Share This Article
For International Women’s Day, Gemma Hudson reflects on the social conditioning of gender in society and advocates for substantive change.
We like it when people are nice, but we especially like it when women are nice. We like it when they’re accommodating, respectful, diplomatic. We’re told that no matter what happens, there is nothing to justify you being mean, catty, disrespectful, a b***h. That there’s always room to be the bigger person, that you don’t fight hate with hate, and that raising your voice never gets you anywhere.
Men, however, are taught that there are things worth yelling for. That when the umpire makes a bad call it’s okay to shout and go about the rest of your day in a bad mood. That screaming your head off because of a bad driver is normal. That there’s sometimes a reason to throw a punch or two.
When women scream and shout, about workplace discrimination, sexual assault, beauty standards, the pay gap, educational and academic discrimination, and many many more problems, we don’t like it.
We even get bothered when women choose to do something as simple as not smile.
On the day Grace Tame decided to not grin and bear it when she met with the Prime Minister, she was opened up to vicious attacks on her character and cause. She did not yell at Scott Morrison. She did not berate him, she did not call him names or insult him to his face. She did not throw a punch or two. She just did not pose for a picture.
She was absolutely flamed for being disrespectful, catty, b***hy, nasty, rude, and every other word in the dictionary, even though the true disrespect occurring was in the workplace of the man standing right next to her.
For me, this raises the question: of all the things a woman as exceptional as Grace Tame is, why do we care if she’s nice? No woman should have to smile just because she was told to, but even more so a woman who survived sexual abuse, and is advocating to change one of the most heinous issues in society. Grace Tame is a truly exceptional individual- I’d much rather a so called b***h who’s out there improving society than a nice girl letting the world get away with murder.
People say it’s not that hard to just smile, it doesn’t mean anything to do it; but it’s also not that hard to pay women equally, leave them alone when they’re walking home at night, and generally treat them with respect, yet we seem to have so much trouble with those activities as a society.
We are, overall, much more obsessed with our own personal comfort than we are with the safety and poor treatment of women.
If you cannot see why a woman who endured years of sexual abuse doesn’t want to stand smiling, why your mate got pissed off when you called her outfit slutty, and why the girl you’ve been badgering for a date told you to ‘F**k off, just because they weren’t ‘very nice about it’, then you are more a part of the problem than the solution. Anger is a genuine human emotion, and anger when you’re living in a world which systematically makes your life harder than it should be is justified. What is more important than how a woman’s anger makes YOU feel, is WHY she’s angry.
None of us WANT to be the bad guy in the situation. None of us want to realise that we are part of the problem, so it’s much easier to take umbridge with the way thoughts were expressed than the fact that the content of the thoughts is an impetus for us to change our behaviour.
We like to talk about well behaved women never making history, but when we see them in our present we dislike them. A hundred years from now, Grace Tame will be a hero for boldly expressing her opinion in front of the most powerful man in the country. Today, she does not receive the praise she deserves.
Of all the things you could be doing to make the world better, asking Grace Tame to smile is nowhere on that list. Instead, this International Women’s Day, consider donating to a charity supporting women, such as a local domestic violence shelter. Treat the women in your life with some extra love and praise on this day. Resolve to take sexist language out of your vocabulary, decide to call out sexism in your everyday life. Take some time to sign petitions to support women’s rights.
On days like International Women’s Day, it can be easy to post an infographic to your Instagram story to prove to the people around you that you DO care about sexism in our society. However, aside from perhaps absolving our own guilt, we know this fixes nothing. Days like International Women’s Day can feel like days to simply celebrate, days to signal that women are important to society and their contributions are valued. I challenge you to your words to your actions, and use the occasion to further the cause the day is actually about.
Furthermore, take some time to educate yourself about intersectional issues. If all you know about women’s rights are the issues affecting wealthy straight white women, it might be time to broaden your horizons. The experiences of women of colour, LGBTQ+ women, low SES women, disabled women and more deserve respect and airtime. They deserve an exploration deeper than what I could fit into this article.
I also encourage you to not just think about sexism on International Women’s Day, after all, sexism exists and harms women no matter what day it is. Supporting women year round is not particularly difficult, but it does take an active effort. Sometimes it requires the occasional hard decision. It is, however, always worth it.
This piece was written for International Women’s Day 2022.