I've never thought of myself as a feminist. I remember when I attended McGill University over a decade ago, and I'd meet people studying Women Studies and Feminism and I'd wonder why.
To be honest -- I likely held the vision of the stereotypical feminist in my head, and figured: Why can't we all be equal, why do we need feminism? (As if feminism was some anti-man protest versus a desire for basic equal human rights.)
I remember the day I discovered that a woman doing the same job as a man would get paid less and I thought: How is that even legal?
That was when I began to understand what the feminist movement was really about.
Although my understanding of feminism evolved -- seeing it as an equal rights issue -- I still didn't call myself a feminist. Likely because I've never been a fan of labels, and I like to think we've come to a place where we've evolved in our humanity to treat humans as humans irrelevant of race and sex.
The cold hard truth is -- the disparity is far from over, which became evident to me in a recent conversation.
I met up with a woman I met at a networking event who had come to my talk a few months earlier. She had really liked the value of my talk and we decided to reconnect to see how we could support each other's business.
At the end, our conversation took a turn to clothing and she remarked "Oh yeah, the night of your talk you were wearing tights, right? Yeah people were talking about that."
At first I thought it mildly hilarious that anybody noticed. And even more incredulous that anybody would remember (Aren't there more important things in life than what somebody was wearing!?)
....Apparently a woman giving a talk is supposed to wear nylons -- not tights to look "proper."
After my initial comical disbelief, I walked away from our conversation royally annoyed.
It wasn't because I obviously lack fashion-sense (In my defence -- it was a Canadian January day, but I guess beauty must come before practicality.)
All kidding aside -- I was bothered because if I was a man I could have showed up in a pair of jeans and nobody would remark on my clothing. They would only care about the content of my speech.
I decided to conduct some layman's research using Ted Talks as my laboratory. Sure enough woman after woman speaker were dressed up (yes, often in nylons!) but when it came to the male speakers -- sure a large percentage were in suits, but many were wearing jeans. I could not find one woman speaker in a pair of jeans. (Maybe you'll show me one!)
The point is: a man is taken seriously based on the content of his words. A woman is judged based on her appearance -- then, her words.
My question to you is: are YOU OK with this? Is this the kind of society we want to be in? Is this the kind of value-system we want to pass on to our children and the younger generation?
As a woman there's no getting away from it -- you are WAW: Walking As a Woman, and that means you are treated differently every step you take.
From the real-fear of walking alone at night to how you respond at work (because you don't want to be seen as too aggressive when you're expected to be "nice" and "polite"), to the fact that a woman cannot give a speech without being judged on what she's wearing:It's often too racy or too prude. It's too short or too long, it's too dark or too light. It's too plain or too provocative. It's never enough -- it's never just OK to show up in your own style, in a way you feel comfortable and not be judged.
And let's be clear: This isn't about women versus men; after-all it's often women judging other women. This is about an unequal expectation of how a woman should show up.
The question is: is this the kind of cultural impact we want to maintain?
As a woman I will always be WAW and there is no way out of this. But there has to be a way to make the playing field fairer so that when it comes to our work and daily life -- that we can be judged based on our words and actions and not the outfit we're in.
It's on each and every one of us to make the change, and that starts through awareness, acknowledging our bias and judgements, and daring to have this conversation.
Tova Payne is a writer, teacher, and consultant based out of Vancouver integrating creativity with soul. Get a free meditation audio and E-Guide on the 5 Keys to Start and Finish Your Projects at www.tovapayne.com