This article was first published in Solicitors Journal on 29 September 2015 and is reproduced by kind permission
Should women feel restrained from taking a stand against sexism by the fear of being labelled a ‘troublemaker’, asks Pippa Allsop
Having received a message on LinkedIn – the supposedly professional networking site – which complimented human rights barrister Charlotte Proudman solely on her ‘stunning’ profile picture, and which ignored any recognition of her legal proficiency, Proudman posted the initial message and her scathing response on her Twitter, along with the caption, ‘How many women [on LinkedIn] are contacted re physical appearance rather than prof skills?’
A bold and inspirational move – had it not been for the fact that the post was not anonymised and, as a result, has now led to considerable backlash professionally, and I suspect also personally, for them both.
Surely every professional, male and female, takes pride in their appearance. Who, realistically, picks their most hideous picture for a professional profile? The problem is that it is women whose intellectual attributes are side-lined by their aesthetic ones – something which is hardly ever the case for men.
Would such comments be viewed as so wildly inappropriate, had they been sent via another social media medium, such as Facebook or Twitter? I think not. But then why is it acceptable to objectify women at all, as opposed to just professional women in a professional setting? As someone who has been unprofessionally approached on LinkedIn myself, I found myself wondering, what on earth do these people think LinkedIn profiles are for?
My personal summary does not boast my romantic status or how I enjoy long walks in the park, it lists my professional skill set. I have a well-presented profile picture because I want to create the best possible first impression and not (unbelievably) in a bid to attract prospective dates. This, for me, is the issue.
There are some men – by no means all, but some – who do not appreciate that their comments not only devalue women, but also women’s opinions of men.
Nevertheless, some men feel it is acceptable to objectify women to their faces. This is why I believe that calling people out on such behaviour is entirely right. Proudman’s reaction was strong, and one I can wholly sympathise with. However, this strength has undoubtedly been undermined by the ‘anonymity element’, and plays directly into the hands of those who would dismiss feminist stands as overreactions or political correctness gone mad. I do not believe that militant feminism serves to help the cause, and I fear examples such as this one actually perpetuate and exacerbate another message: don’t say it to their faces.
The backlash against Proudman (which included a senior male partner publicly stating that she had ‘blacklisted’ herself from receiving work from him) appears to reaffirm that women who take a stand against sexism are widely viewed as being an inconvenience.
A very pertinent question is whether it is right that women should feel restrained in the way they take a stand against sexism, for fear of being dubbed a ‘troublemaker’. It is not a straightforward question. It is true, though, that the way in which you express your viewpoint can easily affect its validity and, therefore, it is imperative to make your point in such a way that it does not leave scope for criticism.