By Sharon Hayes
“If not me, then who?” is a question I’ll often ask of those who ask me why I’m involved with Spicie. Although we have a growing fan base, I’ve had a few friends question why I’d want to be involved with anything of a controversial nature given I’m in business. The longer answer is what I’m about to share.
Being a woman is inescapable
I absolutely love being a woman. Nothing against men (I do adore men!) but there’s not a single molecule in my body that would want to be male. I’ve never been a girly girl, high maintenance or into what are “perceived” to be a lot of normal female interests. I can also be a hard ass when the situation demands it.
What I don’t love is living in a world where, even as a strong woman, I can be violated – be it physically, emotionally or financially. I’ve struggled with weight issues intermittently because on some level, I feel it shields me when I leave my doors and go out into the world.
During my lifetime so far, I’ve dealt with more episodes of being violated than I’d wish on my worst enemy.
At reasonably young ages, within a 2 year time frame, I was raped by 2 different male friends. In both cases, there was no encouragement or provocation on my side. The word, “no,” was used – repeatedly in fact. In the first case, I was lost and didn’t know what to do. Nothing happened. In the second case, I went to the local police station to file a report. I can still remember to this day shaking standing at the counter and how embarrassed I felt. His father was a police detective and the officer who took my statement recognized the name even though it was not even in the same city. I walked out. Shamed. Embarrassed.
While in university, I worked at a financial company in their tax department for a brief period. There was a fellow male student working there as well. Our educational backgrounds were comparable but my grades were higher. I had more experience than he did having worked at a different firm than he did the previous year. Imagine my shock to find out that while I was making $12 an hour, he was making $16 an hour for the same work! I asked the office manager about this and was given no answer. I spoke to one of the managing partners that same day and he said nothing. I quit.
A year later, I got a position as an executive assistant at a large company. Although I did not report directly to him, an executive over the department I was in made several overt gestures towards me. It started off as being harmless flirtatious remarks which would leave me feeling flustered and unable to know how to appropriately deflect it. The words turned into actions one day when he called me to go to his office. When I got to his office door, he called me in. He got up from his desk and went behind me to close the door. Imagine my shock when he made comments about my dressing for his attention as he put one hand behind me and up under my skirt and placed the other under my jacket and moved towards my breast. I was wearing a professional looking skirt suit. The skirt was, I admit, short, but not inappropriate and it was more short because I am short myself and I was young at the time. The next few minutes were a blur but I somehow found myself at the personnel office. I sat down with a HR manager and related what had been happening. The solution was to transfer me to another department immediately. Two months later, I found myself out of work in spite of exceptional performance reports.
Just a few years later, the Monica Lewinsky “scandal” broke. This hit me surprisingly hard. I tried talking to some friends about it, but they didn’t get me. It was consensual, so what was the big deal? She didn’t directly report to him, so what was the issue? We didn’t know – and probably never will – the real story of what transpired between Lewinsky and Clinton and what went through their heads. Was it an abuse of power? Was it a form of sexual harassment even if it was consensual? I can’t speak for others but my own moral compass, having been in a comparable situation, told me it was wrong.
There’s the Hillary factor here to consider too. I have a hell of a lot of respect for the woman but this is one issue I continue to have a difficult time with. I believe in private lives being kept out of politics. If a man (or woman) has an affair, so be it. However, this wasn’t simply a matter of private lives. This was a workplace issue.
Fast forward over the next several years as I worked at building a business. I wanted to grow a serious business. I worked out of a beautiful downtown Montreal office for several years. The reality is that running a business, meeting with prospective clients and actual clients… I had zero shields. The odds were pretty much that 1 in 6-10 men I had to deal with would either make an inappropriate remark, look at me in an inappropriate way or do something else that would make me feel like I needed to take a shower. I had to be conscious of what I wore, especially when it came to anything that would reveal cleavage or shape.
I ended up moving my business entirely online. But even with that, I was not entirely safe from discrimination – even from other woman. Much of the work in the early days was providing technically-oriented marketing services. Even as owner of the company, there were many occasions where prospects and clients would ask if they could have my “supervisor” or a “male tech” help them. For a short while, I created a male alter ego I used for email customer support when I’d want to fill in.
I wish I could say this was everything, but even this isn’t the entire list. And for the potential misogynists reading this, I was definitely not asking for any of this.
I’m Not Alone
This is a case where I have to say, “Screw official statistics,” since I know a lot of issues never get reported. But I know that I’m far from being alone in my experiences.
Almost all of my close female friends have been either sexually molested or raped.
Several of my close female friends have determined that weight issues they struggle with are rooted in wanting to avoid unwanted attention.
Many of my female friends have admitted at some point feeling they could not dress as they wanted to in a specific situation because they wanted to avoid unwanted attention.
I’ve had several friends tell me that they have dealt with pay inequality or not gotten promotions because of their gender.
The gender-based problems I’ve addressed here represent just a small portion of the issues. And yes, things are getting better in some areas. In education, for example, females have made huge gains.
This Isn’t Just About Men versus Women
Before you jump to the conclusion that I blame men for all of this – I am not a man-hater and most of my best friends are male – I want to share a couple of personal beliefs:
First, men and women are wired differently. This doesn’t excuse certain behavior or actions by any means. But why do some men so easily cross the line of inappropriateness when the majority don’t and can draw lines? Is it education, awareness, upbringing, culture or a combination of things?
Second, women, collectively speaking, are as much to blame as men. You may be shocked reading this given what I’ve shared, but I believe this. As a whole, we need to speak up more. As mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, and friends, we need to make men aware. We need to make sure we support lawmakers who continue to push forward on legislation promoting equality and safety for women. There are a couple of other aspects to women being at least partially at fault in some cases but that would require a whole other post.
Where Spicie Comes In
I don’t want to get into great detail about the origins of Spicie. (If you want to know the exact sequence of events, you can read about it here.) The nutshell version of it is that several women were talking one night on Facebook about an issue specific to women. This evolved into a discussion of how mainstream media rarely represents the female-side of issues – even when it’s not a gender-specific topic. We decided to do something about it and give a voice to women.
In my role as Publisher, I really take a backseat and let the fabulous women on our team dictate what we’ll be covering and how. We’re less interested in positions – not all of us have the same beliefs – than we are in broadening awareness.
The Price of Spicie
Our content at Spicie has been a big mix. Although we cover some lighter topics, we also have dug deep into some serious ones. But it has come with a price. We’ve had to contend with server attacks. Many of us have had to deal with personal attacks. I’ve been called a liberal feminist lesbian (and I’m neither a liberal nor a lesbian and only recently realized I am a feminist). Friendships have been lost. We’ve had interest from sponsors but only if they have some input in our content. So right now, this project (which costs a lot in time and money to maintain) is one of passion rather than profit.
Over the coming months, we’ll be revamping Spicie – more cosmetic-related but also introducing things to help us broaden the reach of our message. But there are two things you can count on: we won’t be sanitizing our content to appease and we’ll continue to cover the tough topics.
Ultimately, what we do is worth the price. I hope you’ll agree.
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