Monday, April 8, 2019


So I have a new favorite live performance video, which is this one of Electric Fields performing Nina, their song comprised of lyrics made up of a speech by Nina Simone. It is brilliant and magical and electric and electrifying and I cannot get enough of it. Wow I haven't gone for a live show forever. "What's freedom to me? Same thing it means to you - you tell me!"

I was reading Feminists Don't Wear Pink (and other lies), a compilation of essays on feminism. I chose some of my absolute favorites, although the entire book is a precious gem, and have included them in some posts. Viv had borrowed the book from the library, then thought it was "very me", so she passed it to me, and wow, I love it.

Also, I was very literally bored, and this happened. Ariana Grande is such a mood.

My best friend Han says, regardless what happens, April 1 2021 is my deadline to start or least receive a placement in university, and April 1 2031 is my deadline to have cleared all my student loans incurred. She gave me 5 years to clear them after I graduate. She also told me I have to put this on here, so I'm accountable for it. HAHAHAHA. Find you some best friends who are insane planners if you ain't one, maybe it'll help compensate for the lack of planning in your parents and family?????


by Olivia Perez

There was no exact point in time when I felt I had come into my own feminist. There was no ah-ha moment, no specific anecdote that jolted my body into a state of rage against the patriarch. I was genetically bred to be an unruly woman. I was raised in Los Angeles by a Jewish, French Moroccan father and a Serbian mother in a Brady Bunch family of strong female figures - four sisters, two stepmothers, three godmothers, and a mom who dedicated her life to raising fearless women in a town that didn't necessarily breed security. My upbringing was undertaken by women I aspired to become - women who co-existed despite multiple marriages, divorces and backgrounds, supported one another and their children unconditionally, and taught me that being soft-spoken was not an option, especially at our dinner table. 

When I was two, my parents enrolled me in ballet. I studied ballet into my adulthood, practising after school and on weekends, touring every summer, and performing seasonally. Being a ballerina was like living in a state of constant adversity. I would wake up every day and dress myself to physically blend in with my class - pink tights, black leotard, hair in a tight bun - but then dance under the immense pressure to outshine. I would work myself as hard as a professional athlete, and was then expected to appear frail, delicate and feminine. Remember your steps, control your temperament, be feminine here, be masculine there, look pretty, move quickly, stay on the beat, transcend, captivate, all at once. From a young age I was trained to defy the odds, rise above obedience and move people with just my physical presence. I was trained to demand attention. I was trained never to question my place as a woman centre stage. 

My feminism is inherent. It's not a trait, adjective, label or by-line but an orientation towards the world. Today, I'm twenty-four years old and live in New York City where I run my company Friend of a Friend, an editorial community based on telling untold stories and lending a platform for women to find their individuality through expressing everyday experiences. I live with that same demand for the world's attention because there is no space I will ever accept for women other than centre stage. All the opportunities in the world are ours for the taking and ours to be shared. There is no time more important than now, in 2018, for women to show up for each other and push each other towards our own spotlights. There is no better time for us to be loud, strong and unruly. I've made it my mission to be an ally to the women in this generation, to break down misogynistic stereotypes, remove walls that divide them, and create a community grounded in supporting one another. In my experience as a young woman, a female business owner, a daughter, sister and friend, I've learned that being a feminist isn't so much about your own voice, but how you use your stage to encourage and support other women to find theirs. 

1. Show up for women, physically and emotionally. Whether it's sending your girls a daily text to check in, being a shoulder to cry on, calling your mother, supporting female-founded companies, or smiling at a woman on the street, be an advocate for supporting our community in any and every way.

2. Create environments for women to take up space. In my experience of hosting panels, events, talks, interviews or even just a girls' night, there's nothing more gratifying than watching women thrive in an environment where they feel able to be themselves and use their voice.

3. Be transparent with each other. Be open about jobs, salaries, relationships, sex life, hardships, successes, botox, everything. Secrecy breeds jealousy because the unknown makes us insecure. By having these conversations with each other, we empower our experiences, good or bad, and create a foundation of shared experiences that make us feel supported rather than alienated.

