The observer

“You’ve always been a man”

Women who attain positions of power are seen as having broken down barriers or having taken something to which they are not quite entitled

"You’ve always been a man," a friend tells me. As surprising as it may sound, he meant it as a compliment. The meaning behind his words, translated from Manspeak, is to imply that I’m not an intruder in the world of men but rather "one of them", "one of the gang". Thanks very much. This bizarre admittance into the male club is a friendly acknowledgment, but one that many women, many years ago, decided they did not need as a prerequisite to doing things and doing them in their own way. The time of asking permission for what is your right was over. Nevertheless, a lone woman participating in a political debate in a TV studio surrounded by eight male colleagues is still a reality. However, –and this is the novelty– the audience now see it as outrageous, as something of an aberration. It is not that it is a case of 8 against 1 because the 1 isn’t against anyone, but the gender imbalance –not to mention the presence of minorities! – is a symptom of an underlying malaise that has increasingly been diagnosed in society and which is increasingly rejected more forcefully.

The disproportionate nature of women’s presence underscores their external condition, since women who attain positions of power are seen as having broken down barriers or having taken something to which they are not quite entitled. They are not something "normal" but rather a foreign body.
The fundamental problem that explains the still scarce presence of women in the public sphere is the difficulty in accessing positions of responsibility, with their subsequent visibility. If we want women, as a gender, to hold the place to which they are entitled within the structures of power and to represent them, we must reflect on the decision-making mechanisms by which people are chosen for such positions. The most widely-used procedure fails to give women power, not for meritocratic reasons but due to prejudice, convenience and intellectual laziness. This is particularly true in professions with a large presence of women such as journalism, law and medicine, where women as a group are still shamefully in the minority.

Women’s first right is to be in the places where decisions are made and their second is to act accordingly. They must overcome what the Cambridge Professor, Mary Beard, calls "failed intervention" syndrome. In other words, to overcome and denounce the fact that ideas are not heard effectively until they are spoken or repeated by a male voice. Women must demand the right to be taken seriously. Which is why we must not accept mansplaining, those explanations expressed with great confidence by amateurs on issues in which the women being lectured to are, in fact, experts. One needn’t be manly or think like a man to be listened to. We must demand to be like women and to behave like women, with everything this involves. It should no longer be necessary to do what Margaret Thatcher did, in taking elocution lessons to speak in a deeper voice in order to be heard.

According to Beard, "what we need is a form of awareness, as we had in the past, of what we mean when we speak of the voice of authority and how we have come to construct it". Does authority depend on one’s height? Or weight? Or how deep one’s voice is? Or one’s ability to speak the obvious? Or does authority depend on one’s capabilities and merits? Equality and the appreciation of talent in our society, key questions, will depend on the answer we are able to provide as a society. The access of women and minorities to public debate must be socially revolutionary. Changes in leaderships must naturally mean more transparency, more meritocracy and the same number of mediocre individuals of whichever gender in decision-making roles.

Once this happens, it will still be necessary for women to truly empower themselves. For them to take a step forward, without waiting for acknowledgment or consent from those that surround them. They ought to be willing to take the initiative, to be subject to fierce criticism on social media if that is the price they have to pay, to get rid of the Judeo-Christian guilt which forces them to comply with their masters, assuming that permanent suffocation is a sustainable, inevitable condition. They mustn’t ask for help with raising the children, instead they must insist that education and childrearing are shared as a common pleasure and responsibility. Our society has changed a great deal over the last year. The 8 March feminist strike was a cry from a new generation connected with older generations that had worked for equality before. Many failed to predict the tsunami it became and perhaps even believe the wave has passed. Women are here to stay at all levels and are joined by male allies of their generation that live up to the aspirations of a fairer world. It will be long, difficult journey, but the world will change. At least ours will.


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