I realise I’m slightly behind the ball with this, as normal, but I have a few things to say about International Women’s Day.
I know this isn’t strictly cancer related, but it is life-with-cancer related (because it’s related to all life!) and my tribe of girls I have found through cancer are just amazing, I can’t even begin to explain how much they mean to me, or how supported and accepted they have made me feel.
But I guess I should start from the beginning
I have never associated with being a feminist. And I think for a long time ‘feminist’ has been a bit of a dirty word.
Feminists were those who complained that anything bad that happened to them in life was because they were being discriminated against for their gender. Every promotion they missed out on was due to the glass ceiling. They were women who looked for anything untoward and blamed the patriarchy. They were loud, they were aggressive, sometimes they were on tv with scowly expressions and posters. I saw feminists as people who hated men and thought they deserved to suffer to make up for the oppression faced by our fore-mothers. I thought ‘we’ve got everything we need, now you’re just going too far’. Obviously I say this from a place of great privilege, I know. And it would be a point to make here that I could not have had that view were it not for the AMAZING women that came before us that did so much to get equality.
Back when I worked in the Australian Government, the women of the office went to an International Women’s Day luncheon. Only the women of course, no men were allowed to celebrate International Women’s Day – I don’t know if that was their choice or if it was thrust upon them… maybe a bit of both. But sure, free food and an excuse to not be at work for a few hours? I’ll take it. Part of the festivities was watching a debate and it was something along the lines of ‘women make better leaders than men’. That already got me offside. One person was from the Army and she spent her 4 minutes going on about how men are terrible and how we should get rid of them all and how the world would be a better place without them etc. I looked around uneasily… were people enjoying this? People seemed to be smiling and even cheering. I feel like someone surely stood up on the table at one point and shouted ‘I a woman, hear me roar’ to a chorus of applause. Ok that didn’t quite happen, but you get the picture.
This didn’t feel like the quest for equality and inclusivity I was searching for in feminism and so for many years I abandoned the whole thing. I didn’t really think I needed it anyway.
I have never felt that I have been held back because I am a woman, I have never felt like I have missed out on anything. I was always brought up believing that if I wanted to do something I should just work hard at it and do it, and that has been my life mantra – I’ve never let anything hold me back. To be honest gender has never been a big part of my life or identity. I’ve never really felt like a ‘girl’ and the only time it was pointed out was when we had gender-segregated classes in sport (which I was pretty happy with actually, though not with the fact I had to play ’sport’), and then again when playing drinking games at uni and there was a ‘girls drink’ and a ‘boys drink’ category. I always did both because I couldn’t decide on one over the other. I’ve never really been a girl, I’ve always just been a Jen (hey, that’s pretty much non-binary, before it was even a thing!).
I’ve always seen it as either ‘me’ and ‘them’ or all of us together, but I never felt like ‘one of the girls’, I felt different. I also never had a big group of female friends. No girl gang. I had (and still have – you know who you are) some close female friends, but apart from that I got along better with guys. My friendship groups always consisted mostly of guys and I didn’t really understand girls, they often confused me. They were into things like makeup and shopping. Ew.
This is where I inadvertently get all my female followers offside… Please bear with me.
I remember a short while ago saying to someone ‘most of my friends are guys’ and they looked at me oddly. ‘Jen… pretty much all of your friends are girls…’
Oh. I guess you’re right…
Life is full of the stories we tell ourselves, isn’t it? Well it seems without me realising that my story has changed.
I have found myself held up and supported over the past couple of years by my girls, and I have formed some really deep connections. There have been some wonderful guys too (you know who you are), but for the purpose of this post I’m going to focus on my girls. I hope this isn’t the point where I get all my male followers offside, thinking I’m going on a feminist rant or something…
I am still learning what feminism means and what it is to be a feminist. I think in 6 months time I will be further along that track and will be able to write a far more astute and pithy analysis, but this is what I have learnt so far (some are personal, some are general observations or things I’ve picked up from other people’s experiences. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, might be true or might not).
Feminism is about having the confidence to be the you that makes you happy, not the one that society has told you that you should be in order to fit in.
It is about lifting up other women and supporting them, not cutting them down out of jealousy.
It’s about fixing another woman’s crown before the world knows it’s crooked.