4. Don't lift a woman up by tearing another woman down.

5. Collaborate, don't compete. Competition thrives on insecurities. Identify those women you feel you're sitting across the table from and sit next to them. Find a common ground. Wanting women to succeed without jealousy is the definition of grace.

6. Strive to say more than 'You look pretty'. Remind the women in your life that the space they take up in your life and the world is not dependent on physical attributes.

7. Never miss an opportunity to facilitate moments of learning between men and women. It's easy to fall victim to stereotypes by saying a man is 'just being an asshole' or 'men will be men' when helping women to cope with gender issues, whether in the bedroom, the boardroom, or beyond. Be an active ally for both genders by advocating accountability and a level playing field.

8. Hire women, train women, mentor women. Be the vehicle that turns a young woman with big dreams into the badass woman she is destined to be.

9. Carry lipstick, pain relief like Tylenol or aspirin, and tampons, always. Save a sister, make a new friend.

10. Step up to the spotlight. Not just as an example for others but for yourself. Take every opportunity, challenge and risk that comes your way without questioning your worth, ability or place as a woman. And once you find your light, don't be afraid to be a little unruly.


by Jameela Jamil

Bloody hell, where do I start?

I suppose when writing something about feminism I can't help but feel that it's not only us who should be learning and growing, being armed with motivation and understanding.

I think so many women have the power to tackle misogyny in their own homes. It starts by never taking for granted how poisonous society can be to the male psyche, and protecting boys from the onslaught of misinformation everywhere. They are bombarded with dangerous imagery, song lyrics, peer pressure and often quite damaging / violent / entirely-intimacy-free pornography, all of which is sold to them as a glamorous and realistic norm. Men are throttled with toxic masculinity and given made-up ideals that they are forced to subscribe to. They are belittled and rejected when they show signs of sensitivity. They are mocked and insulted when they show their pain or 'care too much'. Songs that are kind to women, or that talk about feelings, are considered 'wet' or labelled 'sad boy music'. It's such a potent, rotten marinade that boys grow up being soaked in.

Don't get me wrong - this isn't some 'poor boys' appeal. It's just that, in my opinion, it's as if men are recruited young and brainwashed, in order to be indoctrinated and manipulated into an oppressive patriarchal institution. This is a call to arms for the women who have boys growing up in their houses...

We have a lot of work to undo...

Mothers, sisters and aunties, I implore you to take this little sponge and render him sodden with humanity and an understanding of women. It will send him into this delusional world with an armour of empathy and self-assurance, with an understanding that a strong woman is something to celebrated and not feared / crushed / undermined / spoken over / stopped / humiliated / shamed / blamed / discouraged / controlled / told that to be worth anything in this world she must have big tits but a small waist and thin arms, oh, and a big pert arse but absolutely no thighs and a young face (forever).

All you have to do is tell him the truth.

Tell him what happened to us.

Tell him our whole story. Tell him how only very recently we were able to fight, protest, beg and starve our way to basic human rights. Tell him that a long time ago, as far back as you can imagine, men became afraid of women. Women could make people inside their bodies; they could feed those people using just their bodies. They had an extreme and quite scary tolerance for pain, and were distracting and beguiling for men. On top of all this, we were equally able to learn, to hunt, to keep ourselves and our kin alive. AND we have tits. TITS. Who doesn't love tits? Whatever size. They are simply fantastic. Men feared that, other than their semen, women had little need for them. And actually we were very self-sufficient and tough, while at the same time being able to arouse men and sometimes drive them quite mad with love/lust/possessiveness. We held quite a lot of power. And so, using the only thing they had over us (physical power), men fear-mongered an entire gender into submission and controlled us for thousands of years.

Tell him that we work the same hours, with the same skill sets and the same qualifications and get paid much less, just because we were born with different chromosomes.

Tell him we were only recently allowed to choose who we love, rather than be sold by our fathers to the highest bidder, however unattractive / unkind / unsafe / boring / old that man may be, with no question as to what we wanted.

