SAME BUT DIFFERENT

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Expectations of a working class, second generation Irish female

‘Intersectionality’ is an interesting concept, and one that I explored many times during my ten years as a sociology teacher. Taking part in Same But Different has provided me the opportunity to reflect about my own intersectionality…

Throughout the different stages of my life so far, aspects of my identity have been more important than others. Growing up in an Irish working class family in the 1980s, there were clear intersections between my social class identity and my gender identity.

I was encouraged to engage in gender role specific play, preparing me for the evitable future role as mother and care-giver. I remember actively resisting gendered behavioural expectations by behaving more ‘tomboy’ like and chasing the boys during games of ‘kiss chase’ rather than wait for them to chase me. I had ‘spirit’ which was perceived by others as a masculine quality, not a feminine one.

As a teenager I was encouraged to pursue gender and class specific career options and so I became a hairdresser, but I always knew I wanted more, I just didn’t know what the ‘more’ would look like.

Fast forwarding to 2017, the ‘more’ turned out to be a rejection of all the earlier gender and class expectations. I became the first person in my family to go to university and secure an undergraduate degree, and the first to obtain a Masters degree.

My profession as a sociology teacher and my current pursuit of completing a PhD have now become the key factors in my identity. I am mindful of the journey I have had, yet I’m optimistic that I will continue to shape my own identity, and will not be restricted by expectations of what a working class, second generation Irish, female identity should look like.

Tags: Social Class,Irish,Gender Roles

Trying to climb the ladder was really tough...

I’m a 35 year old British Filipino woman born and bred in South London. I come from a broken family and was homeless by the age of 16. Despite getting good grades at school, I dropped out of college to find work and quickly found an apprenticeship course where my first job was a PA.

Times were hard and lonely as my friends were enjoying college while I was renting a room and living on £250 a month. Trying to “climb the ladder” was really tough. I didn’t have a degree, I was short, young, non-white and female, and in a world where most people assumed that I was a nurse, a nanny or a cleaner, because that’s what “typical Filipino women are abroad”. I persevered, stayed positive and surrounded myself with good people who helped me make the right decisions.

Now in my 30s, I’m no CEO but I’ve had an amazing career working with some of the UK’s largest charities, global celebrities, and iconic leaders including the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. I've also travelled the world, am happily married with one child with another on the way, and feel the happiest and strongest I’ve ever been. I am proud of my experiences and wouldn’t change a thing but I just hope I can prepare my little ones for the world today, which seems far more challenging.

Tags: Race,Ethnicity,Homelessness

On paper, I'm not destined to succeed...

I have been feeling really proud of myself lately.

In the last three months, I started working at a progressive and well-known organisation, in a team that actively encourages and curates education-related innovation. I have firmly established myself in a middle-management role which allows me to keep one foot on the ground, as well as providing informed guidance to my seniors.

I also freelance as a researcher and art practitioner, conducting community arts projects with children and young people. And to top it all off, I am combining my passion for youth work, art and research into a doctorate degree at the University of Birmingham. Not bad for a twenty eight year old working class Pakistani Muslim woman.

Yet to say that I have got this far through a labour of love is, in my opinion, an understatement. I have experienced my fair share of knock-backs and let-downs.

I’m a bit of an anomaly. On paper, I am not destined to succeed. I was born into a ‘blended’ family, with a half-sister on my dad’s side, and children from non-conventional homes are more likely to have poorer life outcomes. I am Pakistani, a social group that are three times more likely to live in poverty than our British counterparts. I am a woman, and there is still a 13.9% gender pay gap amongst full time employees. I received free school dinners and my mum claimed school uniform allowance, both of which are strong measures of deprivation. And furthermore, I grew up primarily in the London Boroughs of Newham and Redbridge; Newham in particular has the highest child poverty rates across London.

It could be said that these factors contributed to my future life experiences in work and education… Despite having worked for my dad since the age of eleven, I managed to get fired on my first day of work experience, for not being ‘work-ready’. And even though I received the highest grade of the year in my Masters dissertation, I was rejected for six funded PhD places, until I decided to self-fund my research.

Sometimes, I can’t help but feel that if I were white and middle class, my teenage cockiness would have been seen as endearing, not threatening, by my work placement colleagues. Similarly, I often feel that if I had better personal academic contacts, and a research idea that wasn’t so socially conscious, then perhaps I would have received a financial break.

Living in a society that privileges white, male and middle-class inhabitants, when it is so full of intersections, can be inherently frustrating. My background as a working class Pakistani Muslim woman fills me with a diverse range of experiences and interpretations which are so beneficial to the wider workplace.

