It is International Women’s Day, and this year that feels like a massively important thing. Because it has become clear over the past months that equality is far, far from a reality. And yet, for so many women I know, this day is at best to be ignored, at worst it is an embarrassment. Why is that? Why do so many women say the word ‘feminist’ with a curled lip, an expression of disdain?
Is it the perception that the war is won? We got votes for women. Yay. Stand down, people. It’s all over. And yet, the world over women are subject to the whim of their husbands, their fathers, only gaining worth in the value that men give them. Women still fight for equal pay, for the right to pursue a career with the same passion as a man, for the ability to walk down a street without catcalls and sexual comments. And a man who has proudly acknowledged sexually assaulting women has been voted into one of the most powerful political positions in the world. Ladies, I don’t think we’re done yet…
Is it the fact that feminism has come to mean bra-burning, man-hating extremism? I don’t hate men. I love men – three in particular (aka, my husband and 2 sons, just to be clear!). I have worked my entire life amongst men, often being the only woman in the room. Rarely did I feel unsafe or unequal.
Feminism has a public perception problem. It has come to mean a certain kind of woman, a certain form of political movement, has created the sense that there are certain criteria you must meet to qualify.
Shall I tell you how I celebrated International Women’s Day? I got my kids ready, fed them, got them out the door. Then I did the laundry and cleaned. You know why? Because I like getting my kids ready and off to school (early morning craziness aside) and it means a lot to me to be the person who gets to do that each day. And I work in my living room. If I can see piles of toys and laundry scattered about, I can’t concentrate. So I cleaned because I wanted to.
And this is the thing that so many people miss about feminism. It is about empowering women to be precisely who they want to be. Be that career women or stay at home mothers or banner waving activists or ‘don’t really want to leave my house’ types. Feminism is not and should not be about forcing all women into a single category. It should be about giving them the voice, giving them enough of a sense of power and purpose that they can comfortably choose the path that feels right for them.
We need International Women’s Day, because the war is not won. Because women who go out to work are criticised – often by other women – for not being at home. Because women who stay at home are criticised for not going out to work. Because women who show emotion are ‘moody’, whilst those who don’t are ‘cold’. Because, as women, there is always someone waiting to point out all the ways in which we are getting life wrong. And we need International Women’s Day because too often the person telling us we are getting it wrong is another woman, who really should know better. We need this day because instead of facing outwards, standing up for the rights of those who are fleeing war and abuse, instead of shouting for those subject to violence and terror, we have turned inward, fighting amongst ourselves, undermining and criticising.
Feminism matters, because we have not yet learned to stand together and demand equality and fair treatment for all.