And tell him this is still going on in many countries around the world today. We are still second-rate citizens in many places.

Tell him what it's like to be a woman. Tell him we have to be on guard, literally ready to protect our lives, every time we walk down the street at night, walk through a park, get into a cab, take a train, go out drinking, walk to our car, go on a date, be in a lift with a stranger, be in ANY BASEMENT EVER. Sometimes we even have to feel afraid in our own houses because there is a constant threat to our safety from men, both strangers and the ones we know. Make him sympathize with us and feel protective over us.

Tell him to cry when he is sad, tell him how important it is to talk about his feelings. Tell him it is better to be soft and strong rather than be hard and weak. Never let anyone tell him to 'stop being a girl' when he is showing sensitivity. By narrowing our ridiculous prescribed gender roles, we will come closer together and no longer be such a mystery to one another, which will dilute the fear and mistrust men have towards us. And, by making him a more mentally stable and secure person, you will greatly lessen the likelihood of him being swayed by our insecure and pathetic patriarchy.

Treat him with kindness and empathy. Make him feel safe. Do not betray his trust. Your relationship with him will shape his entire outlook on women. So that in every girl he looks at, he will see you, and feel love and respect. Make sure he confides in you from a young age, so you will have a sense of what poison is pouring into him, and do not judge him (to his face - you can totally judge him behind his back, and to your friends....) and explain the correct, fair path in a way that makes it sound fun and appealing.

Tell him about sex. Not just reproduction. Sex. The pleasurable fun part of it. The joy of equal pleasure and enthusiastic consent. Do not shy away from this. Do not make it an awkward topic in your house. If you push him into the shadows, he will find Pornhub in there and that will become his teacher. And nobody wants that shit. Nobody. Learning to have sex from porn is like learning how to drive from The Fast and the Furious. A bloody horrendous idea.

Tell him it's OK to watch porn but to know that it's a fantasy, sometimes a downright lie, and that the women are acting, and they are being paid to pretend to enjoy every *brilliant* thing the man comes up with. Explain to him that real women are specific and nuanced and that sex where she feels wanted, appreciated and catered to will be ten times better than when she's doing what he wants to do, even though she isn't in the mood, just because she's afraid of disappointing him. That's not sex - that's just a wank he's using a woman's body for. Hell, show him a documentary about the truth behind porn. Scar him for life.

Tell him about the history of the word 'No' for women and how new it is to our vocabulary, and how, if he were to abuse our historical conditioning to bend to the whims of men, it would be the greatest sin and sign of weakness he could show. And when it comes to sex tell him technical consent isn't the gold standard but the complete basic foundation, and anything less than a woman being enthusiastic about something sexual that is about to happen is a bad thing and a sign that he must stop whatever he is doing and talk to her.

Tell him that being generous in the bedroom will be reported far and wide among women across the lands, because we tell each other everything; the tales shall travel far and wide, and his name shall become legend among us.

Tell him about your hopes and dreams so he grows up wanting them for you and feels as though they are important. Tell him how you feel. Don't always be perfectly stoic as we have been conditioned to pretend we are, which in turn means that men overestimate our coping ability and then push us to the fucking edge. Build a man who understands that we are only human and have needs and sometimes need help.

Tell him that we are smart. Show him smart women you admire. Tell him to look for that in a girl. Show him films with tough female leads from when he's young.

Tell him that we are funny. Show him funny women.

Tell him we are strong. Tell him that's a good thing. Tell him it's cool. Tell him it's sexy. Show him how strong you are. Don't just pick up after him. Don't just pick up after his father. Command the respect you deserve.

Be his friend. Be his teacher. Spend your life with and raise him in front of a good man who shares your beliefs and respects you.

Do not ever sell yourself short.

We may have to fight our generation of men (and the one before that) for our rights, our safety and for our voices to be heard, which is sad and frustrating. But we have a golden window of opportunity to completely shape the future of our entire society from our living rooms. Build these men from scratch to fit women, rather than to take up all the space and force us to compact ourselves to the little corner allocated to us by them.

