Becoming a Better Feminist. Part Two: Pioneering

Becoming a Better Feminist. Part Two: Pioneering

I started my own bizznizz and it made me a better feminist! Who knew?!
4 years ago a series of unexpected events kind of pushed me into starting a business.
It was never my dream, my plan, nor my ambition. I was a cello playing English teacher with a profound love of literature. I certainly had zero business experience.
But, honestly, it was the best thing I ever did. And it made me a better feminist.
Part TWO – I’ve come to understand the importance of pioneering.
“What do you do?”
I get asked this a lot. I guess you do too.
I used to have an easy answer – I was an English teacher.
But then I started my own business and things became a little more complex.

I started entering into uncharted territory that didn’t yet have a name.
(Kind of like where we all are now!)
As I was shape shifting in the role that I was playing, expanding to incorporate my personal evolution (and the evolution of my clients) I couldn’t help but think about other women, all over the world, going through a similar process.
The world has changed so much in my lifetime and the role of women alongside that has been evolving and advancing at an incredible speed. We’re becoming ever more present in all spheres, in a myriad of glorious ways. Good.
Until fairly recently women were limited in the options they had available to them. Marry well was obviously a good option.* In terms of work there were caregiving roles – sometimes unpaid, teaching – if you had an education, housekeeping or cleaning and, of course, the ever reliable sex work. These avenues, while both noble and necessary, make an individual woman’s contribution somewhat restricted in scope.
Beyond the confines of the house, the classroom, and the bedroom there was a set of systems, and power structures, and leadership models, and dominant ideologies that had been built on the decision making power of men. Specifically – cisgendered, able bodied, heterosexual white men of privilege.
Anyone who didn’t fit into “the type” faced significant obstacles. And, let’s face it, still do.
The two main ones, I’d argue, are that the system favours said type and if you aren’t said type you will have to fight harder for a place at the table. When you walk onto the playing field, where the rules have been long established, you quickly realise the game is rigged. You have to emulate behaviours that perhaps don’t come naturally to you, in order to be accepted. You will likely have to curtail the essence of you in order to fit into the expected, demanded standards. This goes for men as much as women and breeds inauthenticity. It prevents people from expressing who they really are and what they really think and feel. A person’s true identity is suppressed in order to fit the mould.
I find this heartbreakingly sad and totally unnecessary.
Secondly – and this is way more insidious in my opinion – these systems have led all of us (whether we are comfortable admitting it or not) to question exactly what a person who doesn’t fit “the type” has to offer. Thankfully we are talking about unconscious bias these days and I feel we have begun to do the work that will, hopefully, eradicate this. Until that happens, anyone who isn’t a cisgendered, able-bodied, heterosexual white man of privilege will, surely, at one time or another be made to feel that their opinion, their perspective, their insight, their contribution is lower in value to someone’s of “the type”. The common feeling of Imposter Syndrome is born directly out of this. #itsnotyourfault. So many of us have actually internalised negative ideas about our gender, our class, our ethnicity, our sexual preference, and truly believe certain ideas that have been commonly repeated but hold zero weight.
A classic example being “A woman’s place is in the home.” No, it’s not.
I think in recent years enough of us have collectively arrived at the place where we’re able to honestly say with conviction “This a load of bollocks”. We are ready to personally work through and release limiting self-beliefs. We are ready to unitedly face the fact that the power structures we have in place are of absolutely no service to the vast majority of the population and are therefore out of date. We are ready to actively and consciously dismantle these power structures that have allowed for so much oppression and start to co-create structures that allow for a fairer, more inclusive and diverse distribution of power. A by-product of this will be the eradication of pretence.

How wonderful to never have to pretend to be something we are not in order to fit into imposed standards of what a person with power looks like or what success looks like, or even what an “acceptable” way of living a life looks like.

But this puts us all in uncharted territory.
Have you got your pickaxe? And a good support team? You’re going to need them.
We have to think like pioneers. And like all pioneers before us, there is no map. This means we’re going to get lost, get it wrong, we’re going to have doubts, feel insecure. We’re going to find ourselves dangling off the side of a steep cliff face, with frostbite and exhaustion. However, we have to keep going. You know why, right? And, nope, it’s not about #livingyourbestlife. Firstly it’s the best way we have of honouring all those majestic trailblazing women that came before us (thanks mum!) and secondly it’s the best way we have of ensuring our daughters, our nieces, any and all young women don’t have to battle with this anymore. So let’s invest in all the latest equipment and build a team that will champion us while we discover new land. If you don’t like heights there’s a lot that can be done from the ground. The simple act of supporting women you know is valuable and necessary – encouraging words go a long way. Ready?
Be brave. Be imaginative. Envisage a future that you want for yourself, your family, your community, your world, and steadily move towards it – fearlessly, hopefully, believing wholeheartedly that just because something hasn’t existed before now doesn’t mean it can’t exist.
It can! Anything can exist. If you right now are feeling like there’s no space for what you want to contribute, what you want to achieve, what you’ve got to say, what you believe is possible, what you can imagine – please don’t be disheartened. Please don’t think it’s because you’re getting it wrong. Please don’t think it’s because you’re a crazy imposter. Please don’t think it’s because there isn’t a place for it. It probably just doesn’t exist yet.
You’re going to have to trailblaze. Carve it out. Create it.
Sure, it won’t be easy. But it will be worth it.
(For the curious among you who are still wondering what I do. I make really good pickaxes and teach people how to use them. Another way to look at it is that I’m a human version of the Instagram filter function. I empower my clients to see versions of themselves that they didn’t know existed.)

*I talk more about this in Part One – Agency.

By Sarah Jane

18th Feb 2021

by logo Elettra