So today is International Women’s Day. This year we’re being encouraged to #BeBoldForChange.
It’s hard to know how to effect change, when in the UK at least – in theory at least – women are doing pretty well. And it’s hard to be bold when you’re so fucking busy and so fucking tired.
So in all honestly, International Women’s Day nearly passed me by. And I wasn’t going to write anything about it at all, until my biggest small daughter said something to me that rather shook me.
And made me realise I do still need to Be Bold For Change, in my own life – for her sake.
Post-parents evening, the Big Small and I discussed how important it was to be kind, and to be happy. And how those things – at which she is by all accounts doing fairly well (at least at school) – are far more important to her father and I than her reading or writing – which she’s bobbing along with. (We happen to think it’s much easier to learn the latter than the former).
We also talked about how important it is to look for kindness in our friends. At which point the Big Small told me her Best Friend (a child I am already wary of) was very kind, because, and I quote: “She always says sorry after she’s hurt me.”
This warranted further investigation. And for reasons beyond my understanding, it seems my five year old has adopted the phrasing, compliance and rationalisation of a victim.
And I blame myself. Which is basically the problem in a nutshell. I blame myself, AND SO DOES SHE.
It reminded me, on a rather opportune day, how important it is to teach our girls their own worth, their own value. How important it is to teach them to acknowledge their feelings, trust their instincts, expect respect, express their thoughts, raise their voices, speak out, ask questions – of others and themselves – and support each other to do the same.
It reminded me how easy it is to diminish yourself. To apologise first. To deflect compliments. To prioritise being liked. To take the blame. To be quiet and keep the peace. Self deprecate, play it for laughs, take it on the chin, take a joke, take a back seat, wait your turn. Be grateful rather than demanding. Smile when you don’t mean it – when you don’t feel it inside.
All things I’m afraid I do (that many women do) and that my daughter is learning from me. Just as I learnt it from my mum, and she from hers.
It reminded me how women can be the greatest enemy of women. How sad and unnecessary that is. How bullying starts, and how I need to start watching for it. How they – from so very young – create social hierarchies. And how ‘hierarchy’ is just another way of saying ‘inequality’ – which brings us right back round to International Women’s Day, and why we need it. Why I needed it this year.
I needed those reminders. I needed to remember that parenting isn’t just about making packed lunches, and reading practice, and teeth brushing. There has to be intent, and thought, and vision. And I too often lose that in the day-to-day grind. In the minutiae I lose the bigger picture of what I’m trying to achieve – what I want for my daughters as they grow into women.
I want my daughters to be kind, but I also want them to be bold. I want them to campaign for change, not just accept the status quo. I want them to see injustice, and act on it. I want them to follow the rules, but not do so blindly – to push at the boundaries that hem them in. (Even if they’re my boundaries).
I want them to be empathetic, and I want them to be strong. I want them to be confident but not entitled. To be firm but not mean. I want them to compromise, but not cave. To give without giving anything up. To be themselves – without apologies.
To be vivacious and vivid and vital – not vacillating, not vague… and most certainly not victims.
Basically like pretty much every woman from every generation from every corner of the world, I want my children to have more than me – to BE more than me. More sure. More confident. With more choices, more control, more opportunities.
But for many mothers, in many places, that is not possible. And for me – a woman of significant privilege – it is obviously still fucking hard to achieve.
Because I need to live that vision and lead it at home. And I don’t. Most days I am too tired to fight, or plan, or even think. I just do. And I worry I’m doing it wrong.
I have struggled often in parenthood with remembering who I am. Who I want to be. The mother I want to be. The employee, the wife, the woman; the example I want to set. I haven’t yet found the balance or the answers.
Today I have been inspired to look harder. So my children don’t have to.
And I can start by celebrating women, myself, and my daughters. By showing them women of strength, of boldness, of change – of solidarity. By accepting the compliments. Demanding respect. Being respectful. Admiring my reflection. Sharing my triumphs. Choosing kind. Not saying ‘it’s fine’ when it’s not. Not starting sentences to workmen with ‘I’m sorry’. Showing them my friendships within family time instead of outside it, post-bedtime, where they can’t see how it’s done. By not humouring bigots and bores. Not feigning interest or ignorance to set people at ease, to keep a conversation going, to avoid an awkward silence. Saying no. Saying yes. Taking risks. Being confident. Laughing loudly.
Because I do know this: I don’t want my daughter to think it’s okay for people to consistently hurt her, just because they say sorry afterwards. I know that way danger lies. And I know it’s a danger that still applies more to women than it does to men.
And whether this is a big issue or a storm in a friendship teacup, it is most certainly a reminder. And above all else it reminded me why today is important, and relevant, whether we have girls or boys. Whether we are mothers or not. Because we are women. And we still have ground to gain and assumptions (including our own) to un-ingrain. We must remain vigilant.
So to all of you, all your tiny women in waiting – and the tiny men who you are bringing up to champion them – I wish you a very Happy International Women’s Day.
Sorry it’s a bit late.
I was busy.