Is it bad feminism to play the system?
Is it possible to benefit off the patriarchy and still be a feminist?
In my repertoire, I have what my mother refers to as my ‘phone voice’. This is typically what I put on when I want something. Think vulnerable little girl. I know. Not very empowering.
I didn’t realise it at first, in my defence. It’s not like I’ve set out to be manipulative. But subconsciously, my brain knows that it works. High pitched, shy and slightly flirtatious goes a weirdly long way. I did a mini experiment on this yesterday: two calls with male journalists, my normal voice for one, my Phone Voice™ on the other.
Suspicions confirmed. Playing the sweet little girl got me exactly what I wanted. Being a pragmatic, professional Madelaine on the other hand, despite asking for the same thing, did not. In social behaviourism, we call this weird change of speech ‘codeswitching’.
But am I a bad feminist for playing up to what a lot of men want?
Answer A: (Most commonly found among 80s career women and terrifying baby boomers)
My successful, older female friends would argue that as a young woman, I need everything I can get to get ahead. Being seductive or, as they’d call it ‘using my assets’ is just common sense and it would be ridiculous not to. “Men,” a successful (anonymous) source from the same generation told me, “will always respond to you more positively if you look and act in a way that doesn’t threaten them. Always keep the illusion going that they could, in a fantasy reality, seduce you.”
For that generation of women (55+) female sexuality is power. They don’t see explotiation from that as something that can be changed, so why bother? Even the idea that men expecting me to act sexily for them was bad got their eyes rolling. “You can’t change biology, Maddie. You’re a 22 year old woman in a male world. Use what you’ve got or lose out.”
Answer B: (More commonly found in my millennial generation)
Yes. Stop it.
My generation of women tend to side more with the autonomy side of the debate. We tend to believe that people have more choice over their behaviour and as such, we are able to expect social change in our systems. A common argument is that if most modern men are horrified by the idea of treating a woman like something in a Carry On film, then they are capable of changing this fabled ‘boys will be boys’ attitude to young women in the workforce.
As such, if we expect men to change their behaviour towards us and not slap our behinds or comment on our sex lives, we should reflect on our own behaviour and autonomy in relation to misogyny. And so I really shouldn’t be perpetuating sexist expectations and power dynamics by doing the whole sweet and vulnerable thing (even if it works).
As with so many things, sometimes morality and social ethics come in balance with privilege. In any service industry, not just my own, you have to decide what your threshold for business related interaction is pretty early in your career. What are you prepared to do to get ahead? We’ve come a long way from being expected to do whatever it takes (sordid or not) to achieve, but you bet your last dollar that you’ll find yourself sacrificing small dignities to secure what you want (smiling at idiots, laughing at their jokes, putting up with illicit knee grabbers).
I guess I’m going to have to work out what that balance is. Ultimately, I think that’s a decision every woman has to make for herself.