I was recently asked if my current world was more racist or misogynistic. By default, I fell back to saying it was more racist, as I’ve reflected before, on how casually discriminatory and flippant people can be on racial and cultural differences. But over the course of time since the question was posed to me, I began to see it’s neither racist nor misogynistic. It’s sometimes both.
In my immediate world however, particularly in the workplace, it is more rampantly internally misogynistic. In the sense that as women, we are so bounded by the patriarchy that we stopped standing up for each other. Especially professionally. Except at every step of the way, we expect — and root — for the other to fail. So there’s less competition. More attention paid to us.
In the last 3 years that I’ve been working in SE Asia, I’ve probably seen more of these micro aggressions than I care to. Being told, for example, 2 days into the job, by an older colleague that most of the men on campus (especially the white men) are all married so I’d best behave appropriately even if I had “returned from the UK”. Because I’d clearly — and willingly — left a flourishing academic career in the UK to return to my hometown to…snatch someone’s husband. Splendid.
To be told I was hated to my face, and how I was hogging too much attention; not because of my education, mind you, but because of my friendship with one of the closest friends in my life. For what it’s worth though, this is probably more outright confrontational rather than micro aggression.
The feeling that, whatever it is that you’ve done, achieved or are doing, a whole host of people awaits for you to fail. For it’s much more acceptable culturally to bring someone down rather than to see them succeed, or share in that joy. Or to have veiled threats hurled against you because the other person thinks you should be doing their job so they can keep the position they think they’re entitled to. To learn — rather harshly, I might add — that someone who professes to be a friend would watch others tear you apart professionally but wouldn’t say a word in your defence, although they’d claim credit for praise. To realise your value at the workplace for some who claimed to be friends went merely as far as the fact that you can bring perks to them, and once that’s gone post-restructuring, there’s no reason to even pretend anymore.
These may sound dire to some — I don’t mean to alarm. For in the process of these harsh realities, it’s also made me learn to start pushing back, to develop more positive and self-affirming strategies to create a so-called “work-life balance”. So yes, I see and experience a lot more internalised misogyny, but it’s also made me realise who my friends are; friends who wouldn’t hesitate to reach out and/or to come to my defence when things become overwhelming. More importantly, the initial question also made me realised how important it is to have honest discussions about this. Our world is constantly surrounded by, and operated around notions of patriarchy; and just because the workplace is more gender balanced or women feel like they’ve hit the glass ceiling doesn’t mean that these conversations should stop.
In fact, I find most people become uncomfortable talking about this. Or they remain steadfast in their belief that they haven’t internalised a lot of misogynistic comments. As I write this, I recall a heated argument I had with colleagues about the ageist and misogynistic media coverage around French President Emmanuel Macron’s wife, of which my colleagues vehemently disagreed. And when I asked them why the same criticism wasn’t inflicted on the age difference between Melania Trump and her husband, I was told it’s different. I raise my case.