Last Thursday saw International Women's Day grace our calendar. I have mixed feelings about this. I like that it's an ear-marked moment to celebrate the distance women have travelled on the journey of female empowerment in the last century, but I also find it depressing that in this day and age there are still so many women across the globe who have such a raw deal that we need a 'day' to recognise their struggle against, and the achievements made in the face of, extreme subjugation, oppression, and misinformation. [A sobering fact: 1 billion women globally are the victims of violence against them. That's one in three].
I am fortunate to come from a long line of stellar feminists (and by feminist I do NOT mean crazed ball-crushers intent on the emasculation of men and the toppling of the patriarchy, but people who view women and men as equals in both opinion and worth). My mother, an architect, both worked and looked after my sister and I. We grew up playing on building sites in piles of orange sand and drawing on the floor beside her with fine-liners and cool, curvy rulers. Though she undoubtedly turned her back on large, high profile projects in order to be at home with us, she did so because she chose to. There is a fabulous picture that hangs in her office showing a group of kick-ass women gathered around a drawing board. It was the early '70s and they'd formed a company called Women in Architecture. My mum is right in the middle, beautiful, empowered, bucking the male-dominated system, shouting loud-and-proud that women can do this work shit too. My great-grandmother was the first woman to qualify as an optician in the UK back in the late 19th century. My grandmother - also an optician - worked full-time until she was 84, at which point she lost her sight (oh, cruel irony) and was forced to stop. My sister and I grew up in a feminist environment, but it was never spoken of in those terms, it wasn't labelled. It was a pervasive atmosphere that surrounded us as we developed, an unspoken given that if it was possible for a human to do it there was no reason why we couldn't do it. Application, hard-graft, a little luck, and all things were possible. Gender never came into it. I got a pretty hefty shock, therefore, when I moved from my girls' school to a mixed sixth form and then on to university, and began to hear expressions like: 'That's not bad...for a girl'. There are other statements that grate, of course. Here follows a few of the worst:
"Girls can't throw." Girls CAN throw! You just have to teach them. Children learn by watching their parents. Boys aren't born knowing how to throw. Dads take their sons into the park or garden with a ball as soon as the kid can sit up. They're out there, day-in/day-out, throwing, catching, praising, criticising, giving tips, demonstrating, teaching, if not consciously then subconsciously. Once, a friend of mine - surprised I could throw - said he thought it was physiologically impossible for a girl to throw: 'Because of their boobs...' WTF?!! Dads, throw a ball to your daughter. If she picks it up and throws it back she wants to learn. Teach her. If she looks at the ball like it's an alien covered in snot it's likely she's not that bothered. Let her go back inside and put on a tutu if she wants, don't force her, but my suggestion is teach her anyway. Even if it's just an hour one weekend, it can't hurt to learn the mechanics of it.
"Women aren't funny." If I hear someone say this I will tie them to a chair, wedge their eyes open with matchsticks, and throw funny at them until they laugh, or I die trying. 'Women aren't funny' because men aren't that bothered about funny, most of them tend to prefer breasts and vaginas, and when push comes to thrust, laughing is low on their agenda. This has been so since prehistoric times: 'Wo-man has va-gi-na, man not care a-bout laugh.' Men clap when women take their clothes off. This is why there are more women strippers than male. But just like men can strip, women can be funny. Women are a more generous audience than men when it comes to laughing. We went to a comedy club recently and there was a man on stage who was dire. The men in our group sat there, folded arms, giving nothing. The women forced out laughs because we didn't want to hurt his feelings. Men have had hundreds of thousands of years of this ego-bolstering. I mean, truthfully, how many times have you sat next to the dullest man on earth and politely laughed at his rubbish? If a man thinks a woman is dull he stares at her breasts. If she's still dull, even with the breasts, his eyes will wander off to find a different pair of breasts to stare at. Keep on with the funny, girls. Even if it's not always top of the list, most men love a funny woman...as long as she also has a vagina of course.
"Another girl? Oh...I am sorry." You wouldn't believe the number of people who said something along these lines when our third daughter was born. I cannot begin to articulate how much this kind of comment angers me. A couple of years ago, Mr J said to me: 'Why does everyone keep asking me if I'm upset I don't have a son? What could be better than to be surrounded by four beautiful ladies who love me?' Bless him for this.
"Brazilian or Hollywood?" I'm jumping onto the Caitlin Moran/Anna Richardson (The Sex Education Show) soap-box here, but my goodness I feel blood-boilingly strongly about this. TEENAGE GIRLS ARE REMOVING THEIR PUBIC HAIR BECAUSE TEENAGE BOYS THINK PUBIC HAIR ON GIRLS IS ABNORMAL. Teenage boys have been taught this. This is akin to some American schools denying evolution and teaching that the world was made in a matter of days by an omnipotent Being who also buried dinosaur bones to confuse us. Boys have not learnt this at school or from parents, but from grubby porn directors on the internet, the type of slimy bloke you'd cross the street to avoid. Aside from abuse, I can think of little more damaging for a girl's sexual self-esteem than if she's about to have sex for the first time, takes off her underwear, and sees her boyfriend recoil in disgusted horror at the hairy gargoyle leering at him from between her legs. Mothers, I beg you, you owe it to our daughters, to your fellow human beings, to the SISTERHOOD, to tell your sons that a gorgeous, womanly bush is normal and the sign of a sexually-mature girl. Bare bots are for children. Girls, trim it, shape it, give it a fucking perm if needs be, but do it because you want to and WEAR YOUR HAIR WITH PRIDE.
And lastly. The classic, leather-armchaired 'gentlemen's club' clap-trap. "Women are the weaker sex." This actually merits no more than an impolite 'fuck off', but for blog's sake, I'll be more verbose. It is absolutely NOT okay for us to perpetuate male superiority over womanhood. I love men, really, I do. I love my husband, my dad and my friends, and Jared Leto and Damian Lewis and Moriarty from Sherlock, but men are not our superiors. Men are, after all, creatures who freely and happily admit to thinking about sex every ten seconds. All day, every day, every ten seconds. Picture Obama considering whether or not to invade Iran or Cameron and Clegg debating university fees or Trevor Macdonald reading the news. All of them apparently simultaneously thinking about boffing. Every ten seconds. That's a serious amount of time spent drifting off-topic onto something technically not on the job description. Women don't give over the same headspace to the consideration of rutting and this is in our favour. We are talented, creative, intelligent, funny, tough, gentle souls, who can also give birth, nurture, and love unconditionally. ALL of us - unless told otherwise - are perfectly capable of driving in all weathers. We can fix a shelf and change a light bulb, boil an egg and read a book. We can even make a nativity costume out of loo rolls and tin foil. If you tell a child they cannot do something, they will believe you. Women rock. Tell your daughters they rock. Tell your daughters they can do anything they want to. In the long-term it will help. In the long-term we might not need International Women's Day to remind us we're fully paid-up, equally valued, equally wonderful, citizens of this planet.