I really wanted to write a post for International Women’s Day.
It’s a day which is close to my heart as I feel so close to the struggles facing women in modern day Britain and worldwide.
I have thought and thought about what I wanted to share. The objectification of women and everyday sexism comes to mind so easily. I can reel off a long list of inappropriate behaviour by men towards myself and those I care about including sexual violence, harassment and everyday throwaway remarks and actions from people who otherwise don’t think that they are remotely sexist. But women’s day is about women and I want this post to be exactly that, about women. I want a post that is in keeping with the message of positivity that I try to share on my site. When I think about the everyday sexism and sexual harassment I have experienced in my life I feel an anger and upset well up inside that scares me. I’m fearful that I could unleash it in ways which are not helpful to getting the message of female empowerment heard. Instead I think it’s important to take anger and turn it into something productive, be that activism, motivation or simply honesty. So I’m going to be honest and I’m going to try to turn my focus to positive change and how we, as women, can lead from the front in treating ourselves as equals to both one another and men.
I’m going to share with you a story.
I was travelling in California a few years ago when I landed up in a backpacker hostel in central San Diego. It happened to be a very quiet time of year for tourists and the hostel was largely empty. Those backpackers that were there were predominantly male. I befriended them and enjoyed their company. We went out for drinks and I felt like mother hen. This I enjoyed, I love male company and I like looking after people. They were largely younger than me, quite immature but good fun.
However a new addition to the hostel came and joined us on this night out. She was slim, blonde, Swedish and beautiful and I was instantly threatened by her. The attention of guys I was with immediately turned to her and I felt suddenly invisible. So, my first feelings towards this girl were of dislike. A girl who I had not yet really spoken to or spent any time getting to know. I didn’t like her because she was hotter than me and got male attention I didn’t. Attention from men I didn’t even particular want attention from.
We got chatting and she was lovely. She seemed so happy to have female company and she told me that she found me warm and approachable (oh if only she’d known!). She asked what my profession had been pre-travelling and I told her nursing. Her response was ‘I would have guessed that, you have a kind face!’. Wow, that was nice thing to say.
We all arranged to meet to go to the beach the next day. At the beach she told me that she was so pleased to meet me because her experience in Britain had been that British women just didn’t like her. She didn’t know why but she’d be in a bar and all the women would be unpleasant to her. I told her that sadly that is what nights out in Britain are like for a lot of women. I knew exactly what she had experienced- envy, threat- exactly the feeling I had had towards her when I first met her. I felt so ashamed to have felt that way about her and that so many women did too but I also felt pleased that I had not let it show so that I had a chance of getting to know this person and realising what a wonderful, ambitious woman she was.
I am not proud of admitting these feelings towards women but I do so because I believe it is a problem that comes hand in hand with negotiating your way through life as a female.
It is often suggested that women are more likely to feel imposter syndrome. Many women are highly insecure creatures and when you feel you live in a world where you are expected to behave like a man to gain respect then not suprisingly the pressure of high or unrealistic expectations coupled with low self esteem spill over into jealousy and attacking those who you feel threatened by. But there is room for everyone at the top. We don’t need to push others down to bring ourselves up. Offering support to other women is empowering to both you and them because when you offer support to someone who needs it you remove the competition by making yourselves allies. It turns out that being mean, rude, bitchy, or simply boastful to undermine others and lift yourself doesn’t really bring you up at all. It makes you look badand often it makes you feel bad too.
‘A strong, empowered confident and ambitious woman is not threatened by other women. I’m a firm believer that a rising tide lifts all boats, so we should never try to hold other women down.’ – Coco Rocha
This isn’t to make anyone feel bad about jealousy. We all feel it. But jealousy is a sign of lack of self esteem and lack of fulfillment. When you identify it as that then you can see that to be a confident woman you don’t need to put yourself in competition with other women. You don’t need to feel jealousy but you can enjoy in the success of others. We all need more success for women to be equal. Turning the negative into a positive makes you feel better and in turn boosts your self-esteem. Adding to the insecurities of others means that they only have to go through the same battle to feel a sense of being valued and having self worth. As much as possible I try to stop myself doing this by living according to another of my favourite quotes.
Be the person you needed when you were younger.
We’re all in this together and we can drag ourselves up by pulling others down or we can offer each other a hand. I know which one I prefer.
Now, in the name of honesty I have to end with a confession. This post is a cop out. In truth I am in part avoiding tackling the heavy subject of sexism because I’m scared to put my head above the parapet and to proudly call myself a feminist for fear of the backlash that comes to people that use such labels and who complain about both the everyday and extreme sexist behaviour that they experience. So, suffice to say that a lifetime of being female has provided me with more than enough reasons to call myself feminist. To end I want to share with you a final thought. Today, I happened to see a Facebook post about the difference between intention and impact. (I won’t go into it here but here is the post: http://everydayfeminism.com/2013/07/intentions-dont-really-matter/). It is a well articulated way to remind us all to think before we speak. Regardless of the opinions we hold of ourselves, it is easy to speak and act in such a way that isn’t consistent with those values and while we may not act in ways we consider blatantly discriminatory, the small, often naive things that happen on a daily basis for many of the population add up to one big, frustrating and upsetting act of discrimination. If we all take a moment before we speak and act we can make a huge difference to the world around us through everyday actions.
These everyday actions are the actions that can ultimately, tangibly, change the world for the better.
International Women’s Day 2017 campaign theme is #BeBoldForChange. The featured image for this post is a pledge of support for the campaign.