Today, March the 8th, is International Women’s Day.
These days it seems that every day is national this or international day of that, so why should we take notice of this? Why should we care about today and celebrate it?
Firstly, without women, none of us would exist. Women carry the next generations, give birth to them, in most societies are the primary care givers. We could not survive without them, that’s pretty much a given.
Celebrating women, their achievements, their accomplishments is simply that, a celebration. A recognition. Taking time to think about the women who have gone before us, who lived their lives and their struggles the best way that they could. Taking time to think about the women around the world who live in vastly different circumstances to us; the women in every country, on every continent who spend their days trying to make a difference whether that be simply for themselves, their families, for their communities, their countries or for women and men around the world.
A celebration of women should not be seen as a denigration or belittling of men and men’s achievements, because it isn’t in any way. I’d like to simply address that now and then move past it, because it seems today that some people view speaking up for women as speaking against men. This is not the case, in my view. Of course we wouldn’t exist without men either; the reason we have different biological sexes is because we need both. Men are fantastic, there are kind, honourable, generous men in the world. There are men who strive for the best for humanity and work tirelessly to achieve that. There is the question, ‘Why is there no International Men’s Day?’ Well, there is, it’s the 19th of November and I will be writing in celebration of men then.
We need a day to celebrate women because our societies do not automatically celebrate women in they way that they do men. The language we use to celebrate men can also be used to belittle women – the language used to belittle men associates them with women. ‘You throw like a girl, you’re such a sissy.’ Men are ridiculed and mocked by being called girl’s names, are most ‘shocking’ swear word relates to female genitalia. The way the world (from a western standpoint) has worked for so long has been, in very simplistic terms:
men, male, masculine traits = good
women, female, feminine traits = bad
People have worked tirelessly over centuries to try and change this perspective, to show that women are, and should be regarded as, equal. No better, no worse than men, but equal. We are both needed to work together to make the world a better place for everyone. The world celebrates men’s achievements every day through its default setting, which is why we need to take a day or a week or a month or a year or a decade to celebrate women.
When I was thinking about what to write for this post I started with the women in my life.
I have one sister, 3 sisters in law, 2 nieces. I have 9 female first cousins (including in laws), and 2 second cousins. I have 5 female aunts. I had two female grandparents and 2 great aunts that I grew up with. They are intelligent, they are funny, creative, kind, caring, compassionate, strong, determined, driven, successful in different ways. Some are mothers, some are not, some have traveled the world, some have stayed closer to home. Some have religious belief and conviction that I do not. Each one has her daily successes and failures – even if that failure is only perceived by her. Each one has had a profound influence on me in one way or another.
My brother and uncle have followed our family tree back a ridiculous amount of time and of course, with each generation the number of direct female and male ancestors doubles, not even taking into account the indirect female relatives. Some of our female relatives played their parts in wars – my nan and her sisters in law made parts for Spitfires in WW2, my grandmother took in evacuees and helped her doctor husband. Going much, much further back, some of our grandmothers shaped English history, by being the mothers of kings and fighting to put and keep their sons on the thrones. There were women in our family who were incredibly privileged, growing up in magnificent surroundings, waited on by servants, wearing the finest clothes and jewels. There were others who buried their children as babies and infants, who worked as the servants, who could probably barely afford to heat their homes. Without any single one of these women, rich or poor, educated or not, their names written in history books, or perhaps not even listed anywhere, without these women, I would not exist. They were all important, they were all worthwhile, they all loved someone and were loved. They all felt, thought, struggled, survived and lived.
I also began thinking about the women in my life to whom I am not related, genetically or otherwise. I am lucky to have a large number of female friends. I am especially lucky to still have these friends, despite being terrible at keeping in touch with them! There are friends that I have known since school who I may not see for years at a time that I can meet up with and it’s like no time has passed and essentially nothing has changed since we were giving ourselves rubbish nicknames and dressing up like All Saints or Spice Girls. There are friends from university who were there for me when my entire world changed in so many ways – trying to find out who I was away from the comforts of home, when my home seemed to disappear with the break up of my parents, who helped me learn and perform and dye my hair. There were friends from work who supported me through difficult times, both professionally and personally, who were humourous, put up with my endless chatter and ate my cakes! There are friends scattered across the world, some of whom I met only for a few days, others that I have known for years. There are women who have laughed with me, cried with me, called me an idiot and a fool when I have been, women who have taken me in and given me shelter and food when I have had next to nothing.
Most of my teachers were women, from primary school up to universities but also in life. Women taught me how to read, do quadratic equations, form sentences in French, read music, mix chemicals, write songs (still can’t really do that), think about the world from the perspective of others.
Then there are the women who changed and shaped my life that I have never met and never will meet. The writers, the scientists, the inventors, the politicians, the film makers, the musicians, the artists, the comedians, the journalists. The women who have made me think and who I would aspire to be as inspirational as. The women who hold radically different views to me that I will listen to to assess my own point of view, that I may not ever agree with, but that I try to respect nevertheless.
There are the women who make the clothes that I wear, who grow the food that I eat, the women who might never get any recognition for the work that they do. I will never know their names, but I will think of them today.
