A few weeks ago, I wrote about the experience of attending a meeting for the first time as a woman. I found myself ignored and talked over, and only had my ideas agreed after the men had decided that they’d all thought of them, really.
But that was not the only get-together my housemates and I convened – when one could still do such things – to discuss the redecoration of the communal areas of our shared home. Another was held to choose the furniture and artwork, all to be provided by us, that would decorate our refurbed interior.
I was offering a number of late-18th and early 19th-century family portraits, perfectly suited to our Georgian property, and a long, low antique cabinet, that would look good and provide a lot of much-needed storage space. I posted photos of this piece, plus its dimensions, to our WhatsApp group, so that everyone could make an informed decision.
A fellow resident, let’s call him Bob, promptly responded that everyone else in the house was dead set against my cabinet, and gave detailed reasons why their furniture was more suitable than mine.
I’m prepared to believe that he didn’t intend to hurt. Perhaps he saw it as putting me in the picture, nothing personal. But – gentlemen take note – the more that my oestrogen levels rise, the more I find that pretty much everything is personal. And so, feeling rejected, humiliated and furious, I drafted a savage reply, shredding Bob into little pieces.
Before sending it, I sought some advice from the World Famous Interior Designer, alias Wiffid, who resides with his partner in a neighbouring apartment whose lavish, sumptuous gorgeousness makes Versailles look like a drab suburban semi. They talked me out of detonating my verbal suicide bomb, as I’d rather hoped they might.
Then Wiffid said, ‘Leave it to me. I think we should have your cabinet. I will get the others to accept it.’
‘That’s so kind, thank you,’ I said, hugely relieved at being able to avoid the sort of conflict that I find so stressful these days. But I couldn’t help thinking, ‘David would never have done that. He’d have picked the fight.’
The meeting was held in the front hall, where there’s room for social distancing. When I came down from my attic, Bob, Wiffid, his partner and another man about the house were standing at the foot of our sweeping oak staircase, pontificating to one another.
Bob’s wife and the other man’s wife, who are both successful professionals, were sitting on the stairs. I joined them there.
Throughout the meeting the men talked among themselves and made decisions, which included the approval of my cabinet and paintings. We women watched, and listened, but barring a few rather tentative interventions, did not contribute to the debate. We did, however, chat to one another, in discreetly lowered voices, about how impractical and emotionally dim some of the men’s ideas were.
It struck me very powerfully that the men – straight or gay – had absolutely no idea how sexist their behaviour was, and would have been surprised and put out if this was pointed out to them. I know this because I’ve been in their position for most of my life and behaved exactly the same. I claim no moral superiority whatever.
But equally, three intelligent, competent, independent women allowed the men to get away with it. Again, I was guilty as charged. After all, I let a man speak for me, rather than standing up for myself.
Why did I do that? I certainly wasn’t taught that women should be quiet and submissive. My mother fought her way from being a middle-class housewife to deputy speaker of the House of Lords, for heaven’s sake!
Yet I deferred to male assertiveness, and so did the women beside me. The other two, of course, could wait until they were alone with their husbands, and then let them know who was boss. And in any case, it’s not like they chose to be female.
I, however, have done just that. I’ve made a conscious decision, whose consequences I’m only now beginning to understand. But, call me crazy, I don’t regret it. Not for a second.
Read Diana’s column every Thursday at 11am. Catch up on the last two columns here:
My transgender diary: ‘I now understand why women take ages to get ready’
My transgender diary: ‘I’ve nailed the art of dressing like a woman’