God, we must be pretty amazing to have overcome all of this shit. Tell him.


by Angela Yee

Growing up, when I heard the word 'feminist' I always pictured braless white women rallying and making demands that were foreign to me. The issues I dealt with in school, at work and even at home were just the norm. Of course my brother had more freedom than I did - he's a boy. Of course in high school I had to protect my reputation as best I could, while the boys were applauded for having fingers that smelled like pussy. When I had internships during college, I was able to brush off comments about my appearance and I made a conscious effort to wear baggy clothes so I wouldn't draw attention to myself. And when I graduated from Wesleyan University, armed with my English degree and a plethora of internship experience under my belt, I jumped right into the music industry.

There are too many incidents to name that happened to me and countless others during my twenty-plus years working in marketing, management and radio. I can recall the most blatant situation. I was working for a small label, and they had just secured a deal providing office space and overhead for their employees. I was the first person they hired, being lured away from my position as assistant to the CEO at Wu-Tang Management to become the General Manager. I was only twenty-three years old, so I was excited about the salary bump and the new title. Not to mention, they had one of the hottest artists signed to them, which was how they had inked the deal in the first place.

In one of my first 'mistakes', which I refer to as a life lesson in retrospect, I should have never left my position at Wu-Tang for one with a fancier title and more money. I ended up passing the days watching the clock tick and doing things like sharpening pencils for the elderly white male partner, who was adamant that I should not have any power or authority. He couldn't understand why they'd hired a young black girl in the first place. But he was still using pencils? The younger black male partner consistently rolled up to the office wearing sunglasses at any hour he pleased, with stories of deals he'd brokered and women he'd conquered, most of which I discovered were flat-out false or grossly exaggerated.

The next hire was the ex-girlfriend of one of the partners, who would sit on his lap in the office while they laughed hysterically about Lord knows what, until he would sometimes close the door. Every morning I woke up dreading another day at this hellhole, and I would often lie in bed contemplating if I should call in sick or not show up at all.

One particular day, time was crawling by as usual and I was trying to keep busy by organizing contacts. The artist, who was the anchor of the label, was erratic about showing up to the studio and the label had been paying enormous sums of money to hire producers, musicians, engineers and back-up singers. Because the artist had no music and was missing every deadline, we had no work to do. The younger partner called me to his office and I grabbed a pen and a pad of paper, thinking we were finally going to get the ball rolling. He closed the door behind him and I sat on the sofa with my pen poised and ready to write.

'I think you should sleep with me,' he stated matter-of-factly. I was completely taken off guard, and he continued to lay out his case.

'We can come to the office like nothing is happening, and I'll take you to nice dinners. You'll get paid well. It will be fun.'

I got up and told him, 'I wouldn't do that if you were the last person on earth.'

I walked out of his office shaken and confused. The first thing I did was gather my belongings and go outside to call my best friend. She had an artist who was in the process of signing a development deal at the label and she signed on as an A&R consultant. Her advice was to look for a new job but continue to get my payslip until I found something. After all, I did have bills to pay and no money saved up.

I set up a meeting for the following day with a marketing agency I had already been having preliminary talks with regarding employment. Prior to this incident, I knew I couldn't stay there much longer. When I showed up to work the next day, pretending things weren't awkward, the other partner called me in to his office and fired me. He said they would pay me an additional two weeks' salary, but for no specific reason my pencil-sharpening skills were no longer necessary. I was angry, worried and happy all at the same time. I hated this job, and I would be getting paid for two weeks to not be there. I had a meeting for another job set up that same day (and they did hire me to start immediately). Maybe I would have just stayed there in misery if this hadn't happened.

It never crossed my mind to go to human resources or to hire a lawyer. I didn't even want anyone to know because I was embarrassed it happened to me. I also feared that no one would believe me, and I would be blackballed at the beginning stages of my career. All I wanted to do was put it behind me as a negative experience, and move on. I did exactly that, and when I tried to deposit my pay cheque they had already cancelled it.

