Today is International Day of the Girl Child, 24-hours designated by the United Nations to highlight the challenges girls continue to face around the world, and promote fairness and empowerment.
Which makes me both proud and sad at the same time; proud that an international effort is being made to address these issues, but also sad that the discrimination exists at all.
As a mum of two young girls, continuing the fight for equality is not a choice for me, it’s a necessity.
It shocks me when I hear people say that we already have equality in developed countries because it’s simply not true. Sure, we’ve come a long way since I was a young teenager; when grown men thought nothing of slowing their cars as I walked home from school, idling alongside as I quickened my pace and making lewd remarks about the length of my skirt.
I saw it when OH and I went for our first mortgage when the advisor spent the entire time speaking straight to him even though, at the time, we were applying based almost entirely on my income.
I see it today when the quotes arrive for our upcoming building work addressed solely to my partner, even though the planning permission is in BOTH of our names (those quotes don’t even get a look-in, FYI).
When I hear of the continuing pay gap between men and women carrying out the same job. When I read about the tiny percentage of women occupying top positions in every sector. Yes, I understand that when we choose (or are forced) to pause our careers to raise families this is partly to blame for the disparity, but – even taking this into account – the numbers just don’t add up.
It makes me crazy to see the television advert where Dad sorts out the vital life insurance to protect his family, while Mum potters about in the background, smiling benignly and folding washing. These might seem like small things, but it’s this everyday sexism that reinforces the stereotypes: men do the important jobs, while the women do the mindless chores.
And our kids are seeing, and soaking, this stuff up.
Before you complain there’s nothing wrong with doing the laundry – in fact, I actually do all the washing in our home – but if you’re only ever presented with that one perspective, THAT’S where the pigeonholing takes seed. Why not show the woman sorting the insurance while the man folds the washing? It’s not the action I disagree with, it’s the same old tired stereotypes being trotted out.
On the flip side, I was wanted to cheer when I saw the new Screwfix advert included a female plumber – I want my girls to grow up seeing female role models in every single aspect of life, so when they decide their own career paths they’re making choices based on their own passions and talents, not according to subliminal social conditioning (and if you think that’s being dramatic – ask your children what they think are ‘girl’ jobs and which are ‘boy’ jobs, and see what their answers are… ).
The other day I was watching Made in Chelsea. ‘Ugh,’ one of the (super-rich, therefore insulated from the realities of the regular world) female characters remarked, ‘I hate feminists.’
So she wants women to be treated as inferior to men? She wants us to earn less than men, for doing exactly the same type and level of work (if we’re even ‘allowed’ to work at all)? She wants us to have decisions made on our behalf, for our husbands to take control of all our money, assets and property upon marriage? To be treated sexually objectified, and to have little control over our own bodies and reproductive organs?
Because these are all things that the feminist movement has fought hard against (and in some cases is still fighting against).
You can wear makeup and be a feminist. You can be a stay-at-home mum and be a feminist. You can choose to do ALL the housework in your own home and be a feminist. Hell, you can even be a man and be a feminist. Because feminism doesn’t mean shaving your head and burning your bra (although you’re welcome to if you want to), it means having the choice to live your life exactly the way you want to, not the way someone else says you have to.
It means women having the same opportunities that are available to men and receiving the same level of payment, recognition and respect. It means being viewed as the capable, intelligent, equal human beings that we are.
There’s not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to feminism – there are times when common sense is required.
If there’s a heavy lifting job required at home, I pass it over to OH. Not because it’s a ‘man’s job’ but because I have a shoulder that likes to dislocate, and he’s stronger than me. That’s not sexism, that’s just a fact. But every single piece of flatpack furniture we’ve ever owned – and there were A LOT in the early Ikea days – has been assembled by me (OH freely admits he doesn’t have the patience).
I think it’s lovely when men hold doors open for me. That’s not sexism, that’s good manners. Plus, I’m equally quick to hold open doors for them if I get there first.
OH fixes the washing machine, because he knows how to do it and I don’t. I do the laundry because OH works long hours and it would never get done otherwise. These aren’t gender-roles, these are simply ‘people’ roles that currently make the most sense for our household – if it was me working long hours in an office it would be OH in the laundry room.
I’m proud to be raising feminist daughters. I want them to know that – if they work hard enough – they can achieve whatever goals they set themselves, whether that be raising a family, or becoming an astrophysicist, or anything in between.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if, one day, we didn’t need an International Day of the Girl Child at all?
• inspire your own daughters, granddaughters, nieces and friends with a copy of the brilliant book Women in Science – 50 Pioneers who Changed the World – a beautifully illustrated book celebrating 50 trailblazing women from the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.