Entrepreneurship Shouldn’t Remind You of White Male Privilege

This is a true story about my life between the ages of 11 to 18. No facts have been fabricated or altered, more about this is 100% my story; my life.
“Ewww” was literally my first thought when girls in high school spoke of boys and sex! I was raised in Iran in the 90s, web so I don’t think I need to say much more about that. I will however, sickness make it very clear that before coming to the UK I had no idea what sex was, what relationships were… all of that was a world unknown to me. February 1999 when I came to the UK with my family that all changed. I recall my earliest memories of call girl cards flying around in the wind.

On one particular occasion; I was walking to school with my mum on Edgware Road, waiting to cross the road when a flyer landed right in front of me. A beautiful girl wearing the shiniest, longest and straightest wig I had even seen, 6 inch heeled thigh highs and nothing else on stared straight at me. Her breasts were so big and stood upright on her chest even though she was laying down. She had one of her fingers in her mouth. At the time this confused me, “why is her finger in her mouth?” I kept thinking. She was so beautiful.
To this day I remember the shock and horror on my mothers face, she was petrified, took my hand and crossed the street as fast as she could. I had never seen a naked women before these images found their way into my path.
I was 11.

My sister who was just a year older than me got married

Fast forward a couple of years and I was in high school and the biggest ‘tom boy’ in my year, in fact in the entire school. I loved sports and considered myself one of the boys. I got a lot of stick for it; but I didn’t care, I wasn’t one of the girly girls and I was okay with that. When I played basketball, I felt so free, although my dad hated me playing sports with boys, he was a strict Muslim.
During year 10 at school my sister who was just a year older than me got married..it was so strange.
She was a shy, quite and a very sweet girl. We never spoke about boys. She was as much of a tom boy as me. Boys just didn’t exist in our world.
It was all very unsettling to me, I didn’t know what to make of it. On a hot summers day in July 2003 my sister had a huge wedding, I smiled through it and didn’t question any of it, I was 15. I missed her so much, but accepted that she had got married all of a sudden even if I didn’t understand it, I just carried on as if it was normal. After all, everyone else did so why would I do any different?
December 2004, it was my turn to get married.
My dad proposed the idea to me, I was 16 and was on study leave for my GCSE’s. It was a blur, all of it, the whole thing was a big cloud of confusion.
The day of my wedding was another big blur
“How could he ask me?” “But I hate boys” “But I am 16” “What about my studies?”
All of these questions and a million more went through my mind. Yet I received no answers- nothing. I was a 16 year old who had spent of her life in Iran, what the hell did I know about any of this. The fear of not pleasing my dad was not a nice feeling so I just went along with it. Surely he wouldn’t do anything to put me in danger? Yeah right… 
To this day me and my father have not discussed this. It’s as though it never happened. I think he thought he was helping & doing something good. Although sometimes what you think is the right thing for someone, it turns out it’s not.

My marriage certificate

When I think of him (my ex husband) I feel physically sick
The day of my wedding was another big blur. I remember being in my wedding dress and posing like a bride for all the pictures. I kept losing myself in where I was. My mind wondered and I found myself daydreaming, trying to imagine myself somehow somewhere else. This became a routine, I would often take myself to a place of numbness if I didn’t like what was happening in my life. I felt safe being numb. I didn’t feel anything. Anything at all.
My marriage lasted two painful years. I have always tried not to hold bad feelings towards anyone but for some reason when I think of him (my ex husband. I hate to say that) I feel physically sick. I have blanked so much of him out that I don’t even remember what he actually looks like. I just know he was a monster.
During the two years of my marriage I insisted on carrying on my studies, it was a constant battle. He wanted to start a family, I didn’t- I was just 16! I’ve always been so passionate, I have always loved life and wanted to do so much. But he just wanted a housewife. A wife who would cook, clean and have children. I wasn’t that, I am not that. I didn’t want that, I still don’t.

