Pretty (&) smart for a feminist: my personal issue on defining feminism

At work, with my horrible habit of “smiling too much”

I was 25 years-old when I worked for “O Globo”, one of the biggest newspapers in Brazil. I was a young journalist who had just finished with an MBA and moved from a small inland town in Brazil to Rio de Janeiro, the second largest city in the country. I covered social media and technology during a really exciting era — Twitter was filing to go public, Snapchat was rising to prominence, and the term “selfie” had just been added to the Oxford dictionary. I was full of energy and excited about my budding new career in journalism. A few months later, I received a piece of peculiar feedback from a coworker of mine. He pulled me aside:

— Do you know why a lot of people here don’t like you?

— Wait. What? — Stunned, I raised my eyebrows in confusion and asked why. His next words still stay with me today:

— You smile too much. No one can trust a person that sweet.

I couldn’t believe what I heard. Was he kidding? Was I coming across as naive? Even worse — childish? Two characteristics that for most people don’t fit the journalism scene. I later discovered that “too nice” was his polite way of calling me “flirtatious and easy”.

From then on, I started to observe how I acted and how people behaved towards me. I began to notice some obnoxious looks and malicious comments from both men and women. It was hard to accept that this was all triggered by my horrible habit of “smiling too much”.

It was only after I experienced my first big win at work that I understood what the real problem was. I got a scoop* for the International section during my weekend duty. *In Journalism, a scoop is an original story reported by one journalist before others.

The next day,many of my coworkers congratulated me on the piece and one of them even mentioned to one of my bosses how talented I was and how lucky he was to have me on his team. Later that day, he pulled me aside and asked how I got the scoop. I explained that I talked to one of the press secretary of the government who gave me the details I needed to cover the story. He smirked:

— Of course, he did. He saw your face and gave you everything, huh?

Offended and extremely, disgusted I snapped back:

— He never saw my face. We talked on the phone.

To which my boss responded:

— Oh, well. In that case, good for you! But you will never know if you are smart or just too pretty.

And there you have it. It was never about people thinking I “smiled too much” People had problem with how I looked and carried myself.

They doubted my ability and performance based on my appearance: a young, good looking girl. They assumed that I was using my appearance to get what I wanted, not my intelligence, education, or past experience.

I am not trying to be arrogant here. I’m proud of who I am and how I look. I have no aim to portray myself as a victim either. I just think it’s really fucked up that this kind of situation even happened. I’m tired of hearing compliments about my work performance directly as a reflection with the way I look. Of course it wouldn’t surprise anyone to share that most of the time these comments come from men, in a managerial or higher position than mine.

It’s difficult to address this issue because I know how common it is for so many women, but I don’t think we have talked about it enough. That’s why I’m sharing with you one of the many frustrating experiences. I’m tired of hearing the same stories over and over again. So, I’ve decided to speak up and share my reasons to fight for women’s rights and empowerment.

In the effervescent world of open-minded people, where recreational weed is legal, gay marriage is allowed and Instagramers (aka SELL-ebrities) make more money than anyone else, being a feminist has become another “cool” thing to put in your social media’s bio.

Don’t get me wrong. We live in exciting times, many prejudices have been brought to light and taboos have been broken.

I feel very lucky to live in California and to be able to witness this slow, yet real transformation. In a short walk around the block I can simultaneously wave at a lesbian couple holding hands and drinking kombucha, pass by a group of friends rolling a joint, and, acknowledge a vegan-celebrity on the restaurant around the corner. It’s not rare to see a girl wearing a T-shirt that says “Feminist AF” or find stores selling swag with words of women empowerment.

Being feminist is trending, it’s cool. But for me, it’s still a very complex and confusing term. The more I read about it, the more unclear and complex the topic becomes. I’m convinced that not everyone understands what being a feminist means and I’m extremely concerned that there is intentional misuse of the term for capitalistic interests — e.g Forever XXI and H&M displays.

Emma Watson did an excellent job explaining what it meant for her to consider herself as a feminist. So did Meghan Markle. I believe in equal rights for men and women. The recent news about Iceland making it illegal to pay men more than women, for example, excites me and gives me a spark of hope that society is on the right path for gender equality.

