#IWD2018: Why true equality is treating imperfect women the same as we treat imperfect men
I don’t mind being a woman. But often I can’t help thinking I’d be more suited to being a man.
I don’t dress well, I have unkempt nails and don’t pluck my eyebrows. I’m also messy, forgetful, inarticulate, glutinous and always have too many browser tabs open. And if my boyfriend didn’t do my washing, I’d regularly run out of clean clothes.
Everyone knows men like this - they’re normal guys from work, for example, who do a great job and deserve a promotion, probably. But it’s harder to think of successful women who fit that description.
This year’s hot topics like gendered pay and consent issues are huge, of course. But I can’t help thinking the most glaring and unaddressed gap between men and women is in societal expectations. Sometimes it’s positive for women - girls perform better at school because society expects us to be well-behaved and attentive, so as young children we’re judged more harshly for falling out of line. Meanwhile, for many people “boys will be boys”, and are totally forgiven for wanting to play football instead of memorise a poem, even if these standards then mean later on in life that they’re less likely to go to university.
Smart, talented, capable women need to be smart, talented and capable in every aspect of their lives. Just like it’s deemed unacceptable at school for girls to be badly behaved and inattentive, society judges women who always eat large portions, have armpit hair, forget friends’ birthdays, have greasy skin, can’t cook, have abortions, don’t wear makeup, boss people around, have grey hair, tell the truth without protecting someone’s feelings, just be large…the list is almost endless.
That’s not to say these standards come from men only. I consider myself very open minded and yet I have to fight the flicker of judgment that runs through me when I meet a woman who doesn’t follow these unspoken rules. I know that if the Prime Minister stopped wearing makeup and accessories, she wouldn’t suddenly become less competent, even though that’s the first place my brain would go. If anything, she’d have an extra 15-30 minutes a day to exercise, read something, run the country or simply have a lie-in. Like any man does.
Many women reading this might say they wear makeup “for themselves”. I never subscribed to this because very clearly the entire thing is about making myself look more attractive to other people. But now I think I finally get it - spending that time in the morning makes the rest of the day easier. It’s one area where you don’t need to expend energy on wondering whether you’re being judged.
And there are so many forms this judgement takes.
I live with my boyfriend, who spends every day surrounded by my mess - clothes strewn around the bedroom, remnants of my culinary experiments all over the kitchen, my stuff just abandoned. But when we have visitors, I’m the one scrubbing the floors and dusting high shelves, because I know a messy house reflects far worse on the woman than on the man.
When women wear a band t-shirt we’re grilled by men in bars who have to make sure we know the full discography of AC/DC, otherwise we “shouldn’t be wearing that”. When we say we follow sports, we better know the star sign of the back-up Argentinian goalkeeper in the 1986 World Cup. In fact, almost everything women do needs to be of a higher standard just to appear equal.
Boris Johnson, of course, is a perfect example of this effect. It’s impossible to imagine a woman as basic as Johnson just existing, let alone a woman so incompetent in every aspect of life who still inexplicably yields enormous power.
History is full of examples, too. It’s said that 18th Century economist Adam Smith, who created economic principles that many people still follow today, was looked after by his mother as an adult man (which is pretty pathetic and somewhat disgusting, if we’re prepared to be honest).
So not only do women face greater scrutiny, but we’re often the ones who plug the gaps for these men, allowing ourselves to become a minor character in our own lives.
Seeing this happen made Gen X women of the 90s and 00s want to “have it all”. We don’t want that - we don’t want to be a beautiful socialite CEO with the high-earning husband, right number of well-behaved children we gave birth to at the right age, an impeccably clean house, an Audi and a voracious sexual appetite. We want to be able to be our full, flawed selves without being shamed.
Why does any of this matter? It matters because it means we’re in a state of constant acceptance over talented men who are deemed single-minded geniuses but who, for example, are incapable of dressing, feeding and cleaning up after themselves. While women aren’t allowed to be single-minded geniuses - those who have the exact same traits are held back by being seen as deeply and irreparably defective, or even mentally ill.
But there are things that can be done. Some industries have noticed this and have made steps to change - for example, blind auditions for orchestras virtually eliminated gender bias, which not only is the 'right' thing in terms of making sure men and women have equal opportunities, no matter their appearance and personality traits, but improves the standard and quality of the orchestra.
It’s not easy to change our mindset, given how ingrained these standards are, but it is worth it to allow women to excel.
While the official theme for this International Women’s Day is Press For Progress, celebrating great women who have achieved amazing things just doesn't cut it. I’d like to propose that we unofficially also use this year to give “imperfect” women a fucking break.