I’m a feminist and a Care Experienced person. I know what it means to face discrimination, and how to over come it. I also know that standing up for what you believe in can be really hard, especially when everyone around you is telling you that how you feel is wrong. I’ve always stood up for what I believe in, even though has at times been isolating and frightening. If we don’t stand up for what we think is right, how will anything ever change?
Even when I was a little kid, I knew what I thought was right. When boys would hit me in the playground, I’d hit them right back. To the girls it was just fun, but for me it felt like more than that. As the other girls and I got older, I think that we were made to believe that any attention from boys, positive or negative, was a compliment. That never felt right to me. I thought, how is it you get to disrespect me, and I’m supposed to feel grateful?
Later, when I started working, it was in an environment that was really sexist, but to everyone there it was normal. The guys would talk about their female colleagues, try to flirt with them at work and would say or do whatever they liked. When it started happening to me, I felt like I needed to be an advocate for the other girls there. Women are meant to be soft, but to me, that’s the opposite of what we need to be.
The worst part is how quickly I was singled out as being different, if I wasn’t feminine in the way these guys wanted me to be, I must be masculine, or crazy, or too extreme in my views. All because I dared to say no.
The funny thing is, even though all of these experiences weren’t easy to deal with, I could look around and see strong women in the media, or TV shows and film, that were role models. I knew I wasn’t alone, I was right to stand up for myself and other girls. To this day, however, I haven’t seen a strong female Care Experienced character that I feel a connection with.
Gender is something everyone knows about, but Care Experience is much more hidden. I’m studying right now and, in my class, there are people who I’m just as smart as, but because I live alone and support myself, I have so much more on my plate. I have a million things going on, personally, financially, and I have to work to support myself. I don’t think the people in my class have any idea that I’m Care Experienced, or could understand how much harder I have to work to keep up with them. I feel happy as long as I pass, but really I want to excel. My life gets in the way of that. This is an injustice I live with every day.
I’ve had people who are supposed to care for me, referring to me as their “work”. They said it like a joke, and invited me to laugh along with them. That can be really hard.
It’s not like when those guys start having a go. I can tell them to leave me alone, or remove myself from the situation. When you rely on someone to provide for you, to care for you, and then they treat you like a stack of papers on a desk, it can be really dehumanising. It makes me feel really small, and it’s tough to stand up for myself, even though I do try. If these people hold my life in their hands, and I have to spend so much time with them, it’s difficult to say, hang on a second, why do you think it’s okay to say these things to me?
Being a woman, and being Care Experienced, I’m vulnerable to discrimination twice over, but I’m only protected against one. Employers aren’t allowed to discriminate against me because I’m a woman, but they are totally within the law to discriminate against me because I’ve been in care. I see every day the reality of sexism, and whilst the equality act hasn’t erased sexism, it has recognised it exists – that’s the same recognition we need for those who are Care Experienced.
People think so many stereotypes about Care Experienced people are true. It’s hard for me to say this but it’s true -people seem scared of kids in care, they think that they’re dangerous, and that we all end up in prison. I’m working hard right now so one day I can be a lawyer, and I’ll be able to make sure young people like me are treated equally, with kindness and respect.
I know that I’m ready to spend my career helping young people like me and protect them from the discrimination that’s out there. Imagine the impact if the leaders of our country stood up for what’s right, and recognised the discrimination we face. That’s the legacy I want to leave for the next generation of Care Experienced people.
We need to let Care Experienced young people know, it’s okay to be in care, you deserve the same treatment as everyone else. The next generation of Care Experienced role models are out there, and it’s up to us to make sure that that’s what they become.