At 55, I am lucky enough still to have three generations of women in my family life; an elderly but fit mother, in her 80s; a partner of the same age as me with whom, I worked out the other day, I have now spent around one fifth of my life asleep; and a daughter aged 18 who is discovering her own voice and opinions, and making something of them.
On this, Mother’s Day, I thought I would give over my blog to the last of these three, whose blog suggests to me that she might follow me and her Mum down the journalism route after she has finished her studies. On verra.
She wrote the piece below for her own blog, farfromgrace.org, to coincide with International Women’s Day. (and if you scroll down a bit on her site, you will see a very nice piece she wrote about her own Mum and grandmother recently)
I quoted her on the gap between equal rights and equal worth at a panel discussion on International Women’s Day on Friday, where I made the point that women are too accepting, still, of male domination in politics, business and culture more generally. Feminism seems to have stalled a bit, and established power elites (not least here in the UK with our Bullindgon government, but also in the US via the right-wing Supreme Court) are re-asserting themselves. So it looks like it will be up to the next generation to rekindle the flames of a good old fight.
‘I was born 18 years ago, into a world where times are changing. The glass ceiling was said to have been lifted. For women like my mother, opportunities were lush compared to the drought of the last century. Supposedly, women had been granted equal rights. Unfortunately, I grew up to learn that equal rights do not guarantee equal value.
I found myself in a world where women were being objectified and scrutinised over their looks. My life was situated in a cell of media influence and imaging which was hard to escape. My eyes and ears feasted on this concept of the ideal woman. She is pretty, slim, and her silky hair falls effortlessly down her back. She watches me from billboards and magazine covers. When in doubt, the advice from the media is to be more like this ‘femme parfaite.’ But what am I if I am not and will never be this woman? What if I don’t want to be her? Is my life going to remain unfulfilled?
For a girl today, society is a confusing place. We are encouraged to aim high, yet our self esteem is conditioned to be low. We are educated that in this day and age we can go on to achieve anything a man can do, without the limitations that our ancestors were blocked by. Yet, when attempting to chase this ambition, we are reminded that we belong to the gender which is so greatly patronised by the media. This image of a sexualised woman means that we are introduced to the harsh truth that many men do not welcome women into powerful positions. To my sadness, there exist women who accept this as their fate because it is what they have learnt is acceptable.
This leaves young women wondering where they stand. How do we nurture our ambitions with the outer voices whispering that you’re ‘just a woman’?
Ambition is a value that has long been claimed by men. In this legally equal world, men are the leaders, while women are still expected to be the carers and even the aesthetical pleasers. Ours ear hear men speak, while our eyes watch and judge women.
I want to know where lies the voice of a girl. Who speaks for her? Women today are largely unrepresented throughout institutions which mould our society. When we look at Parliament, our government, the boards of major companies, or powerful figures in media and culture, it is hard to escape that we are still stuck in a man’s world.
Children grow up imitating the roles they see in their childhood. If this male domination remains, patriarchal values will be placed into the minds of our future leaders and powerful figures, meaning that change won’t come.
If we want to eliminate these inequalities, successful and powerful women need to be embraced and placed as role models.
Young girls go through years of seeking the perfection which is defined by the media. Unfortunately, this perfection doesn’t exist. We are all imperfect. Woman have flaws, just like men. However, the most tragic flaw which embodies millions of women, is the misunderstanding of their worth. There are many young girls who feel that this beautiful perfection is the only one worth seeking.
I don’t want future generations of girls to be plagued by the question of ‘what am I if I’m a woman?’ The answer to this questions is that being a woman should not make any difference to what you can achieve. Women and men have been granted equal rights so women will use it and move forward in this process of achieving true equality.
One day the term sexist will have died its death because we will no longer need to say this word aloud. Until then we must encourage women to ignore limitations and know their worth as a human being.
Happy international women’s day boys and girls!’