I hear conversations frequently from women of all ages who have had to deal with sexism, sexual assault, coercion and rape. And alongside those conversations I hear people who question her validity, who question why she took so long to speak, and who question her motives. They wonder if she put herself in the situation, or if she sent out the wrong signals. They accuse her of wanting a quick payout. They bring up her sexual history, the way she dresses, who she has dated, and anything that may discredit her. And then wonder why it's so difficult to come forward with the truth about men or women abusing their power.

No matter how much progress we think has been made, there will always be reminders of how far we have to go. When I got hired at Sirius for my first radio position, the rumour was that I must have slept with someone to get the job. My former boss confessed he felt that way and had voiced this to other employees because I came out of nowhere, with no radio experience. After he saw my work ethic, and the relationships I curated with guests, he admitted he had been wrong for jumping to conclusions.

Even today, when we have guests on the show, if I ask for contact information from a male guest, I've overheard my co-workers say that I must want to fuck. When we take pictures with guests, the comments are about how I was flirting or you can tell I let him hit. I've heard DJs on other stations say that I sleep with every rapper after we interview them. I've read blogs that list people who I have slept with who I have never even met. Is this still par for the course for a woman working in the entertainment industry, or in any industry?

It has become useless to argue with social media agitators, but what I can do is be part of uplifting women. I can encourage the women who are striving to get their footing in this world to keep pushing and to express themselves. I want women to feel like we are not in competition with each other. We are on the same team. Something as small as a compliment to let another woman know she is on the right path or she is doing a great job can make all the difference. We can defend each other when we are being attacked or judged. We can hire other women and refer each other for jobs when the opportunity fits. I know how much representation matters, and in an industry where we are vastly underrepresented in positions of power it has become evident how poisonous that is.

I want to make sure we are negotiating our salaries and asking for raises when we know we deserve them instead of assuming the work we put in will be noticed and rewarded. I read an article in Marie Claire when I was twenty-nine years old about women not asking for raises as frequently as men do and the most effective strategies to use, and I realized I had never asked for a raise. I put together a presentation of all the press I had received and scheduled a meeting with the operations manager at Sirius, and received a 50% raise and a bonus. If I'd never asked, I would have never got such a significant bump. And I knew I deserved it. But I also know that the male DJ who had my position before me and the one who was hired after me earned significantly more than I did.

When I was offered a job on the morning show at HOT 97, I was told my name would not be part of the show and I would be responsible for weather, traffic reports and gossip. I turned that job down in favour of hosting my own show at Sirius. I knew the freedom of being able to call the shots and build my brand was more significant than the minor role at a legendary station. I told the programme director at the time that I planned to bust my ass to be able to step into a bigger position at the right time. I also used that job offer as leverage to get another raise.

I lament the fact that I didn't have a mentor to steer me in the right direction or to help open doors for me. I believe I would have made fewer mistakes and instead of travelling up, down and around to get here I would have progressed in more of a straight line. In this day and age of access and social media, there is a lot less patience and a lot more stuntin'. The pressure to appear perfect, to smooth out lumps and wrinkles, bring in your waist, make your butt look bigger, get your angles right, not get older, flaunt designer bags, drive luxury cars, hop on a private jet or yacht can be overwhelming. But the strength and confidence it takes to NOT succumb to these pressures is infinitely more powerful.

My feminism is empowering other women to know there don't have to be societal norms and standards for you. It's OK to make more than your significant other and hold down the household. It's perfectly OK to not have a significant other. It's fine if you choose to get plastic surgery (after evaluating the risks) if you want to do that for yourself. It's also fine to shake your little booty and embrace your so-called imperfections. You can be celibate, be monogamous, be in an open relationship, have a fuckfest, leave your lying, cheating-ass boo or choose to stay. It's all on you. My feminism is not passing judgement on others, but instead listening to understand our differences. I may like you or I may not like you after that. And you may or may not like me. Regardless, every time that I'm on the radio and functioning in real life, I will continue to initiate and participate in anything that makes women stronger, especially women of colour who have additional obstacles to hurdle. That means hiring us, booking clubs for us, running clubs for us, financial planning for us, internships for us, advice for us, mental health awareness for us, sexual freedom for us, body positivity for us, and education for us.

