The ‘weaker’ voice: What it’s like to be a woman in a Man’s world

On Wednesday, the world united together to celebrate the Wonder that is Women.

If you weren’t aware it was International Women’s Day, then you either live under the ocean, or the universe has punished you (or rewarded you, whichever way you see it) by sending you to a place that has no internet connection or any links to the real world— and if that were so, you wouldn’t be reading this, so we can dismiss that theory altogether.

For those of you who do live under the ocean, and just came up for some air on Wednesday, I’m sure you were bombarded with the motivational, inspirational, ‘Girl Power’ dialogue that dominated the day.

But then came Thursday, and we woke up to the void of Happy Women’s Day messages and perhaps unwillingly returned to normality— a state that’s forever being promoted as ‘over-rated’ and ‘cliché’ and compelled to be replaced with ‘originality’: “Don’t be normal,” they say, “be you!” Whatever that means.

How do we ‘be’ ourselves; how do we embody what lies at the core of being when society is constantly using its subtle tactics and manipulations to choke us into a mold.

Just like men, women are also classified as strong, brave and courageous, but not for the same reasons that men are. No, women are awarded the labels of ‘Bravery’ and ‘Strength’ for overcoming the daily hurdles that men breeze over without a second thought. Men are brave and courageous for fighting off giants and walking head first into battle and defeating their opponents without hesitation.

Women are deemed brave and courageous for daring to enter into a male’s world and succeed. Every step up the corporate ladder is a dagger in the heart of the giant, that is Patriarchal society. Every woman who attempts to shout louder than society’s redundant voice dictating who we should be and what we should look like is walking head first into battle against a mob of brainwashed opponents.

We’re courageous for trying to break free when in actual fact we should never have been chained in the first place. And by no means does that place a slight on our achievements and strength at all; we’ve earned the title, we deserve it. We’ve undeniably proved that Women as a nation are a formidable force, but it’s a fight we shouldn’t have to continuously relive.

It’s all good and well that we’ve succeeded in standing up for ourselves countless times throughout history, but why do we continuously have to rejustify our case? Why do we constantly have to repeat ourselves in order to be heard?

Why do our voices still feel so weak?

I like how Kriti Sanon says it in this video that went viral on Facebook.

Source: Miss Taken Facebook page

This year, on International Women’s Day, while women around the world were for one isolated day, making sure that they were heard, I was interviewing a scientist who told me how on a daily basis she struggles with not being taken seriously in the workplace by her male counterparts.

“It’s really difficult to be a female scientist in a largely male-dominated field. I feel like I’m always having to try a little bit harder to prove to everyone that I can do the tasks. If a man comes along, he is automatically trusted with a project, but the minute you’re female, you always end up having to defend yourself.” said Environmental scientist Puleng Tsie.

Puleng is based at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, where she works as communications manager for Sci Enza, a company that works toward finding interactive ways to make learning science fun and understandable for learners. She said that although the field of female scientists is growing, it is growing at a very slow rate. “Women are still breaking into a field that for centuries has been dominated by mature male scientists,” she explained.

“Happy Women’s Day” didn’t seem like an apt response to that revelation. The worst part was that I wasn’t surprised at her answer when I brought up the topic of gender stigmatization and discrimination in the workplace. I was kind of expecting her response to be more or less on same lines.  Her answer expressed the same underlying truth that we shove in the far-out corners of our minds, and we try to flush away with every pro-women motivational pep talk we seem to be constantly dishing out to one another.

University of Pretoria Scientist Puleng Tsie answers students’ questions during the Scifest Speed-Date-a-Scientist workshop. Pictured is Tsie talking Masixole High School students Assange Mbete and Yamkela Qhinga. Photo: Jade le Roux

Take a moment to consider the ratio of male to female non-fiction writers who win, or get nominated for literary prizes. Majority of the time, male authors walk away with the prize.  What is it about the female voice that makes it more well-received and accepted in fiction, or when women do dare to delve into the non-fiction battlefield, why do they often settle for memoirs?

In an article published on Slate, Kate Waldman questions why the memoir genre is on the rise for women non-fiction writers and links it to the fact that female non-fiction writers fail to feature on the receiving end of book prizes as often as men do.

“Does the relative invisibility of memoir on the nonfiction prize circuit lead to the underrepresentation of women? Or is it the other way around? Perhaps women are drawn to memoir for the same reasons that NBA judges seem to flinch from it: The genre’s goals feel less explicitly grandiose and weighty, more acceptable for us—with our “emotions” and our “fine brushwork”—to strive for,”  Waldman writes.

Do women stick to fiction and memoirs because it’s too treacherous a territory to compete with the loud, overbearing voices of their male counterparts? Is it the tiny societal voice that’s been subliminally engrained in us from infancy? “Blue is for boys, pink is for girls” in the adult world can translate into “stick to what you’re good at.” Who has the right to set parameters around what areas we can excel in?

There are however a few exceptions of female non-fiction writers who braved the deep waters and succeeded. Last year, three of the four writers shortlisted for The Baillie Gifford Prize for non-fiction, were women. So, maybe there is hope, but how long must we wait around to find out?

Women finally make it to the top of the ladder; the plateau of so-called equality, only to find that they “still have a way to go”. I hate those six words that are repeated so often they’re bordering on cliche, but maybe I hate them more because the truth in them rings out an ineffable defeat: So close, but yet so far. Will we ever find the pot of gold under the rainbow? Does it even exist, or are we all just a bunch of supreme idealists?

Where to from here? I honestly wish I knew. Puleng has some solid advice, which she stands by:

“I know my background, I understand and I’m good at what I do. If people want to check up on me, or question me, it’s their waste of time and energy not mine.” That’s her expert advice on dealing with being second-guessed just because you’re a girl.

And as much as I agree and applaud her attitude, I fear that the day will come when after screaming so loud, for so long, in the vain hope of being heard the first time, our frail voices will finally falter, be reduced to a whisper and we’ll be back at square one. Having come so far, but with so much further still to go.

Featured image: Jade le Roux 

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3 thoughts on “The ‘weaker’ voice: What it’s like to be a woman in a Man’s world

  1. Hi Jade
    You do a fantastic job of drawing together threads that matter globally and eternally with strands of the local and topical to weave a through-provoking and literate meal to chew on. It’s exciting to see you finding your stride alongside and within these other footprints.
    Gill

    Like

  2. Hey Jade,

    I am really impressed with your blog. Your posts are insightful and engage with the topic well and in dept. I like that your research is evident. Your narrative voice is smooth and easy to read and follow. Perhaps try to incorporate more images into your post? But that’s me deliberately looking for feedback, your blog is genuinely quite stunning.

    Dani

    Like

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