Ladies, Can I Have a Word?

It’s been just over a week since the 45th President of the United States was inaugurated. He’s not my president (literally, rather than in the powerfully symbolic way many Americans are saying it) but I wasn’t happy about it. I could fill a whole blog post, in fact many blog posts, about how and why I wasn’t happy about it. But that’s not what I want to talk about today. Instead, I want to talk about us gals.

The day after the Inauguration, women (and men alongside them) all over the world marched in protest of the views of men like the new President, of the inequality women face, of the way we’re negatively treated. I applaud the marchers. I didn’t take part. I could say that it was because I was working but really, I’m just not the marching type. I’m the writing type (obviously). I applaud women standing together to protest inequality. It’s a beautiful thing.

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It’s an especially beautiful thing in view of something a little uglier I’ve noticed of late. It’s something perhaps we don’t want to discuss. Feminism generally targets those institutions, governments and individual men who oppress women, who discriminate against women and who regularly insult women. Quite right. Someone needs to speak out against them and it’s important that we do. However, we seem to be ignoring a rather large group of people who constantly diminish our worth and our self esteem. Other women.

I’ll give you a few examples of what I’m talking about. Last year in the US, a former Playboy Bunny decided to take a photo of a woman she did not know and share it online, along with a disgusting comment. She claimed later that she meant to only share with a friend, as if that made it ok. I was initially shocked but the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I’ve heard countless women make nasty comments about another woman’s appearance.

Here in the UK, when the Conservative party was looking for a new leader, candidate Andrea Leadsom made the claim that being a mother gave her more of a stake in the future of the country, compared to Theresa May, who has no children. Again, I was shocked. Whether or not you’re a mother shouldn’t enter into how qualified you are to do any job. But then, how many of us have faced similar comments? And how many of those comments have come from women? Not all, I suspect, but some.

After the US Presidential election, a woman emailed another woman (who happened to be the Mayor of a town in West Virginia) describing Michelle Obama as an ‘ape in heels’. Ok, this isn’t just a nasty comment about another woman’s appearance, it’s also got a rather racist vibe to it, although both the sender and recipient tried to claim otherwise during the backlash when the email was made public. But still. Michelle Obama, who not only maintains a constant air of dignity, but also campaigns tirelessly for the rights of girls. None of that matters. What counts is how she looks.

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We’re regularly told about the damaging effects of women’s magazines that show images of women that have been perfected (in the opinion of some), first by professional stylists then by editing software. On top of these images are articles about how to keep your boyfriend interested in you, how to lose weight in ways that are usually unhealthy and sometimes border on dangerous and how we can shell out endless amounts of money in an attempt to look like women someone has decided look the correct way. As you can probably tell by now, I hate these magazines. They cause misery. But who makes the decisions on running these articles and including these images? A 2008 article from Forbes tells us that the top magazine editors are all women.

When a man recently directed at me the kind of nasty sexist comment we all face at least occasionally, the many women present didn’t defend me or encourage me to defend myself. Instead they told me that men are just like that and we have to put up with it. Which is pretty much insulting both genders at once. Men are apparently animals who can’t help but be disgusting and sexist and women should just submissively shut up and accept it. Neither of which I see as true. Shamefully, I’m not the confrontational type, so I did shut up. I shouldn’t have. I will try to have the strength not to when this almost inevitably happens again.

Am I saying that the discrimination and oppression of women is actually the fault of other women? No, of course I’m not. I’m saying that it doesn’t help the situation when women tear each other down.

To quote Tina Fey’s character in Mean Girls (an awesome film, by the way), ‘You need to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores’.

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On a more positive note, there are plenty of women out there who are supporting other women. I already mentioned Michelle Obama, who I really admire. I’ve taught my own daughter her now famous quote: ‘When they go low, you go high’. Malala Yousifrazi, who risked her own life in her determination to become educated and to spread a message about the importance of education, especially for girls in countries where it’s too often denied to them.

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Emma Thompson, a supremely talented actress (I dare anyone to watch her performance in Love Actually and not shed a tear) but also a human rights advocate and a highly intelligent and witty woman who behaves exactly as she wishes, seemingly without a care of what anyone might say about it.

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I could go on. But I want to end with this. We can all be one of those women who encourages, supports and defends, rather than criticising and mocking each other on appearance or irrelevant personal choices. We can all be positive role models for each other. Do we all need to be best friends? No. We just need to be a bit kinder and a bit more considerate.

 

Thanks for reading.

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Life Choices

 

Looking on Twitter this morning, it seems a little debate about what women’s priorities should be in their personal lives is going on, sparked by an interview of Kirstie May Allsop in the Telegraph, which you can read here. I started to reply on Twitter too but then realised that I have more to say on the subject than can be really squished into a Tweet.

I actually agree with Kirstie. There, I said it.

As a 24 year old who is married, a mother and two years away from having a degree, I do think that, for some women, not going to university at 18 is a good option. I am so glad that I didn’t because my life could have turned out differently and I love the way it is now. I have an awesome relationship with a lovely husband, we have an amazing four year old daughter and I love them both immensely.

Do I think that my lifestyle will suit everyone? Of course not. But I do think that it does work for me and could work for other women too.

When I got engaged and pregnant at 19, many people assume it was accidental and we were getting married to ‘do the right thing’ or ‘make the best of it’. Actually we got engaged then had a very responsible conversation about the idea of having children. Both of us wanted to and since we were in a fairly stable situation, I joyfully chucked my contraceptive pill in the bin and was pregnant within a few months. This and accepting his marriage proposal are jointly the best decisions I’ve ever made. My family bring me more happiness and fulfillment than any career and, while many women feel quite the reverse, I know I’m not alone in that. So why wait until you’re into your thirties to begin what might be the best part of your life?

People cite a few different reasons for doing so. The main one I’ve heard is the idea that you’re too young to settle down in your twenties, that it’s time for being irresponsible and carefree. I disagree. To me, childhood and adolescence is for being irresponsible and carefree. You’re an adult at the age of 18. My opinion on this might well be a little biased by the fact that I was forced into a situation of leaving home at 17 years old so I had to be responsible for myself from that point on. But I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything because of that. If anything, it’s given me a bit of self reliance and the ability to cope. Do I go out with my friends of an evening as much as I did when I was sixteen or seventeen? No, of course not. But do I miss it? No, not really. It was fun at the time but now spending time with my family is fun and the occasional meal out and a few drinks is fun.

Another reason often given is that you should focus on your career first then have a family. Of course, if you feel that your career is going to be your priority in life, then yes you should focus on that. I’m not going to say that women should definitely choose family over a career. But I do resent being told that I’ve done something wrong by doing so myself.

I do actually plan on having a career, that’s one of the main reasons for studying part time towards my degree. Yes, that’s right. I want to have a career and a family. It’s really not necessary to choose between the two and it’s really not some kind of unforgivable crime to womanhood to put having a family first.  Those that tell you it is aren’t really much better than anyone who tells you that a woman’s place is in the kitchen or that we’re only good for having babies, are they? It’s still a way of getting women to conform to a prescribed life set out by people who don’t know you personally or understand what’s important to you. You’re going to be every bit as miserable if you focus on a career all of your life when what you really wanted was a family as you would if the situation was reversed.

To conclude, your life is your own. Prioritise what’s important to you and your longterm happiness. Don’t feel pressured into a certain path if it doesn’t fit in to those priorities and your personal circumstances.

Thank you for reading!