Whether you are quietly active or loudly roaring, you are an ally.


by Keira Knightley

To my girl

My vagina split. You came out with your eyes open. Arms up in the air. Screaming. They put you on to me, covered in blood, vernix, your head misshapen from the birth canal. Pulsating, gasping, screaming. You were pushing yourself up with your arms, furious at your frailty. Wanting to see. Wanting to know. You latched on to my breast immediately, hungrily. I remember the pain. The mouth clenched tight around my nipple, life sucking on and sucking out. I remember the shit, the vomit, the blood, the stitches. I remember my battleground. Your battleground and life pulsating. Surviving. And I am the weaker sex? You are?

People came to the hospital immediately. Family, friends came to see you, the sweet little baby, and me in beautiful motherhood. We had champagne and Chinese food. I was in a hospital gown with paper pants on. Blood soaking through the sanitary pad wedged between my legs. Adrenalin coursing through my veins. I felt invincible. You were in a crib by the bed. You cried and I ran to you. Exposing myself to the men in the room, blood running down my thighs, arse, cellulite. You are mine. Mine, and I will stop you crying. My breast is out in front of them all and I don't care. Your life is my life. You need me. I'm there. Fuck them all with their eyes watching, their embarrassed faces at my animalistic semi-nudity. Is this soft motherhood?

The day before, I walked seven miles. Our house to a restaurant, the restaurant to the doctor's. I felt water running down my leg on Clerkenwell Road. I was wearing tights and they were wet on the inside. It ran all the way into my shoes. My favourite shoes. Brown lace-up brogues. You'd been engaged for a month, head wedged between my legs, waiting to come out. I didn't know that my waters had broken. I didn't know that the numbing, dull pain was the first contractions - they'd been going on for days. I thought I'd pissed myself. The shame. I walked two miles more to the doctor's. It began.

The day after you were born we left the hospital. I took a shower. Washed my bloodstained thighs. I haven't slept. Will never sleep again the way I did before. My shoes are crusted and sticky with the amniotic fluid of yesterday. They smell. Kate Middleton had her baby the day after mine. We stand and watch the TV screen. She was out of hospital seven hours later with her face made up and high heels on. The face the world wants to see. Hide. Hide our pain, our bodies splitting, our breasts leaking, our hormones raging. Look beautiful, look stylish, don't show your battleground, Kate. Seven hours after your fight with life and death, seven hours after your body breaks open, and bloody, screaming life comes out. Don't show. Don't tell. Stand there with your girl and be shot by a pack of male photographers. This stuff is easy. It happens every day. What's the big deal? So does death, you shit-heads, but you don't have to pretend that's easy.

I don't wash for a month. Can't get dressed. The hormones rage. I'm buffeted by silent storms more terrible than the battleground. I hear everything. It's all too loud. The world is too loud. The wind in the trees thunders around me. It thunders around you. Death. It's living next to me. I've brought life and understand the terror of losing it. The world is too big. I want to be with you in a cave. In a dark, deep, quiet cave. I want to shield you with my body. I cry. I don't want your dad to leave. He might be taken from me. I don't want my mum to go. I want her to make it better. One day you could all be gone forever. I would die for you. I would kill for you. You are mine and I am yours. Soft motherhood. Black cats frighten me.

I was born on the cork kitchen floor. My brother was upstairs sleeping. My mother's first battleground was in a hospital. She was told she wasn't in labour, she was imagining it, and was made to sit on a hard wooden chair while they called a psych nurse. The machine had read no contractions. Don't listen to the woman - what would she know? So it happened there in the wooden chair, nails boring into the wood. The baby and the body taking over. She split front to back and my brother came. She never went into a hospital again. With me she stayed in her cave. The kitchen. The beating heart of the house. The weaker sex.

My mother worked. I was so proud of her. So proud to be her daughter. She was a writer with a voice. She walked around with bare feet and caused a scene. She was ambitious and angry and loved me. She could do anything. I can do anything. I will do everything. She is a trickster, a manipulator, a warrior, a laugher; she is immovable; she is a fairy. She is a matriarch, she loves and is loved. She is in charge. I am in charge. You are in charge.