Please note that when I say “gender equality”, I’m specifically referring to men and women being guaranteed the same rights. I’m not saying that men and women are equal. Let’s face it:

Men and women are biologically different

No one can deny this. We have different hormones that set our moods and control the way our body works on many levels. We have different body structures, strengths and weaknesses. Not to mention vaginas and penises.

It moves us to discover and explore the other gender as unknown creatures. For me, we are all human beings lost in the universe trying to make sense of things. That’s what unites us. (Call me cheesy, I don’t care!).

Still there are radical feminists that advocate for the end of male species. Some of them even support studies on rare species that can reproduce without the presence male, like the Leaping Lesbian Lizards and other vertebrate species such as sharks, turkeys, Komodo dragons, snakes and rays. To be fair, I have nothing against these studies. I believe women should be in control of their bodies completely; if a woman wants to have a baby with another woman, and if science improves to that point. Brilliant!

But, I also think that men play an important role in generating and educating new lives; I hope they stay around for as long as we do. Nevertheless, these studies may be necessary in a hypothetical catastrophic scenario where males are scarce (epidemic of male-specific diseases, wars, alien attack?!).

Jokes aside. The fact that men and women are different is all the more reason to better understand each other. What intrigues me is that our differences are what intrinsically sets us apart. Maybe and just maybe it’s not a shift in social norms would be able to unite and democratize the world for both: men and women.

For example, if you believe the evolutionary aspect of how men and women evolved, you may admit that the skills that each gender developed were directly related to the role each played in the early days. Men would hunt and women would gather. You may also agree with the generalization that women communicate better than men, and that men usually have a better sense of space and location. But even these beliefs could be proven false. A study conducted at University College London has suggested that inequality was an aberration created with the advent of agriculture and that prehistoric tribes operated on egalitarian basis. Guess what was the competitive advantage that lead men to start “winning” the game?

Money. When people started accumulating resources, men started having more than one wife — they would then be able to father more children. Consequently, men would have more labor, capital and land. And until now they would dominate all the industries and important roles of society.

How do we deal with such paradox?

The funny thing with this story is that the basic biological component that lets women generate life is ovulation. When her egg is not fertilized, she gets her period. And what happens to most women during the month?

That’s right: PMS (Premenstrual syndrome).

When I PMS, I feel bloated, my mood swings in full flow, my breasts hurt, my skin breaks out, and I have horrible cramps.

Yes, my period affects me deeply and many times; I feel criticized, humiliated and diminished of my capacity because of “that time of the month”. Often times, I hear men commenting about my mood, appetite, and even about my decision-making when I am about to have my period.

I personally enjoy getting my period every month. It makes me feel like a woman. It’s a sort of reminder that I can generate life and it empowers me.

But one thing is true: PMSing is not fun. And the last thing I need at these moments is a man commenting about my behavior.

Maybe if we talk with them about the topic we could help them understand how we feel. We need to break this taboo. BTW, look how old is the root of sexism in our culture:

I don’t even want to dive deeper into religion and mention the passages on the Bible and Koran that refers to women as impure when they are menstruating.

Hello! We are about to travel by Hyperloop and merge human brain with AI — it’s a shame that we haven’t overcome these gender differences yet. Perhaps, a good way for men to understand women’s PMS is to view it from a science perspective:

As a result of these gender differences and stereotypical comments, these notions inevitably carry back to the professional workplace. A work place that requires requires both sexes to work with each other. However, our work ethic has still been viewed as inferior. Negative comments on female menstruation are not only disrespectful, but also unnecessary. In the same way as comments about a woman’s appearance and how it relates to her performance.

These are just two of the many aspects I am eager to talk about here. There are so many other issues that bother me and confuse me when it comes to feminism. I hope to write about them soon.

How about you? What is unclear or confusing for you about feminism and gender equality? Leave your comment! I would love to hear what you have to say.

Thanks for reading and See You Next Tuesday! ;-)

Let’s connect! Tell me your about your journey in the comments and/or follow me on Twitter: @anaclaraotoni.

Journalist. Sustainability, Social Justice & Gender Equality. Becoming Odara daily. Passionate about life, sexuality & wine. Mugs lover.