INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY
“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights” – Gloria Steinem
Are you a feminist?
Many women will strongly declare their membership of, and support for, “The Sisterhood”. Many of the younger generation will say feminism is no longer relevant.
Three cheers for the baby boomers! Obviously all our hard work paid huge dividends if our daughters and granddaughters feel they no longer need feminism in their lives.
So next question – why bother with International Women’s Day?
What need is there for a day “pushing women’s agenda” when already we are heavy haulage vehicle drivers, doctors, plumbers, university professors, etcetera, etcetera? We have women Heads of Government, leading police services, even Generals (or equivalent ranks) in the Armed Forces.
In my opinion, the answer to this question is within our very lives – whilst many first world women may not see the need for either feminism, or International Women’s Day, if we collectively look at women and their lot, the denial of their human rights also denies the human rights of all mankind.
Had you asked me in my late teens or early 20s if I was a feminist, I may well have answered no; I did not relate to the bra-burning, unshaven armpit, raucous women who appeared to lead this revolution. How much did my background influence these beliefs?
My mother was strong; wife, mother and, from the time we started school, a working woman. Despite the fact that she worked, she also managed to do tuck shop duty, train the debutants for the school’s Fundraising Ball, listen to us reading and put delicious meals on the table.
I remember Mum having a few different positions, one as Quality Manager for a major whitegoods manufacturer, another as Group Manager for a number of departments in one of our largest retail chains. My Dad did wood chopping as a sport and Mum was the secretary of the state’s wood chopping association. After Dad died she single handedly ran an early opening hotel in one of Sydney’s industrial suburbs. She was the most feminine of women, always well groomed, never used coarse language and, even in the hotel, accomplished all she did wearing high heels and lipstick!
My maternal grandmother was another capable woman – Nana was on her own as long as I can remember. Nana also ran hotels and was one of the first women in New South Wales to hold a hotel licence in her own right. Even as an older woman, she owned a bread shop which she ran on her own 6 days a week, until a few months before she died.
“Girls can do anything” was not a slogan – I saw the women around me living equal lives. This was reinforced at school; we were encouraged to be whatever we wanted to be: doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, doctors and yes, mothers. I was taught by nuns who believed in education and proudly boasted of the achievements of their girls including those of the mothers. So as you can see, feminism was not a word, it was a fact; mother and father had different but equal roles in the family.
Even when I started working, I denied being a feminist, yet I was the girl who refused to pass a typing test of 40 words per minute, because the young man who sat next to me and did the same work, didn’t have to be able to type! I looked at this as a “fairness” issue, not a feminist one. I left that job and went to a private company, where I felt treated equal to the male accountancy students. I was considered competent enough to attend client’s offices on my own. Then I found out, my wage was much less than the men on the same level. I felt even more unappreciated when the young man I had replaced when he was conscripted, came back to the office and I lost the more interesting of “my” clients.
Outside work, I was an anti-conscription/Vietnam protestor; unlike many others however, what I really found unfair was that it was only the young men being conscripted. There’s that word again: “unfair”.
Eventually I woke up! So many of my actions were those of one of these dreaded feminists; whilst I could not relate to many of their agenda items, and considered others silly, I understood that to win change, they had to do whatever would gain attention and raise awareness. Women like Gloria Steinem and Germaine Greer had the intestinal fortitude to stand up for their rights and to take other women, even me, along with them. As a politically aware person, I had always admired the Suffragettes, yet realised I was not giving the same admiration to the women of my own generation who were also trying to change situations that were “unfair”. I realised, I denied being a feminist because for me the word was unnecessary.
Today many women are still slaves; they are sold as children to be the wives of old men; they live so far below what we in Australia call the “poverty line” that we cannot appreciate their plight. They lack men and women in their lives to support their ambitions, encouraged them to stand tall, ensure their education and assist them to lead independent lives.
As a woman who had (and has) men and women in my life who are my supporters, encouragers, educators and assisters, I now proudly say I AM A FEMINIST.
I want to see a day when International Women’s Day is only held to celebrate amazing women. I want a better world for all the women, which will mean a better world for men and women. I want “unfair” turned into “fair”.
Are you a feminist? What do you believe International Women’s Day stands for? Do you think we still have a way to go?