The rise of female collectives has given rise to a sequence of questions. Are single sex collectives regressive? Are they necessary? Are they helping to widen or helping to bridge the gender gap? These valid questions are too often lost in the melee of hysterical “this is discriminatory against MEN” and “it’s 2016 THERE IS NO SEXISM” arguments that, frankly, I find almost as tiresome as the White Lives/All Lives Matter rhetoric. The people who make such arguments are often far too much focused on themselves to realise that the issue is not really about them, actually, and I lack the necessary patience to explain this. I would, however, like to join in the discussion on female collectives and the impact that the new wave are having.
Building on the first wave of female ‘consciousness raising’ groups, the new generation of collectives are about promoting professional collaborations between women, particularly within the creative world, a sphere traditionally dominated by men (outlets such as The Guardian, The Economist and Man Repeller have discussed this at length). These collectives exist to empower women and create the platforms where our goals and agendas can take centre stage. Much is made of the idea that such female led power groups are counterproductive and I have encountered a strange belief that if one supports the idea that they are a positive thing one must also be of the opinion that men and women cannot work collaboratively together on an even keel. This is, of course, not the case. Is it possible to women to be treated equally in the course of their work? Yes. Is it also possible for women to be treated unfairly in the course of their work? Yes.
I say this with a certain degree of confidence as, in my current position as a female company director with two male partners, I have experienced both sides of the equality coin. Within our company, gender is not and has never been an issue so, in this sense, I enjoy total gender equality (hooray!) It is all too common, however, for those whom we collaborate with to assume that I am there to take notes, “are you writing this down?”, to take for granted that I fall lower in the pecking order, “what is it like to work for those guys?” and, on one memorable occasion, to ask me to wait outside “while we (i.e. the men) get down to the nitty gritty”. I am more frequently interrupted, dismissed or ignored during talks and have been asked more than once if I need to “get approval from anyone else” before signing off on an agreement where my male partners have not. While this may sound like a laundry list of grievances, I truly know just how lucky I am. All that these small, casual acts of disrespect have left me is a skin tougher than a cheap steak and a permanent crease above my left eyebrow. In different sets of circumstance, the consequences of work based sexism can be damaging and, at worst, dangerous. It can knock a person’s confidence so harshly that a valid voice is silenced forever. It is because of this that I have such deep respect for the girls who are banding together, who are creating new networks, who are promoting each other and who are creating spaces in which they feel that they can produce their best work. To my mind, this can only be force of good.
To those who say that they are unnecessary, that they are a passing trend or that they are an example of discrimination against men, I would say that these collectives have clearly not been created for you. They have been created by women, for women who would like to be a part of one, women who feel they can gain something positive from the experience. It is so obviously not about hating men, nor is it about excluding them or attempting to exert dominance within particular field. As I have said, it is really not about them at all.
See also >> Female Collectives: Who They Are