If you are someone who uses the phrase “femin-nazi” or thinks all women who identify as feminists hate men then stop reading now. A work colleague recommended Jessica Bennett’s book, Feminist Fight Club to me for two very good reasons – one, she knew I’d love it and two, she really wanted someone to discuss the book with! The book presents itself as an office survival manual for a sexist workplace and it’s full of practical tips and tricks for women in attempting to overcome and combat sexist behaviour in an office environment, where telling a man he’s a misogynistic piece of shit is often not appropriate, especially if it’s your boss. At this juncture I would just like to say (in case any of my work colleagues are reading this) I do genuinely love my job and feel that compared to most, I work in a fairly gender friendly environment. But even in the most equal of workplaces, there are subtle things that occur which mean your male colleagues ideas are heard more loudly than yours.
Through definitions of ‘The Mansplainer’, ‘The Manterrupter’ and ‘The Stenographucker’, FFC gives you tips on how to make your ideas heard in meetings, how to stop being treated like the office secretary when you’re the General Manager and how to subtly put the guy who takes your ideas as his own in his place. Before you sit there thinking this is just 294 pages of feminist “ranting” and “man hating”, be sure to acquaint yourself with the facts – the ones that are scattered throughout the book which support every assumption put forward. Such as studies have shown men speak more than women in professional meetings, they interrupt more frequently and women are twice as likely as men to be interrupted by both men and women when they speak.
The men that I work with are lovely, yet I’ve still been manspalined at, witnessed a female colleague be interrupted in meetings on more than one occasion, been referred to as “You girls”, had the insinuation that it’s women who make meetings run long – because they talk so much – thrown at me, and by men that are genuinely nice guys. And this is a key point in the book, a lot of the time it’s the subtle sexism by nice guys who aren’t even aware they’re doing it that permeates the workplace. A culture of entitlement in a world where they are encouraged to take up more space, speak louder, be more dominant, means that most of the time, they don’t even know what they’ve just said is sexist. In the book it is described as ‘Death by a Thousand Cuts’ – taken individually certain comments or actions may not appear overtly sexist but over time and collectively, they can really do some damage.
And before you say that perhaps women are just being overly sensitive, consider, I work as a digital producer in an IT world dominated by men. At my workplace there is a fortnightly IT meeting – I am the only woman in the room. Every time I start a new role my first thought is – what can I do to prove that I deserve this role. My male friend who is also in IT said his first thought is where’s the best place to buy coffee. (And while we’re on the subject, he no doubt gets paid 17% more than me for the same work, because even though it’s 2016 men are still earning more than their female counterparts.) In my current role I lost count of the amount of times I was asked what I was doing working there because the way I dressed and my career background apparently signaled that I simply didn’t fit in. All of this was done by men, lovely men who didn’t mean anything by it, but nonetheless it is treatment and behaviour that I would not have experienced had I been a man – and that’s sexism. Oh and by the way – men can totally join the FFC – they can make incredibly valuable allies in the workplace, supporting your ideas and ensuring you receive credit for them.
Bennett’s book was a revelation. Not only has it made me more confident in meetings – and I can tell you right now, the lean in tactic totally works – but it has given me a greater affinity with other women in my workplace. We have empowering discussions about topics that matter, women that inspire us and moments during the week where we feel we have really excelled and proven ourselves. We actively show support for one another in meetings – amplify each others ideas – and generally just encourage the shit out of each other. FFC is an inspiring read and I can not recommend it enough for every woman, whether you think you work in a sexist environment or not. FFC is women supporting women and when women really get behind one another what can’t we accomplish as a collective force?!