I work. I work because my mother told me to. I work because I am good at it. I work for my family. I work so you can be proud of me the way I was of her. I work to show you that you can. You must. I turn up on time, word perfect, with ideas and an opinion. I am up with you all night if you need me. Sometimes I cry I'm so tired. Up with you all night and work all day. You visit me in my lunch break or when the camera turns round. That time is your time. I try every which way to be there when you wake up and to put you to bed. I ache with tiredness. I weep with tiredness. I break with tiredness. My male colleagues can be late, can not know their lines. They can shout and scream and throw things. They can turn up drunk or not turn up at all. They don't see their children. They're working. They need to concentrate. I concentrate. I see you. I am yours and you are mine. I am not the weaker sex. You are not the weaker sex. We are not the weaker sex.

I work with men. I watch them and they watch me. They worry that I don't like them. It drives them mad. They belittle me, they try not to listen to me, they don't talk to me, they don't want to hear my voice, my experience, my opinion. Be pretty. Stand there. They tell me what it is to be a woman. Be nice, be supportive, be pretty but not too pretty, be thin but not too thin, be sexy but not too sexy, be successful but not too successful. Wear these clothes, look this way, buy this stuff. I work with men and they worry that I don't like them. It makes them mad, it makes them sad, it makes them shout and scream. I like them. But I don't want to flirt and mother them, flirt and mother, flirt and mother. I don't want to flirt with you because I don't want to fuck you, and I don't want to mother you because I am not your mother. I am her mother. I would die for her. Kill for her. That's not the kind of mother they mean. I just want to work, mate. Is that OK? Talk and be heard, be talked to and listen. Male ego. Stop getting in the way.


by Alaa Murabit

Ten-year-old me would be incredibly disappointed in me. By now, I should have had a yellow VW Beetle, an apartment in 'the big city' (I was born and raised in Saskatchewan, Canada, so 'the big city' could have been literally anywhere but there), two babies, a cat that loved me and was more excited to see me than she was to nap (this is clearly the most unrealistic thing on my wish list), and - of course - I would be THE surgeon in town.

Let me rewind a little bit. Since I was a kid I knew I wanted to be a doctor. I was never told that I couldn't be. And as a child of eleven I learned very quickly that the only things my parents care about were a) how we treated people and b) how seriously we took our education. So, as I would come home every day with a new idea (like telling my mom I wanted to go to the moon), the usual response would be along the lines of 'Great, I'll pack you lunch!'

By the age of fifteen I had graduated from high school and, only a month later, I'd enrolled in and began medical school. My vision was clear: I would have multiple surgical speciality degrees from elite schools and wear a very unique scrub cap that would relax patients (but still make them confident in my operating abilities, of course) and I would always have free time (despite the whole surgeon thing) because I would live free from the humble entanglements of child-rearing and homemaking, and - of course, à la the opening montage of every early 2000s romantic comedy and Grey's Anatomy - everyone who met me would fall madly in love with me.

But then, in my final year of medical school, the Libyan Revolution broke out, and in an effort to ensure women's inclusion in the nation-building process I founded a women's rights organization, the Voice of Libyan Women (VLW). I had done my research and knew that there was this window of opportunity, where if women were around the table, dictating security and services and the foundations of the new state, the long-term inclusion and leadership of women would be ensured. I finished medical school and, instead of searching for surgical specialties, I created national campaigns, delivered TED talks and negotiated global strategies. At almost every turn I was asked where I got my conviction from, as though I shouldn't have it in the first place.

My confidence wasn't shaken until nearly a year after I had launched VLW. I had been having coffee with someone I considered a mentor - an older, white male, who told me in good faith, 'Be very non-threatening, Alaa; don't freely give your opinions,' after I had told him about a heated debate I'd had with a colleague. When I had asked what he meant, he elaborated: 'There are going to be four challenges that you're going to come across in your career: your background (Libyan), your faith (visibly Muslim), your gender (a woman),' and then he said with a laugh, 'the last one you're lucky - you'll grow out of it - and that's your age.'

