What’s holding you back? #breakfree

I went to the hairdressers today (don’t worry, that’s not what the theme of this post is). While I was in there I was given the obligatory stereotypical magazines that are full of all the latest fashion and beauty trends which I flick through without really remembering any of it. When I was flicking through an issue of ‘Marie Claire’ though there was one article which caught my eye. But seeing as it would have been a tad rude of me to tear out the pages and take them home with me, I took photos of the article with the intention of putting it on here because, much like with the article by Caitlyn Moran which I put on here a while ago, I thought it was just generally really great.

Here’s a test for you. Step away from your Netflix account, clamber over the empty new year wine bottles, and find a corner away from prying eyes. Take a piece of paper and a pen, and write down one thing that you’d like to change about your life. One thing that you honestly dream about doing. One thing you know you’d be amazing at. If only you could cut the crap that gets in the way.

Now, safe in the knowledge that nobody will see this, write down what the crap is, exactly. Is if the dear that everyone will laugh if you fail half-way through? Is it the fact that people judge you on your looks, before you’ve had a chance to speak?

Here’s the thing. We know as women, we’re capable of anything. It’s 2016 for God’s sake! But still, the most recent statistics show that less than a quarter of all senior FTSA management positions are filled by women, 86 per cent of us at the primary carers to our children, and the gender pay gap still stands at 13.9 per cent. Muslim women are 65 per cent less likely to be employed than their white female counterparts, black women are considered the ‘least desirable’ demographic on online dating sites and over 40 per cent of lesbians hide their sexuality from colleagues for fear of homophobia.

Even if we take intersectionality out of the equation, one in three female students will experience sexual assault at university, and 97 per cent of us feel insecure about our bodies. And while studies show that men stop progressing in their careers at 55, for women, that kicks in a decade earlier.

But it’s not all bad. We’ve ticked some big boxes in gender equality. We can tick some more. Which is why Marie Claire – and our nine ambassadors from across the UK – are taking a stand. Over the next 12 months, we’re going to #breakfree from the big things that still make us feel like we’re not good enough. We’ll be taking to social media and the streets. We’ll be loud, and we’ll be proud of ourselves for it. And we’d like you to join us, too.

#breakfree from SHAME – Pavan Amara, 28, founder of the My Body Back Project, a sexual-assault support clinic

‘It always surprises me how quiet men are when women start talking about sexual assault. It’s not because they think it’s OK – it’s because they feel like it’s not their place to say anything about it. But it’s totally their place. In fact, they are the very people who need to be the ones standing up and saying that it’s wrong. The reason why so many women experience shame after sexual assault isn’t because they should be ashamed – it’s because society still makes it a female issue. We always focus on the woman – what she wore, what she drank, where she walked. We still fail to make the crime about the man who committed it.

#breakfree from LIKES – Zoe Hellewell, 26, blogger at zoelondon.me

‘That difference between documenting your life and living is always in the back of my mind. For a long time, I thought I would be happier if I always had good pictures and hundreds of likes. I would get sad if my Instagram numbers weren’t as big as other people’s, and I had to remind myself that what they were doing wasn’t the same as what I was doing – and that didn’t make my lifestyle, or my interests, any less valid. Even now, if I post a photo that doesn’t get as many likes as normal, I’ll occasionally delete it. Then I have a moment of thinking, “Hold on, I didn’t need to do that – I liked the picture, and really, that all that matters.”‘

#breakfree from AGEISM – Suzi Grant, 66, blogger at alternativeageing.net

‘I hit my late forties and became invisible. People didn’t look at me any more, so I decided I was going to force them to. I began dying my hair bright red, and buying colourful clothes. You shouldn’t have less opportunities because of your age. A lot of ageism is misogyny in disguise, and that’s what makes me angry. Things will change, as long as we continue helping women climb the career ladder. When women are in power, they will stay in power.’

