In the same month that ‘Hold Your Head Up Woman’ was released into the world, I have some insights into the female experience to impart.
This last week in particular it seemed I was such a magnet for information and stories from SO many different angles and sources that I felt it was important to write about it.
Here are just a few examples of what I have learned just in this last week:
I read an interesting newspaper article about ‘why smart women need to stop dumbing down to please men’. It focussed on an incident with Kate Beckinsale being interviewed by shock jock Howard Stern. She was basically lambasted by critics after the show for being brainy! Part of her response was ‘Are we really still requiring women to dumb themselves down in order not to offend?’
She referred to one of several recent studies whereby heterosexual men have claimed interest and desire in women more intelligent than themselves – but it turns out this is largely true only in theory, not in reality. (Examples of similar studies: Professor Lora Park, Dept. of Psychology, University at Buffalo). Obviously this is a tiny superficial summary – but you get the point.
Let’s step back one generation. I got to see my mum this week. She is a retired doctor. She trained at a prestigious London hospital from 1949-1955 - only their 3rd intake of women to medical school after female admission to this particular hospital was banned in 1924(!)
As a medical student she was outnumbered by men six to one. She told me “The men in my year treated me ok, and women were not treated differently in class, but when we got onto the teaching rounds in the hospital, the consultants (who were all men) delighted in humiliating the women more than the men.”
The students in her year were “much more likely to be going out socially with the nurses.”
She also told me “At that time I felt I needed to behave differently with men in general, sort of pander to them and ‘show some respect’, that was my upbringing, so it was quite a change to be treated as an equal by the men students at medical school.”
What did I conclude from this chat with mum?
That she was bright and courageous (I knew that anyway!)
That the older and upper echelons of the medical profession were more steeped in patriarchy and perhaps a little more wary of female potential so used humiliation freely?
I might be wrong here - but the fact that the doctors went out more socially with the nurses suggests that maybe they felt less threatened by nurses? Nursing is a less academic world than medicine, and perhaps this harks back to the studies I mentioned earlier in this blog?
By the way, I am not devaluing nursing here. As an ex-nurse myself I know that, though a less academic world, nursing is as significant a vocation as medicine. In an ideal world it would be recognised that these two professions are symbiotic – each performing overlapping and separate roles in the care of human health. (I’ll get off my soapbox now!)
Also – I was reminded that it was more common for the women of my mum’s generation to be taught and to believe they had a subservient role to men in life.
I was surprised to learn something about my own generation too. In conversation with two very intelligent female friends of mine, I found that both of them had been brought up instilled with the idea that they should not outshine their brothers.
Even now, social psychologist Amy Cuddy educates us about body poses. Not surprisingly women feel chronically less powerful than men and display more non-verbal ‘low-power’ poses. She presents a fantastic TED talk that everyone should watch.
I am not writing any of this to emasculate or diminish men, but whether we like it or not, the patriarchy persists and change is glacial – especially in parts of the world where women are denied rights, education or recognition.
As women, we all need to be aware of our personal roles in perpetuating the status quo, whilst at the same time, understanding that certain elements of nature will always demand differences between men and women (or however we identify ourselves), and SURELY these differences should be celebrated!
Let’s not just blend in and be accepted, let’s be our authentic whole selves.
Like Marianne Williamson says “…Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you…”
So that was just this week!
Until next month…Hold Your Head Up Woman!
*Hold Your head Up Woman: find on YouTube or https://beacons.page/knowyourcrazy
*Hold Your Head Up: written by Rod Argent and Chris White
* Daily Mail, UK: ‘We smart women must stop playing dumb to please men’ Clare Foges, 28th Oct 21