November 7, 2013

A chain round your neck

Earlier this week I found myself engaged in a twitter discussion about whether or not I would wear a necklace with the word “feminist” on it at work. Granted the original question was whether one would wear it in the boardroom, and my work couldn’t be further from a boardroom, but my initial feeling was no, I wouldn’t.

I was thinking particularly about antenatal classes, which are usually attended by couples. Many of my clients are busy career women who might themselves have interesting answers to this question, but it felt at first that it would be an unnecessarily provocative statement to make in the context in which I work. I already have to face some quite deeply erroneous perceptions and pre-judgement of what a Breastfeeding Counsellor is going to be like, without adding another idea into the mix. A lot of my work is about getting inside the heads of people who have never had a baby but are faced with anxiety-inducing, pressure-laden prospect of breastfeeding it; my suspicion is that there are just as many and varied and not always kind pre-judgements of what a feminist might be, or at least of the sort of person who would wear a feminist necklace.

It was suggested on twitter that perhaps I felt it inappropriate to show my feminist side in my work, which really got me thinking. I think the work of a Breastfeeding Counsellor is deeply feminist: empowering women to make positive choices [and just to be sure, I mean “positive” as in choices they are happy about, not choices that I approve of], and supporting them to follow through those choices; and sharing information with women and men about the amazing and yet completely normal things our bodies do. I’m not hiding my feminism by not wearing a necklace about it; I’m simply doing feminism and not holding up a card to point it out to people.

On top of all that, I don’t see why I would use one single word to describe myself. I’m a bit more complex than that, like most people. I have a lot of roles, as I found when I tried to write one of those twitter bios that shows how amazing you are in so many different ways. I’d need chain mail, not just a single pendant. Or a charm bracelet.

Which brings me to my final reason for not wearing a feminist necklace: it’s just not my style. I usually forget to put my watch on, and I had a bracelet tattooed on my arm so I didn’t have to be annoyed by something clattering around my wrist. I say: it’s not what you say you are, it’s what you are that matters.

Karen

7 thoughts on “A chain round your neck

  1. I agree with you that in your context, I wouldn’t wear the necklace, while in the context of the woman who wrote the article, I absolutely would. If I worked in a counseling role like you do, I would strive to be an empathetic, receptive and supportive slate, without cluttering the room with any extra ideologies that could cloud perception or invite judgement – exactly as you say, your work is already inherently feminist.

    Whereas I can also see in the dominantly macho culture of a startup, or really any small business, I would delight in being able to wear that necklace because it puts the concept in the room without having to say anything, a bit of a blingy litmus test.

  2. Yes, I’m glad you said that Krissa, I was hoping someone could put that perspective. I’m still not sure, I’m not keen on labels as a replacement for action.

  3. Ah, but Krissa, in that kind of atmosphere, you’re assuming that the macho males are looking at your neck, instead of a bit lower down…

    (Although admittedly that does get affected by the length of the chain on which said pendant is hanging)

  4. Interesting.

    I have recently purchased a ‘Some people are Bi, get over it’ t-shirt, but not yet worn it.

    Why? Because I don’t feel the need to shout it out, and yes partly because of what the reaction may be.

  5. I’m not sure that shouting out your opinions about *whatever* in a professional environment is a constructive thing to do. It starts to look like you’re out for an argument even before you’ve opened your mouth. You wouldn’t go around the office or to visit a client with a t-shirt saying “I vote Tory, so what?” or “I’m an anarchist, so what?” or even “I’m left handed, want to make something of it?” – well, I wouldn’t, anyway.

    Also, I’m not sure all small businesses are macho and aggressive. Mine isn’t. In fact, we’ve been known to hug people. Maybe we’re just soft. Perhaps I should get a t-shirt that says “I’m soft, so f*** you!”

    I just wonder how relevant one’s beliefs are to 99% of professional situations.

    Of course, *outside* the professional environment, you might reasonably do something different. But, in these days of social media and online living, the line between professional and personal is increasingly blurred.

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