I’m 10 years old and the chattering of teeth is audible in the 9am mist. Teachers warm their hands with their breath as kids spread out before them. We helicopter our arms for space, stretch out our legs and wait. Eventually, the opening chords of the Baha Men’s Who Let the Dogs Out ring across the netball court. When I’m older I’ll learn this song is about women the Baha Men deem ‘too ugly to sleep with’. Right now, I think it’s about puppies escaping the pound. The teachers must think so too, surely.
I love Jump Jam. I’m that kid who attends dance classes after school. I mean, sure – church dance classes – but still, it’s quite serious. We put on performances every term and it’s there I learn how to smile through an entire song, how to keep my chin up, how to dance like I mean it. Obviously, I employ the same skills here. In fact, I relish the opportunity – at dance class, I’m a junior, but here? I’m an expert. It never occurs to me I shouldn’t be dancing this way. It never occurs to me that everyone else is dancing at half-mast on purpose.
After the session finishes, we tie our jumpers around our waists and head toward our classrooms. It’s only now I notice the whispers and the glares. Then I hear it – “Ugh, she’s so up herself”.
Instantly, I crumple. It’s one of those lessons that takes place in the gut. Don’t be like that it hisses. Be smaller! Be less!
At later Jump Jam sessions I restrain myself, but the hisses don’t stop. I have a way of dancing that’s just too confident. The way I jump around makes it seem like I’m up myself.
A popular internet adage goes, ‘may you live your life with all the confidence of a mediocre white man’. The joke is aimed at women, implying that if we brilliant but whimpering girls simply sat at the table – the same way blokes do – generations of structural misogyny would fall to its knees. It comes from the Lean In strand of feminism, and it’s a pretty nice thought.
I mean, yeah, it’s nice to imagine that you can bend and twist your way out from under patriarchy. It’s lovely to think we could close the wage gap if we simply asked for money. It’s awesome to fantasise about demanding more in the workplace and getting it. It’s just that, uh… it’s complete bullshit.
Studies have proven that women ask for raises at the same rate men do – they just don’t get them. There’s also no evidence to suggest women are less assertive than men in negotiating raises. It’s just that – you’ll forgive the repetition – WOMEN DON’T GET THEM.
As the Lean In crowd has correctly pointed out (to give them some credit) success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. Think of the successful businessman trope – the type you’d see in a film or TV show. He drinks scotch and wears suits. Now contrast that with the high ranking businesswoman. She wears pencil skirts, glasses. Which of the two is more likely to be neurotic? High-maintenance? Humourless?
While most normal-thinking people would agree with the notion that ‘girls should be able to do anything boys do’, it turns out we don’t actually like seeing that transpire. It turns out that when women and girls are ambitious, we see them as up themselves. I’m guilty of it as much as you are. We all grew up in the same misogyny stew.
So, I’m calling bullshit on all of that. From now on, when the words calculated or pushy or a bit much or up herself enter my head, I’m gonna have a rethink. Like, a real long rethink.
It won’t bring patriarchy to its knees – but it’s something.Support Villainesse