I recently had the opportunity to look after a young, black, female student, who had aspirations of making a career in STEM. I told her that she would succeed because her background and identity would be different to a lot of the people within that industry. She replied “I know, I’ll get to where I want to be”. This is exactly the kind of unwavering confidence that we should aim to foster in the future generations of BAME, working class females. We need to make them feel proud of being simultaneously the same but different!

Tags: Ethnicity,Religion,Social Class

Embracing my true full self

I have been married for over 22 years and have two amazing children of 20 and 17 and am fortunate in that my family unconditionally love me for who I am and not how I choose to express.

I describe my identity as non-binary, or to be more specific, gender fluid. To me this entails expressing myself sometimes as Pippa in a feminine form, and at other times as Phil in a masculine form. Gender is a societal construct and so being gender fluid represents different things to different people, with each at different and changing points on a wide and fluid gender spectrum. Typically, I spend half my week - both at home and at work – in each form of expression.

The biggest barrier I faced was coming out in a corporate working environment as gender fluid. Being at a senior position in a large professional firm, I was worried about how my identity would be accepted and what impact this would have on both my career and standing in the firm. Although it is now known that it can be as high as 4 percent of the general population who identify as non binary, it has only been better understood and accepted in the last few years.

Fortunately, I chose to come out at work at a time we were launching our own workplace LGBT Ally program, and so I chose to use this as an opportunity to help educate the firm - and society as a whole - and ensure that I was able to embrace my true full self. Having a strong foundation of allies to support you in taking that step makes a huge difference. I have been amazed at how receptive and supportive my firm and colleagues have been. They have shown a genuine appetite to both understand and embrace gender fluidity as part of their inclusion of Trans identities in the workplace.

To me, intersectionality represents all the amazing different types of women that exist. Whether this is related to our ethnicity, culture, sexuality, chosen gender expression, gender identity or any of the other amazing factors that make us all unique and different. Oscar Wilde summed this up well when he said, ‘be yourself as everyone else is taken’– this is so very true, as to me, intersectionality cuts across all these different aspects of authenticity and is what helps shape us all into the amazing women that we are, not by being the same, but by drawing power and courage from our unique differences.

Being gender fluid certainly comes with its own set of nuances and experiences, however it continually amazes me how amazing, loving, caring, compassionate, supportive, sincere, engaged and interested people are about identities they may not have previously understood, and how keen they are to quench their thirst for knowledge to better understand and embrace these identities.

Tags: Gender identity,Non binary

I am influenced by more than my gender

It’s a tradition in my culture that when a baby is born, Indian sweets are handed out to close family and friends: Pedas for the girls and Ladoos for the boys. When I was born, my mother followed tradition and sent my father’s parents Pedas. They refused to accept them because I was a girl. They wanted a grandson. I was disregarded by my family because of my gender from the moment I was born.

I am a British Pakistani woman, and that comes with its challenges. I am influenced by more than my gender - culture has played a huge part too. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my culture - from our national dress, to the values which are ingrained in our upbringing, but my culture should never stop me being who I want to be.

I was the first grandchild from my father’s side to attend university. Whilst further education was never discouraged, my father was not too impressed with my decision to move far away from home – and yes, an hour from home was deemed too far for me to study. So many conversations started with “What is the need for you to go to London to study? Can you not find a university closer to home? Our girls don’t leave home like this.” It’s that last bit that infuriates me every time. It made me feel like I was rebelling, doing something that was taboo. To make it sound even more authoritative, it was said in Punjabi.

To this day, I do not understand why I was made to feel like I was deliberately hurting my father. Couldn’t he understand that my decision to gain some independence was not that unusual? Isn’t that a part of growing up?
I guess that’s the point; I’ve grown up in British culture too. Of course there was an element of parental concern, but this was a cultural and gender issue too. He grew up around his sisters who did not leave home unless they were getting married. He wasn’t familiar with any other journey for a young woman; that was his norm. Even his wife had to fight to go to college and was never offered the opportunity to go to university. She was married off and expecting me by the age of 25.

I’ve dealt with these pressures too. The day after my graduation, my aunt said to me, “Now that you have your degree, maybe you should think about marriage?” Yup. The day after my graduation. Because of course studying for three years was not for myself and my career, but to make me a more eligible wife. I quickly nipped that in the bud, “No, thank you. I’m fine and do not need anyone looking for a husband for me. I have my own plans and goals that don’t involve marriage.”

Since then, she has never mentioned marriage to me and I have refused to attend any weddings or other such community events in fear of being put in an awkward “Sana, have you met x or y’s son?” situation. Don’t laugh… it could happen.

Cultural obstacles can be put in our way so subtly that we may not even realise they're there. And if we do, we may choose to overlook them because we don't want to hurt the people we care about. But culture should never be an obstacle, it should be one of your biggest strengths. No woman should ever have to feel like she cannot do something because of her gender or because people think she is betraying her culture.

Tags: Culture,Gender Roles