It’s about not staying quiet when your ex tried to tell you that ‘wolf-whistling and cat-calling shouldn’t be stopped, that men deserve to have freedom of speech always and women shouldn’t complain because it’s not physically hurting them; if it makes you feel scared or uncomfortable then you should stop being so precious’.
It’s about speaking up and standing up for yourself, even if it gets you labelled ‘crazy’ or ‘bitchy’.
It’s about pushing your doctor to diagnose you even when they call you ‘hysterical’ just for insisting the immense pain you’ve been in isn’t stomach cramps for the 8th month in a row.
It’s about not lying down and taking it every time someone jokes that you shouldn’t be in the office but should be at home cooking and cleaning (‘what’s the only thing a woman should wear out? The path between the kitchen and the bedroom’ oh har har. Yes, I have been told that by a co-worker).
It’s about not accepting when a colleague treats you terribly and you get dismissed as being ‘too emotional’ and told to calm down.
It’s about being a leader and not fearing being called ’bossy’ for taking charge.
It’s about shirking the societal pressures that the only way you can be happy or feel fulfilled in life is to find a man and have a baby.
It’s about deciding not to sit with the lads at lunch time while they leer at every girl who walks past and talk about what they would like to do to them, just because you want them to think you’re ‘a cool chick’
It is about being healthy, but not propagating the idea that females must be slim, hairless and ‘perfect’ all the time.
And if you don’t want to wear heels, don’t.
It’s about embracing perceived imperfections and showing vulnerability.
It’s about putting time into the loving relationships you have with your friends. Romantic love isn’t the only kind of love that means something.
Feminism is about making best friends in the bathroom at a club and exchanging phone numbers.
It’s about not telling someone to their face that you like them and then complaining about them behind their back.
It’s about not pointing out another woman’s flaws.
It’s about not having to deal with a male colleague saying to you ‘you look hot today’ as you awkwardly smile and wish you could sink into the carpet.
It’s about not saying to another girl ‘are you ok? You look tired today’ just because she isn’t wearing makeup.
It’s about teaching young girls in sex education at school that women’s pleasure is just as important as men’s.
It’s about just being a boss not a ‘girlboss’ (why does being a boss need to be defined by your gender?!)
It’s about blocking and reporting that person online who says you should ‘go kill yourself’ or that ’someone should rape you’ just because you express a different opinion to theirs.
And it’s about corporations like instagram and twitter taking such things seriously.
It’s about not having to be ashamed of having a period, not having to hide the fact like it’s a dirty little secret.
It’s about encouraging women to stop apologising all the time for things that are not their fault.
It’s about breaking down the ideas of what is and isn’t considered ‘lady-like’.
It’s about getting to a place where all of these aren’t daily pressures that women have to deal with. And so much more. And I think everyone, women and men alike (and everyone else who doesn’t fit within those confines) can agree that there’s nothing wrong with that, right?
Feminism is about supporting women, not about being aggressive and shouting ‘Patriarchy’ and burning bras. And it’s something that should be important to all genders. If you’re interested in knowing more about what feminism really is, check out ‘Feminists Don’t Wear Pink’ by Scarlett Curtis (the book and the podcast), and if you have Audible, please check out her 5-part series for International Women’s Day called ‘To The Woman’. She and her friends can iterate these thoughts much better than I can.
Thanks to the love and support of the females in my life, I finally feel like I’m finding a space to be me, where my opinions matter, where I am accepted for who I am and where I don’t need to always try and put on an act to be liked. Of course there will always be girls I don’t get along with, but I have met a LOT over the past couple of years and I haven’t experienced anyone being less than amazing. I honestly don’t know where I would be without all my babes.
So to all my girls, I just want to take this opportunity to say:
A part of the human condition is to feel like everyone has it sorted and you don’t
Like you’re the one who doesn’t fit in
And I have often felt like I don’t really fit in
Like everyone is having the fun and I’m not invited
Because I’m not as cool as everyone else out there and I’m lucky if anyone puts up with me
But you girls… All of you girls I love…
You make me feel like I might belong somewhere.
Like when people talk about their ‘tribe’
You are mine.
I still think you are all too cool for me
But you all show me what is important in the world.
We’re braver together.
I can’t even put into words how much you all mean to me.
I love you.