International Women's Day 2022: Candice Brathwaite on fighting a new kind of sexism

Candice Brathwaite is appearing at the Women of the World Festival. (Supplied)
Candice Brathwaite is appearing at the Women of the World Festival. (Supplied)

Candice Brathwaite wakes up every day with the expectation that she is going to face some sort of bias –gender, racial or other.

On the day her first book, I am Not Your Baby Mother, was published she went out to buy champagne to celebrate ("Bolly because I'm a huge fan of Ab Fab") and was racially profiled in the supermarket.

“They asked me to produce my receipt. I thought flipping heck, I can't get a day off," she says of the experience. And it was far from an isolated event.

From feeling like she's missed out on work opportunities because her face and race just don't fit – "that pill is always going to be hard for me to swallow", to believing she has to "police her tone" for fear of appearing "like an angry black woman", Brathwaite, 34, knows that the fight for equality is ongoing.

But the author, campaigner and founder of Make Motherhood Diverse is using her platform as a force for change.

Yahoo Life caught up with the mum-of-two to talk unconscious bias, gender equality and raising a generation of children who believe that everyone is equal, no matter what.

This year's theme for International Women's Day is #BreakTheBias. What were your own first experiences of bias?

"I was raised in Brixton, which felt very multicultural, and the school I went to was predominantly Black, but the first bias I understood was a preference towards lighter skin within the black community.

"My best friend had lighter skin than me, and people liked her more. More doors were opened for her. That was my first blow-your-head off realisation that someone might have an easier time of it just because of how they look."

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Candice Brathwaite wants to see more women in positions of power in the workplace, pictured in November 2021. (Getty Images)
Candice Brathwaite wants to see more women in positions of power in the workplace, pictured in November 2021. (Getty Images)

Why is #BreakTheBias such an important theme for International Women's Day?

"It's easy to look at a woman through one single perspective, which is usually white and middle class, but there are many intersections that affect different women. Not every woman is going to have the same lived experience. And for many women of different races or classes, that bias across the space is going to affect them a little bit more.

"It's important not to just be like, 'Let's all hold hands and act like we're all being raised up equally'. We need to recognise the biases that are affecting women's lives so that we can all have a better time of it."

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How have you coped with the bias you've experienced in life?

"I am getting better at handling it. There are so few women that look like me up ahead because those doors have only just started to open.

"In some respects, I am learning alongside 50-year-old Black women in my industry, because only now are we being allowed to have certain opportunities, so it feels like we're all learning together.

"I've noticed you just have to be resolute and stick to what you believe in and keep chipping away at it."

How would you like gender inequality to be tackled?

"I'd like to see women in more positions of power. Gender bias can only be overturned if we're not having to answer to men all the time.

"It's about getting that seat at the table. It's a shame there are so many men still running spaces, businesses and brands that should go to a woman."

Candace Brathwaite and her husband, pictured in 2019. (Getty Images)
Candace Brathwaite and her husband, pictured in 2019. (Getty Images)

Read more: We still view 'brilliance' or 'genius' as a male trait – and it's hurting women

Did the pandemic help or hinder the fight for equality?

"In many households the pandemic shone a light on what people were trying to hide (or women were trying not to see) in terms of them taking on all this 'emotional labour'. When we were all in our homes 24/7 a lot of women looked at their partners or husbands and were like, 'Honestly, I'm just getting the bad end of the deal here.'

"So I do think the pandemic made women start to think about the areas in their life where things just aren't fair. And it's not just at work. It's at home as well.

"I know quite a few couples who have called it a day and I know some who are trying to work through it, because they've had to recognise that not just the physical load, but the mental load is not being shared equally."

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What do you make of 'weaponised incompetence' – where one partner creates domestic chaos so the other feels obliged to take over?

"I've seen various examples online, videos of men bringing their newborn babies to their wives in the shower, because the baby is crying and they didn't know what to do. And that is weaponising incompetence.

"It's pretending not to know what to do so that you will never be asked, and there was a lot of that being recognised in the pandemic where women were like, 'He pretends not to know how to work the dishwasher, so I ended up taking it all on.'"

Read more: Cynthia Nixon praised for powerful video about women’s struggles

How can we all tackle unconscious bias in our daily lives?

"It's about being able to check ourselves and trying to self-educate. We need to think about where those stereotypes have come from, asking, 'Why do I feel this way? Where have these learnings and thoughts come from?'

"We need to be constantly questioning that inner voice and trying to do better. Unconscious bias isn't the most violent, but it's often the most dangerous because it changes the way you treat people."

How have you tried to educate your children about bias?

"I'm having big conversations with my eight-year-old at the moment because she's having a fight with her school as she's not allowed to wear trousers or take part in football. I just say, 'Listen, this is why the school thinks that and it's old-fashioned, but how do you think you can change it?'

"With my son, who is four, we've been reading and trying to help him understand the breadth of difference he's going to come across in life and how not to judge others.

"My son is the only Black boy at his pre-school and he hasn't yet explicitly come to me and said I feel different. I do think it's easier to wait for the moment to arise. So education in our house is primarily, 'How can I boost your self-esteem and confidence?'"

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Brathwaite says the fight against bias is ongoing, pictured in September 2021. (Getty Images)
Brathwaite says the fight against bias is ongoing, pictured in September 2021. (Getty Images)

What are the best and worst things about being a woman?

"The best is the dressing up and being able to celebrate myself. I love being able to play with make-up and clothes, and being able to do it all without judgment is one of my favourite things. The reality is if men want to do that, there are negative connotations that come with it.

"The worst is that it sometimes still feels like we live in the 1950s. I've got a friend who is renovating her house, and she had to pretend to get someone to be her boyfriend in order for the builders to finish on time.

"That for me is still one of the most annoying things. It's also the constant fear women face – crossing the road because someone's walking a little too close. As a woman, our safety is still under attack."

Read more: Five-year-old children are 'sexist' but it wear off as they grow up, study finds

What are the mantras you like to live by?

"One of my mantras is 'remain unrealistic'. Men are more supported in being unrealistic and I think we need to get that energy to women. The reality is we usually have these great ideas, but we can't get the funding, the airtime and we can't get in the boardroom.

"If I had tried to plan my life around the realism of the place I was born, the family I was born into, we wouldn't be having this conversation because I would have played small in alignment with what I've seen everyone around me achieve.

"It's about having dreams so big that people think you're crazy. When someone calls me crazy, I know I'm on the right track!

"I keep telling my manager one day I'm going to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony... I can't sing, my acting's okay, but that doesn't matter! Blue Ivy won an Oscar for just talking on Beyonce's album. My manager is like, 'I don't even doubt you anymore.'"

Candice Brathwaite will be at Women of the World Festival at Southbank Centre, 11-13 March

Watch: Londoners march against violence on women ahead of International Women's Day