I am not a complainer nor one to rant however there is something that keeps happening more and more and it is starting to bug me.
Recently my mother and I went to a café to order a coffee. When the barista saw us he said: “Good morning girls”. This has happened with female clients, colleagues and friends as well. When clearly we are not girls, but women.
I know that the person saying this is not trying to be spiteful, deliberately mean or putting us down, yet I can’t say it makes me feel good. In fact it makes me feel very uncomfortable.
Why does this bother me?
For me it is about the little things. I can’t imagine anyone would say “Hello girls” to the likes of Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, Christine Lagarde, Julia Gillard or Julie Bishop…they are women in power. And this is the thing that niggles me. By addressing me as a girl it is an act of disempowerment. Not a conscious one though. I don’t believe the barista is consciously trying to put me down. However language is powerful, and the words we choose to use impact those around us more than we realise. Furthermore, in our society there are so many things (big and small) that chip away at a woman’s feeling of empowerment and worth that it takes a lot of conscious action on a woman’s part to counter it. Here are a few more examples:
- Look at advertising and the main role for a woman is to be a mother – not a leader, builder or scientist
- 29% of women have a leading role in films (from Hollywood) and only 30% of speaking roles are women (Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University 2015)
- “You run like a girl” – this common schoolyard saying tells little kids from a young age that being a girl is not as good as being a boy
- Women are not paid equally to men – money is power; money represent worth – what message does this send?
- Only 17% of government ministers are women (globally) and the majority of them look after education, family and healthcare (UN Women, 2015)
- Despite the fact that women are now much more active in the workforce, they are still doing roughly the same amount of domestic duties as they did 40 years ago (i.e. women are now working more but still keeping the home)
- 1 woman a week dies from domestic violence in Australia (White Ribbon Australia, 2016)
As a mother of a girl and a boy, how do I explain to them that in our society my daughter is not valued as much as my son? That she is at a higher risk of something bad happening to her because of her gender. That she is more likely to get paid less than her brother. The list goes on. This is not a conversation I feel comfortable having but we do talk about it.
Gender equality is not a woman’s issue. It is a human issue. Both men and women have a role to play in bringing about gender equality. It starts with the small things that we can do in the world around us, from our family and friends to our colleagues.
So each time a barista or someone begins the conversation with “hello girls”, I politely correct them by saying, “I have a girl, she is 11, however I am a woman, please don’t refer to me as a girl”. Sometimes I get strange looks, but more often then not we enter into a mature exchange and share our views on gender equality and hopefully changing the world one conversation at a time.
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