Be honest, what was your first response to the viral Handforth Parish Council video?*
* If you haven’t seen or heard about it yet, the recording of a local government meeting for a district just south of Manchester in the UK went viral this week for all the wrong reasons. The star and overnight sensation Jackie Weaver kept her cool when fellow Zoom meeting participants repeatedly shouted her down. Here’s where you can watch the 3min ‘highlights’, the movie trailer, the musical parody, the sea shanty, or the full-length 1hr 20min meeting.
From what I’ve seen reactions tend to fall into two categories; 1. Hilarious! The memes entertained me for 5 minutes. What else is new? And 2. Jackie is a legend. How did she keep so calm while on the receiving end of such comically poor behaviour.
There’s a noticeable gender divide here. For a lot of women, more likely to have reaction #2, this video was actually more painful to watch than it was funny. That’s because we have lived through this treatment too. We’ve been Jackie Weaver. “Jackie Weaver is every woman ever who has had to work with men. It’s so common.” @diva_political “On behalf of every woman who has ever had to chair an all-male panel, I stand with Jackie” @DebraFerreday
If you had been at the Handforth Parish Council meeting, what would you have done? Would you have stood up to the misogynistic bullies? Condemned their behaviour? Or would you have laughed in the background and not given it a second thought?
I’ve been Jackie Weaver too. As a voluntary Director of a National Governing Body, I received a toxic cocktail of threats and aggression from angry entitled men who believed they could intimidate me into getting their own way. At the time I didn’t feel like I got enough support from colleagues who were quick to condemn their behaviour in private, but were reluctant to publicly signal their position. This was a major contributing factor to my decision to resign this particular post and reluctance to do roles like this again. The problem with voluntary work is, what recourse do you have? There’s no accountability. The solution for many women in this position is to quit in order to preserve your own sanity and wellbeing.
The workplace is a bit different in that it’s less easy to just quit a toxic environment if you rely on the income, but on the flip side there is usually more accountability. At work I’ve experienced misogyny just as extreme, thankfully rarely. The more common sexism at work manifests as being undermined, talked-over, interrupted, and under-estimated still happens to me often. In pre-pandemic times it wasn’t as easy to deal with as sticking the perpetrators in the meeting waiting room.
A while ago I carried out an informal survey to understand the experiences of sexism in the workplace. I asked people ‘when was the most recent time you experienced sexism at work?’. The men I spoke to really struggled to think of anything at all. When I pushed for a specific instance most could remember something from several years ago that I’d characterise as obvious or blatant sexism, for example an inappropriately sexual comment, or a sexual assault at an office party. Only one of the dozen or so men I asked could recall a second instance, ever.
I asked women the exact same question, and the most common response was ‘most recent, you mean, like out of today?’. Every single woman I spoke to recalled an incident of sexism in the workplace within the last 48 hours, and a second incident within a week. Their experiences were the more ‘everyday’ kind, the interrupting, the undermining, the not letting you speak, mansplaining, hepeating, presumption women will take on secretarial or administrative tasks when it’s not their job, presumption women are more junior than they are, men taking credit for women’s work. That kind of thing. The stuff that still happens to women every single day.
If you were to experience sexism at work, what would you do? Well it’s happening all the time, when was the last time you did that?
The Handforth Parish Council video may have it’s comedic moments, but my main take-away was if we were all a bit more Jackie Weaver in dealing with misogynistic behaviour decisively, calmly and assertively, there’d be much less space for it to continue.