Saturday, 8 March 2014

Don't bring me flowers!

So this is International Women’s Day and, to quote John Lennon, what have been done?

We have come a long way – or at least some of us have. In many parts of the world, sisters are indeed doing it for themselves. 

We have women doctors, lawyers, politicians too. There’s even the occasional CEO and token female on the panel of some TV comedy shows. Strangely enough, however, though we make up 50% of the population, we seem to claim a much, MUCH smaller fraction of such exulted positions – but I suppose we should be grateful for small mercies. 

We’re certainly not at the stage where we can all pat ourselves on the back and congratulate society of finally defining people by their qualities and abilities rather than the equipment lurking beneath their business suit, overalls or medical smock.

Some of us (OK, hands up. Yes, I admit it, I mean me) scoff at the very concept of a special day dedicated – usually in name and shallow tokens only – to women. 

“One WHOLE day? Wow, gee thanks, boys! That makes us feel SO special! And thanks, but no thanks, I won’t take that red rose you’re handing out to every female you meet today to feed your smugness at what an enlightened, sensitive man you are.”

There’s still a way to go. In many ways, again to quote Lennon, woman still is the nigger of the world. (Speaking of Lennon, isn't it interesting that he's virtually revered whilst Yoko Ono is still largely vilified? Wonder why? Don't answer, it's rhetorical.)

As I write this, apparently emancipated working women around Europe are getting up three hours earlier than the rest of the household to make a head start on the housework they haven’t had time to do during the week, whilst the menfolk gently snore their way into the weekend.

In remote Indian villages, women with no access to the sanitary products you and I take for granted every month put their health at risk by using unclean rags that they are too embarrassed to hang out in the sun after washing.

In businesses around the world, female go-getters are labelled bitches and have vicious rumours spread about their personal lives to explain their success. Ambitious women find themselves biting back tears of frustration when visitors arriving for that important meeting where they’ll make the main presentation ask them to bring them their coffee black with two sugars. And that's simply an added, everyday insult to the fact that they probably earns less than the guys who joined on the same day, and with the same qualifications.

Girls thirsty for knowledge put their lives at risk for the chance of an education (don’t ask me, ask Malala).

Middle-aged housewives work themselves into paroxysms of existential angst as the first wrinkles and sags threaten to erase their attractiveness and consign them to the army of invisible dowdy old biddies. Some tolerate almost any humiliation rather than face a future without a man. The very hint of a feminist dialogue is shouted down in seemingly reasonable households and dismissed as “There she goes, banging the 'Women’s Issues' drum again”.

Somewhere in Africa, an eight-year-old girl lies bleeding and in agony in her bed after being subjected to a brutal genital mutilation dictated as proper by the society she’s growing up in. No-one explains to her why - probably because no-one can, at least not rationally.

In Australia’s New South Wales, three-quarters of all women who are killed lose their lives at the hands of ‘loved ones’ asserting some perverted sense of ownership or control through their violence.

The beatification of motherhood is used as a double-edged sword that obliges women to put everyone’s needs above their own.  To martyr themselves at the altar of the family by abandoning their own hopes, dreams, ambitions or simply their preferred brand of coffee in favour of those of her husband and children. We accept that psychological prison proudly with declarations of “My children are my life”, “Family is everything” and “I’m there for them” whilst slowly but inexorably losing sight of ourselves.
[Please note, I am not anti-family, anti-marriage or anti-kids. I love my husband, and I would walk through fire for my son. I don't want to imagine my life without them, but they are NOT my whole life. I was here first, and it’s me – if the demon of dementia permits - that will be here til the bitter end.]

Everywhere, we are judged by the way we look. We all accept it to some extent or another, whether by bowing to the tyranny of conceived beauty by starving ourselves, injecting poison into our faces to wipe out any trace of character and squeezing ourselves into impossibly uncomfortable undergarments or vertigo-inducing heels, or accepting the myth that the female form is inherently evil and that we should obey edicts about what to wear, how to move, when to speak and what to think. 

Young girls are conditioned into obsessions with pink, prettiness and passive-aggression, and those of us who fall short of the how we’re told girls are supposed to look and act suffer a lifetime of inner demons and insecurity.

So, this is International Women’s Day. 
It’s not St Valentine’s Day Mark II, as the media and advertising industry want us to believe as they guilt-trip men into buying yet more flowers and chocolates. 

It’s supposed to celebrate what’s been achieved so far in the voyage to a time when we will all be treated and judged equally regardless of our gender. But more importantly, it’s a chance to highlight what’s still left to be done – today and every day of the year.

So, thanks, but no thanks. I don’t want your flowers, or your chocolates (I'm perfectly capable of getting them myself). And I won’t be celebrating token news bites about “women making their way in a man’s world” thrown at us by the media.

I’m just going to do what I do 365 days a year - do my best at being a woman, being human, being me.


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