I’ll never forget the time a guy in my high school told me that there were no good female artists. And then he pulled the classic “fine then name one”, and when I went off with a list of them – because such is the fate of women, to constantly have to prove our basic competence when the same is assumed for men – he told me that none of those artists were in fact good.
The question becomes: who defines what’s good? And the answer is: men.
I remember feeling so rejected. Not just by him, but by a world which I increasingly believed would never appreciate anything that I could contribute to it. What was worse, it reinforced my belief that my support for something would only lessen its value. To this day, I have to consciously fight my instinct to be apologetic about my presence.
It’s surprising to me that one of my favourite quotes on this issue comes from Harry Styles, a member of One Direction, who says, “Who’s to say that young girls who like pop music — short for popular, right? — have worse musical taste than a 30-year-old hipster guy. That’s not up to you to say. Music is something that’s always changing. There’s no goal posts. Young girls like the Beatles. You gonna tell me they’re not serious? How can you say young girls don’t get it? They’re our future. Our future doctors, lawyers, mothers, presidents, they kind of keep the world going.”
For as long as I could remember, I was cooler if I was up on “boy stuff” like video games and sports and hard rock. And yet, my liking it made the thing somewhat less cool, and so there was a constant resistance to letting me into the communities built around the “boy things” that I actually did like, like hockey. I would be excluded from those communities on the basis that I was faking my fandom in order to be more attractive to guys or on the basis that I didn’t know all the same stats as they did. And God forbid I challenge the gendered nature of “boy things” by, for instance, asking why I’d never heard colour commentary done by a woman. I’m lucky they’re letting a chick in on the conversation at all, and here I go trying to make hockey “girly” (read: suck).
One of the best experiences of my life was working in a woman-dominated law firm. Being surrounded by strong, brilliant, assertive, and unapologetic women made me feel comfortable and empowered in a way that I didn’t realize was possible. And one of the best parts was when they would come into my office after hours and we would talk about shoes or hair, just like others might shoot the shit about golf or beer. And, on occasion, one of the male partners would drop by, and they were not only un-phased, they would engage – asking questions and showing interest in our answers. Like the first time I read a business textbook that defaulted to female pronouns: I was shocked that I felt so moved and, frankly, inspired by something I’d always deemed so trivial. In both instances, I felt truly welcome; it felt like I was living in a world that was made for someone like me instead of feeling like a fraud, ashamed of liking what I like and looking how I look and being who I am.
Sometimes it’s the little things that cut the deepest, like an offhand comment from a little know-nothing shit. Sometimes it’s the little things that can inspire us most, like a casual conversation in a professional environment about shoes. We can make an enormous difference in people’s lives just by making space for them to be who they are, even if we don’t always understand why they are that way.