I thought about the young women and girls who are growing and learning today. What messages are we sending them? What are we teaching them? Are we doing all we can to show them how to reach their potential? That they don’t need to compete with and tear down other women to be successful? Are we showing them that they don’t need to be with a man to be a complete human being? That they can trust their own intelligence, their instinct and be successful in anyway that they want to be? Are we allowing our young women and girls to know that their voices are important and should be heard? That they don’t need to hide their intellect to be accepted and to fit in? That they don’t have to flaunt their bodies to liked by others, but neither do they have to be ashamed of them or hide them away? Are we giving them the choices of education in careers in maths and science and technology because they are subjects for girls? Are we letting them know that pink IS a girls colour, but so is blue, yellow, green, red, purple, turquoise, brown, orange and any colour, because we don’t have to be simply one thing? Are we showing them that everyone has their own beauty*, no matter what our media tells us. Are we encouraging them to speak up for themselves and for others? Are we showing them that they can make a difference if they have the drive and conviction to do so? Are we letting them know that it is OK to feel lost and alone sometimes, because they never truly are? Are we showing them a range of role models to look up to and emulate that aren’t simply decorations for men?
I find it poor logic to say that because women are good, women should vote. Men do not vote because they are good; they vote because they are male, and women should vote, not because we are angels and men are animals, but because we are human beings and citizens of this country.
Jo March in Little Women
And what are we teaching our young men and boys? Are we showing them that women are strong and capable? Are we allowing them to see that it is not a competition or battle of the sexes where there is a constant struggle for superiority? Are we teaching them that to have ‘feminine’ traits is not a weakness? That women are to be respected and are not objects to crave or possess? That sharing a workplace with women opens up new ideas and ways of thinking? That strong, confident women should not be seen as a threat to them, but as an inspiration to all. Are we teaching them that there is no problem with them playing with dolls, dressing up in girls clothes or wearing make up? Are we giving them an education that shows them that it was not just men who shaped the world, but women too, and not all those women had to take on ‘masculine’ traits in order to do so?
Are we doing enough to help women and girls around the world to move out of poverty, stop preventable disease and suffering? Are we doing all we can to prevent rape, female genital mutilation, the erosion of women’s rights? Are we doing enough within our own countries to stop domestic abuse, bullying, or to stop women and girls from seeing themselves as less than they are because they don’t fit a stereotype? Are we doing enough to stop women being degraded and shamed in the name of religion?
No, of course we are not. There is so much more that we can do. These problems are so vast and complicated that there are no simple answers or solutions. But there are things we can do.
Information is power. We can share information with other women of all ages, we can learn from others. We can take time for each other. We can listen without thinking about what we are going to say next.
We can support each other instead of dragging each other down. We can ask questions of our leaders and hold them to account. We can support charities who are supporting women. We can educate ourselves, read more, do things outside of our comfort zones. We can make changes in our own lives, by supporting female artists, encouraging new ideas. We can challenge ourselves to treat people differently, not judging and tearing people down because of how they look or how they dress. We can try to set an example for others to follow. We can be kinder.
I am guilty of so many of the things I have listed above. I have been jealous of other women and what they have achieved. I have been mean and spiteful and hurtful in my comments about other women. I have, mostly unintentionally, supported gender stereotypes. But I am trying to educate myself and change myself for the better. I’m never going to be perfect, but I don’t have to be, I just have to be the best version of myself that I can and that will be an everyday struggle. Sometimes, actually, most times, I will fail, but I will keep on trying and that’s all I can do.
I’m going to put some links to websites that I think you might find interesting and may want to have a look through, but before I finish I want to write a little (I promise, just a little) about the singularly most influential women of my life, my mum.
Those of you who are regular readers of this blog will have read a fair amount about my dad, it was a way of me getting through his death to write about it, about him, his death, his life and my memories about him. I have purposefully shied away from writing about Mum. This is mainly because Dad’s choices about his life had a huge impact on Mum’s life and in writing about him I didn’t know how to tackle writing about her without either potentially upsetting her or misrepresenting her in some way. I’m sure if you asked each of my siblings to write about her you may get slightly differing results, but this is how I see her.
So here is a little about my Mum, Ann:
My mum is beautiful;, she has sparkling eyes and a stunning smile. She’s turning 62 this year and has embraced her grey. She isn’t always confident with how she looks, but she looks great. She is funny, often hilarious, caring, supportive, sensitive and immensely strong. She worked numerous jobs to pay the bills whilst Dad stuck with modelmaking because he loved it. She was the bad guy, enforcing behaviours, whilst Dad did the ‘yes, you can do it, but don’t tell your mother’ thing. She kept Dad’s secrets for years at her own personal cost. Even after they split up she didn’t betray his secrets, as she didn’t want to colour our views of our dad, and she has suffered for that.
She is incredibly clever and determined. She was disregarded at school because she grew up in a time that didn’t recognise her as having dyslexia, but she took and Access course, went to university, studied Anthropology and got a First. The university even gave her a grant to study for a PhD.
She sacrifices a lot for the people she loves. She is learning to take time and space for herself and that she is allowed to make herself happy, even if others sometimes see that as hurting them. She has been stoic. She has known loss. She is incredibly sensitive and takes things to heart, perhaps too much at times. She doesn’t want to be hurt so avoids some situations if she is afraid that she will be, but that is what life has taught her to do since childhood, so we shouldn’t judge her for that. She is loving and warm and has helped me through some very difficult times.
People joke that if you want to know what you’ll be like in 30 years time, just look at your mother. I think that’s not too bad a way to turn out. My Mum is marvelous and I love her. I could do a lot worse that be even a little bit like her.
If you would like to read more about International Women’s Day, or how we can support women more there are some links to fantastic sites below:
Please leave your thoughts below, any stories of women who have inspired you, any other websites you think should be included, etc..
*On twitter this week there have been absolutely beautiful photos with the #blackoutday tag, where black women have been celebrating their beauty, because the media tells them that beauty is white and blonde. Please have a look, it’s amazing and stunning.