I happened to listen in on a conversation between two unsuspecting (one male, one female) individuals. The radio, being played in the background referenced International Women’s Day. The (male) made a quip about his wife ‘expecting him to hold the door open all day and bring home flowers’ and the female commented that International Women’s Day is about ‘other women in other countries. Not women like me’. Despite the overwhelming urge I didn’t seek to set them both straight but did continue to ponder their comments for the rest of the day. Now I realise a case study of two is hardly the basis for a scientific hypothesis but, the reality is, their opinions are not likely to be in the minority.
If we don’t ‘feel’ the cause how can we feel passionate enough to make it personal. Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that we all need a good old bout of discrimination to enable us to identify but realising that it does exist, all around us, surely can do us no harm. For example, did you know that:
Women are 47% more likely to suffer severe injuries in car crashes because safety features are designed for men’
Globally 12 million girls get married each year before the age of 18. The reasons behind it vary between communities, but it’s often because girls are not valued as highly as boys and marrying them off at a young age transfers the ‘economic burden’ to another family.
According to the World Economic Forum it will take over 100 years to close the gender pay gap
So why does this happen? Cultural ‘norms undoubtedly play a role. Unfortunately, the images portrayed in music videos and the language used constantly seeks to challenge these positive messages. We tolerate images and words that we certainly wouldn’t accept in our homes. But to what cost? And where do we draw the line. A certain grime artist has just been found guilty of assaulting his fiancée. In one of his songs he talked about only caring about ‘s** and violence’. In much the same way we teach our girls that airbrushed images do not represent reality in terms of body image, we must also teach them that music videos and other media forums are also not portraying truths. However, it seems some artists really are about ‘that life’. And, if that’s the case, then why are we tolerating it?
Essentially mums and dads, it’s up to us. If our girls are going to grow up with limitless aspirations and feel empowered by their gender and if our boys are to grow into men who show women respect and kindness then it has to start at home.
As a mother of a daughter I take just as much responsibility in ensuring my daughter approaches her relationship with boys with just as much respect. We talked openly and honestly about how to deal with the advances of (probably hormonal!) boys in her year and how she should act with kindness and respect. We talk about people’s personalities and strengths and focus less on their aesthetic qualities. I also talk to her about the importance of being listened to and ensuring that her voice is heard. Boundaries and wishes are just as important at 11 as they are at 21 and beyond.
I’ve always been very conscious of not categorising things in terms of gender categories. It’s not about female jobs and male jobs. It’s about teaching our children that they are free to be who they want to be. My daughter loves watching football with her dad. And she loves cooking and baking with me. But she has also seen her mum wield a power tool and wallpaper a room with no associated commentary as to whether this is a blue or pink job.
Is that the basis for change? Opening our eyes and deciding that enough is enough. Stop putting people, and roles, into boxes and allowing everyone the freedom to just be? I am sure that even women who would regard ourselves as independent and ‘equal’ have had moments when cultural ‘norms’ have made us feel challenged? Covid, for one, being a case in point. I know, in our house, I was continuing to run my business whilst providing snacks and meals on tap as well as ensuring that my daughter had the support and guidance she needed for online schooling. And before I get harangued by fathers who took up the slack I would like to suggest that, in this case, you are probably the ones in the minority. In fact, the Lancet would agree. The results of a global study (published in said Lancet) found that ‘the impact of covid-19 has threatened to reverse decades of progress made towards gender equality.
Essentially change begins at home and small changes really can have a big impact. So the next time a music video shows a bikini clad woman and a male displaying disrespectful tendencies maybe it is an opportunity to have that conversation? And, if it makes them happy and interested get your boys helping with the dinner and your girls putting up a shelf. Yes, its International Women’s Day but we all play a role in making this world a better place.