#breakfree from MOTHER GUILT – Caroline Flanagan, 43, founder of Babyproof Your Life

‘My first two children were born when I was a lawyer. I worked long hours, trying to juggle everything. You always feel guilty. Of course, maternal instinct is a factor, but society plays a role – we always talk about what women aren’t doing. Why are men never spoken about it the same way? I hear new dads talking about equal parental leave, and its impact on their careers, and I’m like, “Why should it impact on ours instead?”‘

#breakfree from ISLAMOPHOBIA – Tehmina Kazi, 32, director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy

‘It’s dangerous to make assumptions about someone. People seem to think that Muslim communities are only bothered about their own causes, but I’ve worked in human rights since I graduated, and I’m passionate about LGBT activism and other minority communities. There are so many liberal, progressive Muslim groups, such as the Inclusive Mosque Initiative, which hosts pop-up prayer spaces for LGBT Muslims, women, Muslims from minority sectors and even people who don’t want to pray, but who still appreciate coming to the space to meditate or take some time to themselves. Still, the anti-Muslim sentiment continues to get worse, and there’s not a strong enough counter narrative to stop it. Something like 70 per cent of all on-street attacks take place against Muslim women, simply because when they wear the headscarf or the niqab, they’re more identifiably religious than Muslim men. But people are still scared to speak out in case they also get attacked. Unless we change the way we generalise about race and religion, this kind of hostility and aggression is just going to carry on.’

#breakfree from BODY HATE – Hannah Gale, 26, blogger at hannahgale.co.uk

‘After a lifetime of hating my appearance, I genuinely think a lot of my body-image issues stem from watching the female role models in my life, such as my mum and nan, suffer with the same thing. None of us treat our bodies with the respect they deserve. We’re not size 8s, but we’re not plus size either. But it does often feel like there’s a place for women who are really big or really small, while those of us in the middle are the least attractive of all. I’m tired of comparing myself to other people. My body shape doesn’t matter. My weight is such a tiny thing compared to everything I’ve achieved. Not having a flat stomach has never impacted on my ability to have fun. Worrying about it has.’

#breakfree from LABELS – Becky Olaniyi, 19, psychology student

‘I used to hate going outside, because I didn’t want people to judge me, but that just made me more miserable. I have cerebral palsy, but it doesn’t mean I can’t have a social life, or a family, or a career. Still, it’s hard. I know everybody sees me but, at the same time, it can feel like nobody sees me at all. When people are building things, those with disabilities should be at the forefront of their minds, rather than an afterthought. My flatmates go clubbing, but I can’t; my wheelchair takes up too much space, and they can’t always stay in with me. I do have some good times, but it won’t get easier until people change.’

#breakfree from FEAR – Laura Jane Williams, 29, author of The Book of Brave

‘There’s something about female fear that is laced with a need for permission. Maybe it’s the way we socialise, how we’re raised, or biology – we;re looking for a pat on the back, or for somebody to reassure us we’re doing the right thing. But being brave isn’t about succeeding at everything. Putting yourself out there in the first place, then owning your mistakes, that’s brave. I used to think somebody else had the answers, like I was the only person who didn’t get the cheat sheet. But the sheet doesn’t exist. We’re all heading to the same place, so we may as well have as much fun as possible along the way.’

#breakfree from GENDER – Talulah Eve Brown, 22, model

‘Last year, so much changed for transgender people, simply because of Caitlyn Jenner. And that’s a great thing, but it still frustrates me that people think her experiences represent the rest of us. I don’t have very much money – I have two part-time jobs – and I can’t afford to just throw cash around for surgeries. When Caitlyn walks down the street, she has security by her side. When I walk down the street, I get death threats every single day. Men do chat me up, but as soon as they hear my voice, that’s it. I’ve never had a relationship, and I’ve only ever been on one date. Guys either insult me, or fetishise me – and I don’t want to be someone’s weird sex toy. All I want in the world is for somebody in the public eye to start seeing somebody who’s openly transgender. I think that would change things. I just hope that it happens soon.’

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