The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

International Women’s Day 2014: Inspiring Change

on March 8, 2014

I’ve always known International Women’s Day is every 8 March but I didn’t know it had been ongoing since 1911 though.

International Women’s Day came about at a time of rapid change in industrialised economies and shifts in ideologies. Women came together in the early 1900s to demand shorter working hours, better pay and the right to vote.

Over 100 years later, this day is a national holiday in many countries where men honour the women in their lives and across the world, events are held to inspire and honour the achievements of women. The UN recognises the occasion and each year launches a new theme to focus on. For 2014, it is Inspiring Change but a common theme in recent years has been to end violence against women.

Like most matters when you’re young, I hadn’t previously given much thought to being female. I just was. But now, I read something or hear something that makes me think more about the issue of gender equality and how men and women complement each other.

I think of how fortunate I am to have been born at the time I was and to have been brought up in the culture I have with the opportunities that have been open before me that have required no challenges to overcome. I’ve been educated, not had an arranged marriage, Husband does not see matters of the home and children to be solely my responsibility, I can return to gainful employment and have my salary paid into my own bank account.

Which makes me think, perhaps I haven’t made proper use of all the opportunities that have been open to me. Perhaps I’ve taken things a bit for granted. Could I call myself a feminist if I like bags and shoes and don’t mind if I’m offered a seat on the Tube?

Yet, I’ve accepted without question that in Chinese culture the men still inherit the land and if there are no sons to inherit, it will get passed to the next male relative.

It’s very Downton Abbey isn’t it? I’ve only just started watching this programme and assuming the historical facts are only loosely correct, you do have to consider just how much the position of women has changed in 100 years. If you’ve seen Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, the language used by DCI Gene Hunt when talking to women or about women is, quite frankly, outrageous but I feel confident that I wouldn’t encounter that in the workplace today.

In saying that, have you heard about the Everyday Sexism project founded by Laura Bates? It’s been going just over two years and was set up so that women can send in their stories of gender inequality.

Last year, one of the books on the reading list of my Book Club was Caitlin Moran’s ‘How To Be a Woman’. She talks about how few women in the UK would call themselves a feminist but she writes that if you have a vagina and you want to be in charge of it then you are a feminist and that the word ‘Feminism’ needs to be reclaimed back from all the connotations associated with it to have made it seem unseemly.

The media is full of news about gender injustice. From the gap in equal pay, to casual sexism; child brides married off to much older men, to the sexual exploitation of women; denying girls the right to an education to female genital mutilation. Gender inequality is measured on a vast wide ranging and often brutal spectrum. There are some really big global and cultural issues to think of, along with the smaller everyday stuff.

It’s the smaller, everyday stuff that I feel we have the opportunity to challenge in our daily lives. I have a son and two daughters to guide into the Big Wide World. I want them to realise their potential and to respect the opportunity they have been given to flourish in a society that will allow them to. I don’t mean this in a ‘Please eat all your dinner because there are starving children in Africa’ sort of way.

It starts with what they learn from home. Already I can see some ideas of gender stereotyping going on in the forming views of #1 and 2. It can start off innocently enough but already I’m having to challenge their views. With hardly any encouragement from myself, #2 suddenly developed a very strong liking for all things purple, pretty and girly that screamed Princess when she was somewhere in her Twos. I felt I had to at least put up a fight and not allow any dress up heels to enter the household until she hit a much more mature three. Somehow, we ended up with a spare pair of dress up shoes which #1 assumed were his and he enjoys a good clip clopping around in them from time to time.

In our home, there is an abundance of toys for both genders and I’m not going to say that any of them can’t or shouldn’t play with anything. Because very soon they’ll start discriminating themselves which is such a shame and such a waste of toys too. At the moment, they all do the same activities but soon they’ll be branching off into areas they choose themselves. #1 is playing rugby and I’m pleased to hear that there are girls in his group too. #2 wants to do cheerleading after seeing a group of Big Girls waving their pom poms and doing some acrobats. I’ll start her on gymnastics and see where it goes from there.

I look at the, in my view, worthless celebrities that have sprung up out of reality television shows and worry about the impact of influence they may have on many young people today. It makes me sound incredibly fuddy duddy I know. Miley Cyrus. Exploited? An idiot? Or an empowered young woman pushing creative boundaries? After the hoo hah about her video for Wrecking Ball and all that twerking stuff with Robin Thicke (who is an idiot and I don’t care if That video was directed by a woman or not, it was cheap), all I could think of was what a lovely voice she had and could you please put some clothing on as you can’t be comfortable like that surely.

I am currently not in gainful employment and possess that label of Stay at Home Mum. A title I struggled with at the start for my own feelings of inadequacy, rather than how it would look to the Big Wide World. If I remain out of gainful employment for the next few years as #1, 2 and 3 get older and wise up to the fact that other Mums are in gainful employment, I won’t feel bad about it because it’s a choice I’ve made and not a state of being imposed upon me by Husband or society.

However, I think that choice will be taken out of my hands anyway purely for financial reasons. I don’t think my being a Stay at Home Mum sends out the wrong message to my children. That I’m not making the most of furthering my career or being independent. I did not have the upbringing in my formative years where either parent was present and so to have that opportunity now to be with my own children is a blessing I’m going to store up for my later years to enjoy. Even if some parts of everyday makes me feel like taking an escape route to Narnia.

I want my son and daughters to grow up feeling empowered by the choices they can make to reach their full potential. I want to be able to give them access to information and other people’s experiences around the world that will make them see just what privileges they have before them. I want them to respect themselves and each other. I want them to understand that being in a relationship is a partnership. That life can be sometimes be unfair but we can make it fair. They are surrounded by people who have forged successful careers in diverse fields, who have travelled extensively and most importantly who are kind, caring, fairly well balanced and respectful to each other and I’m happy with those influences. One or two, could tone down their language but overall they’re ok.

So International Women’s Day is an important day for everyone to remember. Women can do much for themselves but it also takes men to give support and understanding to make a lot of that work too.

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