Feminism! The fight for equality! International Women’s Day!
I love these three topics. I love talking about them, debating them and defending them. But if I’m truly honest, I have to admit that I find them at once both inspiring and tiresome.
‘It’s not a fight’
Many years ago I lived a different life, living overseas and working in marketing and social media. One morning at work I was browsing the internet, looking for inspiration for social media content in the lead up to International Women’s Day. A friend looking over my shoulder noticed an illustration on my screen and commented that they hate that particular line of messaging. ‘It’s not a fight’ they said.
To be fair, this person was speaking in particular about how the fight for equality isn’t a fight between men and women. With this point, I agree. We cannot (nor should we want to) reach equality by tearing men down. The push for equality must be taken up by both genders, working together to reach a common goal that will in turn benefit all.
Yet to this day I continue to think about this conversation. I find myself coming back to the phrase. What does it mean to ‘fight’ for women’s rights? Is it something we should seek to do?
The Oxford English Dictionary’s second definition of ‘fight’ (after the more violent one) is to struggle to overcome, to eliminate or prevent. It is to strive to achieve and to endeavour vigorously.
While we have made great strides in gender equality, there is still so far to go. My own personal experiences working in a male dominated industry, stories from the #metoo era as well as statistics on physical and sexual violence, female genital mutilation, legal protections, political representation and health (among other areas) make this clear.
All this got me thinking. What am I doing practically, to ‘fight’ for women? What could I ‘strive to achieve’ in my day to day life?
While I can’t necessarily create or implement policy, or make large scale systematic change, there are definitely still things I can do to make a difference.
I find speaking to other people and listening to their stories and experiences one of the best ways to learn. Truly listening to someone is incredibly valuable. It might also give you a glimpse into a life that you didn’t know was reality for many people. I once watched a short video on the experiences and struggles of women in a developing country in Asia. A man had commented on the clip, ‘It’s 2019, it’s not like this for women in this country anymore’. Way to miss the point!
As I’ve lived overseas I’ve been very lucky to be able to listen and learn from people with backgrounds and cultures very different to mine. I will always consider this one of the most valuable parts of my expat experience.
Your lived experience being different to that of another person does not make theirs any less valid or real.
Treat people equally
This may sound a bit simplistic, but sometimes simple is best!
Treat everyone in your workplace as equal. At my first job, my female co-worker was always asked to bring in cake for birthdays. We would end up eating store bought slab cake simply because our male co-worker who loved to bake wasn’t even thought of. Don’t expect the women in the office to get coffee or organise afternoon teas any more than you would expect the men to.
Conversely, don’t assume that women won’t take up different opportunities because of family or other responsibilities. I recently read a book where the extremely qualified writer wasn’t offered a promotion because it required an interstate move her boss didn’t think she’d be willing to make. What a missed opportunity for both parties!
Same at home. If you and your partner both work, share the housework equally. You both live there! If you want to have kids don’t just assume that the female partner will stay at home with your children. Talk about options because there are many!
Give stay at home parents some credit
If your partner is a ‘stay at home mum or dad’, acknowledge that this is the equivalent (if not more) of full time work. Yes, it is a joy. Yes, it is also work. Value this ‘unpaid work’ equally.
Be yourself and know your worth
Sometimes the desire for equality can lead women to make decisions that might not be right for us. Being traditionally feminine or wanting to be a stay at home mum does not disqualify you from being a feminist. If that is what you want to do or who you want to be it’s not an issue. On the other hand, if you want to study STEM subjects or go into a traditionally male field of work, go for it!
As a woman, know your worth. Particularly professionally. Learn to negotiate, to stand up for yourself and to talk about yourself. Support other women. Find a mentor or find someone to mentor. There is enormous value in community and shared experience.
Pull your friends up when they speak about women disrespectfully. Don’t ask what ‘disrespectful’ means. You know.
Inspiring yet tiresome
Earlier I said that I find topics around gender equality both inspiring and tiresome. I’m inspired because everyday I see instances of men and women around me living out the ‘fight’. I see women doing things they were told they never could and thriving!
I find it tiresome because it’s 2021, and I often still have to debate this.
I love they way the United Nations puts it. ‘Women and men must enjoy equal opportunities, choices, capabilities, power and knowledge as equal citizens. Equipping girls and boys, women and men with the knowledge, values, attitudes and skills to tackle gender disparities is a precondition to building a sustainable future for all.’
Bring it on!
Anna Waite hails from Brisbane, Australia. She enjoys travel, good coffee and getting to hang out with awesome people from around the world!