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Time to call this out

I am certain that every family in Malta has that ‘one’ daughter – the one who was a rebel from the moment she arrived, ready to take on the world.

I inherited the crown from a favourite aunt and have held it for a number of years.  I’m delighted to say that I now share the title with a couple of would-be contenders and the competition for it is a joy.

I first noticed my crown at around the age of seven when I became aware that I wasn’t quite behaving in the manner expected of me and I began to note the daily disappointment in my parents’ voices each time I insisted on wearing my beloved denim dungarees.

They were the quintessential 70s chic as far as I was concerned. They looked cool, they made me feel cool and they didn’t get caught up in my bike chain – design perfection.

As a child, I wasn’t aware of the burden of expectations that I now know all too well existed. I was doing my ‘own thing’ and when I had to be reigned in I naturally resisted, challenging the decision and what I perceived at the time as a great injustice.

I never understood then why I started to attract the adjectives ‘awkward’, ‘difficult’, ‘argumentative’, ‘bloody-minded’, although I do now.

Your nature isn’t something you just wake up one morning and decide to put on like my cool pair of dungarees, changing it for something more refined later on in life.

It’s how you are and how you behave because of who you are. And if that nature is to question, to challenge and to be independent, then it appears that for many of us that it has meant a lifetime of apologising.

Like any ‘superpower’, we have to be taught how to use it and when to use it. This is a tough journey, but it is especially tough for that ‘one’ daughter brought up in an inherently misogynistic culture.

There are qualities that are valued as attributes in men but not in women. These same qualities are not only considered undesirable in women; they aren’t tolerated and when exhibited they are dismissed.

How many times have you heard or used the expressions “she’s just being difficult”, “she’s being awkward”, “she needs handling”?

As a woman, you hear these phrases all the time being said by men who should know better but who have never taken the time to actually consider why and what they are saying. This is cultural misogyny.

I don’t have a problem with people disagreeing with what I have to say. I don’t have an issue with people holding different opinions to mine. I don’t expect everyone to like me. But I do have a problem with not being afforded the same level of respect as my male counterparts.

When that respect is not forthcoming because of an outdated cultural bad habit that has never been challenged, the result is frustration and the natural tendency is then to be even more assertive in order to make yourself heard.

Yet this doesn’t work and is a total ‘own goal’ because when a woman is assertive she must be, by the very nature of the action, a “difficult” woman and that assumption allows her to be dismissed and discredited.

And so the game begins and some of the girls play the game finding ways of working around this cultural misogyny and manipulating the situation to achieve what they want in a modern form of evolution. Best of luck to them. Others accept the rules and resignedly plod on, oblivious.

But the gameplay and plodding on aren’t in my skillset. That means you have to accept behaviour that is inherently wrong, and that certainly isn’t in the set, so I challenge and have now added ‘militant’ and ‘crusading’ to my defining list of adjectives.

I was recently at a meeting having a rather lively conversation. There were five of us sitting in armchairs around a low table safely ducking each other’s gesticulating arms. A male acquaintance known to us all entered the room and came across to our table.

He stopped in front of me and scowled. He then, in a marginally aggressive tone, said to me, “why are you causing such a problem?” as he looked towards the remaining male guests. “This one always causes trouble,” he added.

This remark wasn’t directed to any of the men sitting at the table who were all equal participants in the conversation. It was directed at me and it singled me out. Why? If the participants had all been men, would that comment have been made?

It seems somewhat bizarre that in an age where everyone is rushing around trying to desperately acquire the latest device or branded ‘must have’ to prop up their faux social status, that no one bothers to update their outdated attitudes and values, which are the true reflection of status.

This inaction has enabled cultural misogyny to become an accepted part of our ‘normal’ to such an extent that most don’t realise they are doing it or being subjected to it… but now you know, so please stop.

And remember that it was one of these ‘difficult’ women who first called out the corruption in Malta and it is ‘difficult’ women who are now spearheading the fight against that same corruption.

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