It was the first time I had felt like it didn't matter how hard I worked, how much I applied myself, and that in order for me to 'succeed' I would have to minimize myself to create comfort for others. For the next few months I spoke up less, negotiated my point less - not because of his advice, but because for the first time in my life I wasn't sure if my points or my suggestions were necessary.

Months later, I walked into one of my first high-level meetings. Now, to understand how truly excited I was, I would like you all to imagine you're twenty-one. I had spent the days before preparing and when I walked into the room I saw my name, engraved on a wooden nameplate. I took a seat and started pulling out my papers; I had never felt more self-assured, and at that moment, a young woman, an intern I would say was my age, maybe a year older, approached me and said, 'Sorry, but that is Dr Murabit's seat, and I hear he is very difficult.' She went on to tell me that I should go sit at the back, alongside the other support staff.

I picked up my notepad and computer and went and sat at the back; now, I don't know how many of you relate to this - when you kind of freeze and have an almost out-of-body experience? I didn't come back up to my seat until my colleagues, noticing I wasn't there, told me to 'move up to the table'.

As I sat there, in the biggest, most important meeting of my life to date, instead of looking at all the points I'd prepared, I felt a little bit embarrassed and angry, thinking up awesome rebuttals like, 'Oh, I should have said that.' I wanted to find the intern and tell her that she was out of line, but as I was looking around the room at everyone beginning to sit at the table they were all much older, predominately white and predominantly male. I didn't fit into any of those boxes, and I realized that while, yes, she shouldn't have made any assumptions, the problem is much larger than one intern. She has been taught - by the spaces we all occupy - that the experts don't look or sound like me; that they are older, whiter and male.

That moment shifted a lot of things for me. First, it created some clarity in my very foggy brain - unravelling some of the doubt that had been building there for months. And second, it turned my hyper-perfectionist, competitive, strategy-starved brain on to a bigger challenge: that the only way we can become more inclusive and ultimately more legitimate and successful at ensuring peace, prosperity and women's rights is by ensuring that all people can see themselves at the table, and that young women in particular have role models, mentors and the necessary support and amplification to ensure that we occupy those spaces. It was the reason I started my own mentorship programme - because, often, we can't be what we can't see.

That is not to say that the doubt will disappear, or that imposter syndrome isn't real. I expect I will hold on to doubt until my old age, because I will always be those four things: I will always be the daughter of parents with accents, Muslim Libyan immigrants who left everything and everyone they loved behind to create a better life for me and who gave me a name that, despite being only four letters, people still try to abbreviate and nickname.

I will always be the little girl who grew up believing she could make it to the moon, in a world that still debates whether girls should have an education and whether women should have reproductive rights. A world where little girls believe, from a young age, that boys are naturally more intelligent and capable.

But I also know that if we had more women in the room we could solve a lot more problems.

CLIMATE CHANGE? The most cost-effective and practical ways to combat it are the education of girls, and women's reproductive rights.

PEACE PROCESSES? 90% fail within five years but with the inclusion of women they are thirty-five times more likely to last fifteen years.

ECONOMIC GROWTH? If 10% of the girls in a country are educated they increase the GDP by 2-3%. Women then reinvest 90% of their income into their community (as opposed to men who reinvest 35-40%), spurring local economic growth and social transformation. And when girls receive an education they are less likely to marry young, will have fewer kids and will vaccinate those kids.

So, yes, it has taken me years. And it will probably take me a lifetime more. And while my hands still shake sometimes, and my voice falters, one thing I have never been more sure of is that what others see as your weaknesses, challenges or reasons to 'other' you, are often the very things that made you work twice as hard, read twice as quickly and try twice as much. The time, the effort, the faith, the work, the background, the age, the gender, the family, the experiences, the choices. All of it. They are what made me capable, what made me determined and what make me a leader, and - I would bet my ten-year-old dream yellow VW Beetle - they are what make you a leader as well.