I begged him for divorce the very first night

For the two years I was married a big part of me died, some days I didn’t see any future. I felt stuck. I felt as though my life was taken away from me and I had no control- I didn’t see any hope. I would go to college, when I finished I would get on a bus, any bus, and ride it back and forth to the very last stops. I would look out the window and day dream about the life I really wanted to live, the life so far from the one I was living.
I tried to play the good housewife; I couldn’t. It took so much out of me, I was working part time at H&M to afford my living expenses as he wouldn’t support me and also I was studying A Levels full time at college. By the time I got around to playing the housewife I was exhausted; mentally and physically too.
I begged him for divorce the very first night. It suddenly hit me. I was married. I was 16, married and my whole life was about to change before my eyes. “How did this happen” I kept asking myself. He would refuse a divorce, and retaliate as he thought I was being disrespectful & didn’t want him. Of course his pride kicked in and it was all over from there.
Towards the end of the marriage I had to get the police involved
I started to rebel. I would switch off my phone and not respond to his calls. I would go home late or not go home at all. I did all this in the hope he would let me go and see we are not fit for each other. And that I wasn’t happy, I could never make him happy either. The more I rebelled the worse his behaviour became. He would follow me on my way to college, he would go through my phone and accuse me of all sorts.
My 18th birthday approached and I knew there was no way I could go on living like this. I begged my family to help me leave him. After much struggle he would divorce me; under the condition I would lie and say I had been unfaithful to him and disobeyed him throughout our marriage. I agreed, I held my head high and lied and said I had done all of those things. I just wanted to be free. I never wanted to lay my eyes on him ever again.
Towards the end of the marriage I had to get the police involved and live my life with an emergency alarm on my neck 24/7. This scared him off thankfully and he began to see the damage he was doing. May 2006, I was finally 18, and free. I would finally be the woman I wanted to be, without a man ruling me or watching my every move.
The divorce was another ordeal in itself. I was so young and had to figure so much out by myself.
I am a very independent person by nature, I had amazingly supportive friends but I chose to shut everyone out and insisted I would do this alone and I did. I managed to get away from the monster who took my innocence away at the young age of 16. I finally did it! For the strong woman inside me, for the 16 year old tom boy inside me! I did it!
When I look back at my life from the ages of 16-18, there are so many blanks. I chose to shut out so many things that happened because of the emotional wreck I was so scared of becoming. I feel like the experience made me the person I am in some ways. It taught me so much. It made me realise I am really and truly the only person I can rely on. No person or government system will ever care for me as much as I care for me.
A decade on and I feel happy in myself. Of course some things have left permanent scars on me & effect me daily but are you surprised?! I am now a woman who is in control of her life and will continue to be, no matter what.
If you take anything from this, know that there are people that will try to take away your destiny but you owe it to yourself to reclaim that control and follow your dreams. I am proud I did that for me.

Recently, viagra 60mg my University had their yearly “Soft Skills Academy”. With workshops like “How to build your CV” or Networking, story as I’m finishing my degree I decided to take advantage of them, sales to try and shine some light on where to go and what to do after I graduate. I ended up signing up for a workshop called “I Have a Business Idea – What Now?”, in which entrepreneurs would talk to us about their challenges and how they created profitable and fulfilling businesses. I thought it was a great idea and was super excited to hear what they had to say. A few minutes into it, however, I realised my expectations were warped and instead of being inspired and learning, I ended up rolling my eyes every 30 seconds and making a wide variety of sarcastic comments to a very patient friend I dragged along with me.

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Every single one of the speakers was a white man. The organization that coordinated the workshop and whose aim is to support young entrepreneurs, also has a competition for young entrepreneurs every year. When they were explaining what the competition entailed and which individuals would help mentor the programme, out of the 10 mentors, 9 were men and, as I  immediately suspected, not one of them was a man of colour. As the speakers started explaining how to got their businesses up and running, all I could hear was “privilege” coming out of their mouths. Not one of these men had struggled to grow or even start their businesses. They all came from upper middle class families aka rich white boys, with nothing at stake in case they didn’t succeed. Their families gave them the money they needed throughout their journeys or had the necessary connections for them to be successful. Not one of them was able to answer questions about the difficulties they had, because they probably had none.

Nowadays, we live in a world where female entrepreneurship is thriving

It felt like a spectacle of privilege and it made me so angry. We were there to learn, but instead were fed some idealistic crap about hard work from men who probably never had to work a day in their lives. Nowadays, we live in a world where female entrepreneurship is thriving. Women are taking matters into their own hands and creating products and services they believe in. Still, in 2015, the New York Times created  a Glass Ceiling Index based on an Ernst & Young Report, saying that amongst the biggest companies in the world there are more CEO’s named John than women. How insane is that? As someone who is on social media regularly, I see and follow female entrepreneurs everyday – not only fighting for themselves, but fighting for other women too. Women trying to not just break the glass ceiling, but smash it into irreparable bits. And my question is, why aren’t we talking about these women more? Why do we associate the world of business with a world of men, particularly white men? Why, when people of such a wide variety of backgrounds are create successful empires? Why aren’t they getting invited to teach in workshops, getting interviewed and celebrated in mainstream media?

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As a woman, I want to hear about their stories, especially because female entrepreneurs are much less likely to be taken seriously and much more likely to have their work disrespected – a recent and perfect example of that comes from the creator of LAPP, Leomie Anderson, who had her intellectual property essentially stolen by a bigger brand. She is not the only one. There are countless accounts of women who see their work be disrecpected often times just based on the fact that they are women. Those are the stories I want to hear – stories of adversity and overcoming.  I don’t want to hear about how a rich white dude became successful because his parents were wealthy and paved the way for him, I want to hear from the people who paved the way for themselves – those are the truly inspiring stories and the stories that I feel young people so desperately need to hear. We need to hear about those who created something out of nothing but an idea, who had to fight to get to where they are today, to show that you don’t have to be white or man or wealthy in order to be successful.

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After leaving the workshop and writing this article, I feel like we all have a responsibility to uplift people trying to leave their mark on this planet in a positive way and showcase them to the world. If the mainstream media, mainstream academia doesn’t acknowledge those who don’t fit the norm then we will. And I think, fortunately, that we are. Every day, people are more aware of the need to support each other in our endeavours, particularly in a world that seems so hopeless at times. So let’s move past the norm and break the glass ceilings for everyone, making sure that equity is the norm and not the exception when it comes to accessing opportunities and having your accomplishments celebrated.  

Written by Inês Mendonça

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