Former 'Made in Chelsea' star Ashley James speaks about her experiences of sexism in the workplace
Ashley James is more than simply a reality television star. While her brief stint on E4's Made in Chelsea catapulted her into the public eye, the 31-year-old has gone onto make a name for herself as a true multi-hyphenate: she's a model, DJ, writer, presenter and blogger.
Ashley frequently uses her social media following - she boasts a fanbase of 199,000 on Instagram alone - to address a range of women's rights issues. And it's her honest, no-nonsense approach to the realities of being a woman in 2019, that have made her such a relatable figure in the oft retouched and filtered world of Instagram.
We spoke to Ashley as part of our International Women's Day campaign: Overheard at Work, where she discussed her experiences of sexism in the workplace, and beyond.
There are a number of terms that tend to only be used when referring to women, such as "slut", "frumpy", "emotional" and "hysterical". What's one word like this that you would want banned permanently?
"To be honest, I couldn’t pinpoint just one word because they ALL are used as a way to shame women. I remember being made to feel really ashamed of my body growing up, and I was always called a slut-shamed by the boys and attention seeking by girls if I complained about having big boobs.
"I remember really resenting the gender-related double standards, in which men are applauded for sexual behaviours while women are disdained even for their body shape, and remember being so excited when Christina Aguilera’s Stripped album came out, as she really owned her sexuality and addressed these issues. In my late teens and early twenties, I tried to dress very grown-up so that I covered up my body and as a result was treated better by my peers and teachers, but I remember I was then called frumpy and prudish by men. I think the moral of this story is that there are people out there who want to disempower you as a woman, so we need to stick together and empower each other rather than judging each other with archaic, patriarchal standards."
Do you think the world of reality television treats women differently to men, and if so, how?
"I wouldn’t say I have noticed gender differences from my limited experience on reality television, but more by the treatment of the media in general. Women are often referred to as “X’s girlfriend”, or “X’s rumoured squeeze” and their relationship history seems to be documented over their achievements. Older women are labelled “desperate” or “cougars” (A derogative term), whereas men dating young girls are seen as lothorios and playboys. I think the use of language and focus on women’s love lives adds to the double standards."
What is the worst example of sexism that you’ve experienced while working in reality television or DJ-ing?
"There is definitely sexism in DJ’ing. There seems to be an automatic assumption that female DJ’s can’t actually DJ. The amount of times we’ve been at an event or club and men come up to us and ask if we can "ACTUALLY DJ", or complimenting us on being actually able to DJ, with a rather surprised tone. A man would never be presumed not to DJ."
DJ-ing is stereotypically a male-dominated field, did you find this to hold true when you were breaking into it?
"We’ve been really lucky with our DJ’ing career and I think there is a market for women, but I do think there’s more of a pressure for female DJ’s to look a certain way than our male counterparts, and we have more pressure to prove ourselves for sure."
How do you cope with the negativity you sometimes receive on Instagram?
"Very well actually as the more you share your opinions, the more you allow others to disagree with them. If they are on your page, then they are paying attention to what you have to say. If you believe in what you are saying, people disagreeing gives you more fuel to keep fighting the fight! I tend not to read comments about me in the media as no matter who you are and how you look, most people who comment are going to be negative."
How do you think young women like yourself can build a more healthy relationship with social media/Instagram?
"I think social media can be such an empowering platform but only you can control that. Unfollow any person or brand that makes you feel bad about yourself, and only follow the people who uplift you. Try not to get sucked into a wormhole where you feel your productivity is being effected. If I find I’ve spent too much time scrolling on Instagram, I will post what I need to post and then put my phone away. I write to do lists and work on my laptop, and then at night I try to read a book so I’m not on my phone too much."
What advice would you give to a young woman who is encountering sexism in the workplace?
"I hear way too many stories about women having to put up with sexism in the workplace. I would say have confidence in what is right, and definitely keep notes of and report bad behaviour. Your happiness is the most important thing, and we can only progress if we continue to report bad behaviour. Don’t be scared or feel like a failure, because it is absolutely not your fault."