ban – that escalated to forcing a woman to undress on a public beach in Nice – manages to manipulate fear, with a mix of Islamophobia and misogyny. It shifts the attention from a complex issue of terrorism and extremism onto individual Muslim women. Women are taking up space. But we are still much more likely to have our everyday behaviour and appearance unfairly policed and scrutinised.

So what about now?

It is about time we fully appreciated women’s company. Let us get used to seeing a woman in a position of power without accusing her of some ulterior motive. We seem to hold women to particularly unattainable standards so that there is no option but to fall short. Attributes we impose on women, such as being motherly, beautiful, polite can oversimplify and get in the way of women functioning in the roles they have earned. Even if your female colleague or boss is not your best friend, appreciate her being there. She has probably had to work twice as hard to prove herself. 

We can acknowledge our differences: our different races, religions, backgrounds and values. And we can allow ourselves to appreciate the company of other women, even if we fail to agree.

It is not that women are beyond criticism. Instead, constructive criticism should only happen appropriately, i.e. not about what she is wearing, who she has slept with, or if she does or does not have children. According to Lydia Pang, “Brands are fucked if they are not talking to women. They do not know how to treat us anymore, they have started to wise up to our power. They are like, ‘Yeah boo, lean in, jump off a cliff with your period. Sure CEO and Momma, yeah go girl…’ But the fact is we don’t want to be given permission to lean in anymore. I do not need or want brands to tell me it is OK to, ‘Run like a girl.’ I want them to empower me sincerely, actively, equally.”

The most important thing is that we do not take the company of women for granted. As women take up more public space, we have an opportunity for half of the world’s population, and the diversity that comes with that, to do things in a way that has not been done before. It starts with space for women, and it continues with our collective attitudes and encouragement.

In Pang’s words: “We’re close… Watch this space.”

 

Written by Michelle Houlston,

New York Junior Editor

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