Distancing Self: A Study

Do you know the psych ward joke about the patient who continually clapped his hands until the psychiatrist asked: “Why are you clapping?” The patient replied: “To chase away the elephants!” “But there aren’t any elephants here,” the psychiatrist replied. Continuing to clap, the patient exclaimed: “See, it’s working!”

Continue reading “Distancing Self: A Study”

What Diplomats Wore

The annual, global diplomacy-fest that is the United Nations General Assembly is in full swing in New York. On my first morning, as I was waiting in the main entry hall, I couldn’t help but notice with fascination the outfits people were sporting as they made their way to the assembly.

I realised there and then that I must present evidence that first of all, women are numerous at these meetings, and second, the stuffy old diplomat dress code (similar dark suits for both men and women) has largely been replaced by fantastic, bold and feminine choices.

As I am principally supposed to be working during my work trips instead of checking out people’s outfits (shocking, I know), the quality of some of the pictures is not as good as the subjects would merit, as I was snapping away in a hurry. Also I did not capture nearly all of the super intriguing choices, as photographing was not appropriate everywhere. However, herewith a small selection of what diplomats wore, the 2019 edition.

  1. Dresses

A dress was the choice du jour, a favourite all the way up to the highest political level. Among the Head of State -level dress-wearers I spotted at least the Presidents of Estonia and Slovakia.

This is an important signal to women in all stages of their career: a dress is a serious and appropriate workwear alternative. There’s hardly ever a compelling reason to wear a black trouser-suit to work, unless you work as a pallbearer.

First exhibit: The Austrian Federal Chancellor (the Head of Government).

Second: The Foreign Minister of Norway (colour-matching with her adviser)

Please also note the matching of tones for dress, shoes and handbag:

A classic with polka-dots:

The perennial workwear-classic: the wrap-dress!

2. Shoes you can actually walk in

Forget about any Sex and the City –related Manolo-fantasies of running around Manhattan in vertiginous heels. We are adults here.

My personal conference-day walking record is 14km. That is a very long way to walk in any shoes. Heels can be fabulous, but I would still advise to carry flats in your handbag. This is annoying, because it adds to the amount of stuff that needs to be schlepped around. But your feet will swell, making afternoons pure agony. Slipping into ballerinas or trainers will be a blessing by the time it’s 5pm.

Also, trainers have officially become appropriate footwear to high-level gatherings.


3. Pattern

Mix, match and be bold.


4. Uniforms

A woman’s workwear can also be a uniform. Herewith two different examples:

An official uniform:

A fashion uniform, in this case head to toe Gucci:


Here you are. Quite a family-photo they would make together, the women above.

How to: When Everybody Leaves Town

As is characteristic to Brussels and the expat community the world over, people change jobs and consequently their country of residence in the summer because of school holidays and also it’s more fun in sweltering heat. Thus, ’tis the season of goodbyes and people trying to get rid of their house-plants and unwanted kitchen knick-knacks by smuggling them to office in the name of “circular economy”.

Continue reading “How to: When Everybody Leaves Town”

(Man)splanatory Notes

I needed a full week to reflect some of the events and discussions that took place during the week that culminated in Women’s Day. Suffice to say, everyday is not women’s day, so I hope you enjoyed the 24 hours. Did anyone else make a guilt-ridden exit from the office on Friday 8th with a rose in hand, self-flagellating because “again I had failed in explaining the concept of women, despite an international theme day dedicated exactly for this? The one day I’m given 5 minutes of uninterrupted time to explain why us women need to exist, and I fail to deliver?”

The good thing is that there is never a shortage of men doing this for us. 

Man, at an event focused on getting more women to speak in panels: 

“I’ve tried so hard to get women to speak at panels! Maybe there is indeed something that you women also need to assess. In terms of your availability, I mean.”

Man, interrupting a female panel moderator who was wrapping the session:

“I would still like to add something…”

Moderator: “We have to finish here, thank you all for…”

Man, grabs mic: “So I wanted to add that it is also important that women take their space in the panels.”

Man, at a seminar, requesting the floor, referring to a senior woman expert who had just put forward a question:

“What my colleague here wanted to say, was that…”

Man, (proactively) assessing my performance at an event on Women’s Day:

(In a mock-female voice) “Oh I’m just here reading out my pre-prepared speech! That’s what you usually do, I mean, being a multilingual parrot. But hey, some of these arguments you gave during the chat, I mean, that was not pre-prepared! I’m not into this feminism and all, but I think you did good!”

In all fairness, it is not just men requiring us to explain ourselves and coming up with constant advise on how to be. Many women have been more than happy to chip in. Lean in! Lean out! Do this, do that! Be more like a man, play by their rules! Accept the game! Be a good guy! Embrace your femininity! Embrace your hidden masculinity! Network with other women! Network with men! Don’t network! Be a laugh! Don’t be a laugh!  Pick a tribe: be a Girlboss! Bosslady! Powerwoman! 

The focus is constantly on how women should be, in order to be right.

I thought about this a lot, especially because I heard the following arguments during so many discussions last week:

– It is our (us = women) responsibility to explain gender equality to men. We cannot expect our cause to be taken seriously unless we make ourselves understood to men. (Non-threatening) dialogue is important.

– Power structures (financial, political) will change on their own (as they so often do), and there’s no point in demanding a change through quotas, for example. Demanding is such an ugly word! We should aim for dialogue instead. Also, quota is such a charged term. No woman wants to be the quota woman. Quotas are discriminative per definition, and we want no part in that.

Eventually every discussion focused on how us women should be, and what should become of us. As if the equality of opportunity is taking its sweet time to assess whether we qualify, before letting us grab any of those high-hanging fruits. 

I was wondering whether we might be in danger of over-analysing ourselves to the point of losing the focus. More metaphorically, has the journey (of self-discovery) become more important than the destination (reaching gender parity)? 

In the future there will be more women in power, I’m sure of that. Being a sexist asshole will become as rare a thought as contemplating driving one’s kids around in a car without children’s seat and/or seatbelt on. Before that happens organically on its own (don’t start holding your breath just yet), it is a pity if the only legitimate public platform to make noise about this issue is once a year: on or around the 8th March. 

It is also a pity so many women feel that they do not have the right to demand. This is not the women’s fault, though. It is a huge, historical ship to turn: for the first 19 centuries it was a seamless, universal 100% men, 0% women quota for economic, societal and political participation. That gave men a rather comfortable lead to put together structures that reflected the constitutional quota of 100% men, 0% women. 

It is hallucination to think that this is something that will be rectified overnight.

So is thinking that women were given any rights without those before us demanding them.

It’s not all bad, though. The entertainment industry has taken great strides during my lifetime already. I recently happened upon some of the earlier seasons of Married With Children and The Nanny. The only explanation I can come up with for wasting air-time on re-running such  horrendous, sexist, misogynist, stereotyping, women-shaming, racist shit is to remind the Belgian audience of how far we’ve come already.