I have a confession: I did not write my cover letter for my current job.
Obviously that is not strictly true but I am hoping I got your attention. Like most people applying for a job, I tried to get everyone to read and comment on every painstakingly-agonised-over word of my application. The most substantial changes came from my dear boyfriend, and it taught me a huge amount about the way my gender impacted my progression. Without his edits, I don’t think I would have been accepted.
What happened when Boyfriend edited my words? Phrases like ‘I analysed and..’ were replaced with ‘complementing my analytical skills...’ and ‘I have succeeded in this before…’. Most shockingly of all, the phrase ‘I possess core leadership and managerial abilities’ popped into the page.
“I can’t say that!” “Why not?” “Because I can’t! I’m a girl!”
‘I-can’t-I’m-a-girl’ was the genuine feeling - I wasn’t worried people would think I was arrogant, I was worried they would think I was being ‘unfeminine’. Perhaps it’s just me, but I somehow felt that – as a women, rather than a person – I just should not explicitly say that I was good at anything. Hint at it, fine, but not say it.
My ability to show off, or not, should not be affected by my gender but writing that application made me realise that my confidence in touting my skills was only partly down to my particular personality quirks, it had a lot to do with my gender. The fact that women will only apply for jobs if they meet 80% of the criteria (men apply at 40%) and that they are far less likely to push for raises confirms that, overall, women struggle to show off. What became so apparent to me in writing that application was just how comfortable Boyfriend was in saying things how they were, without any concern for…well, anything. To him, it was true, so he said it. The point is, I do possess leadership and analytical skills. So why shouldn’t I write it how it is?
I never used to see myself as a feminist when I was younger, I thought that feminism was over because girls were just as good as boys, obviously. As I have matured, I have realised that gender inequality is alive and well but my generation is tackling a very different set of issues today. For us, gender inequality is only partly about the ‘big ticket’ items like wage gaps and concrete rights on paper. Those battles were – thankfully – won by our mothers.
But the subtler aspects of inequality, like my inability to show off, are much harder to tackle and impact us all in a fundamental and pervasive way. They can be seen in continuing inequalities in the way women are represented in the media, the number of women in traditionally male areas such as science and – most pertinently – defence, the number of women that are still raped, the number of men who don’t look after their children, the number of women at home who don’t want to be, the subtle wage gaps that still exist, the inequalities in promotion, the fact that only fantastic women get to the top when many mediocre men do…
None of this is legislated for, or condoned openly, and little of it can be legislated away. When I realised that there was so much that still needed to be done, and that there were no simple solutions, I joined the Women’s Equality Party (WE) for the very reason that they recognise all these subtleties and actually want to change them. It is a party born out of impatience – why does any of this still happen? Why is any of this still an issue? Why do 70% of people in the UK find themselves incapable of seeing themselves as feminists?
However, as much as I love WE, the battle to change these subtleties is one we each have to take on every day. We all have to accept and challenge the expectations society imposes on us, and find ways to be authentically ourselves – and we have to do this all the time. We have to find the battles that suit our lives, whether in every day actions like telling the truth about our abilities in job applications or being, quite literally, on the frontline.