Friday, March 8, 2013

Why I don't like International Women's Day

***Rant alert***

I always wanted to be a man.

As a girl I saw that men have more power, more money and more fun.

I saw women who were vulnerable, powerless, handicapped by hormones, periods, the menopause, endless housework, and most of all, fertility.

And I didn't change my mind when I grew up.  As a young woman, I tried to be a man.  I worked with them, ran with them, drank with them, drove fast cars, jumped out of aeroplanes, worked long hours. And it was (mostly) fun, and I was well paid.

Then I got married and had children. And everything changed.  I did discover the one advantage of being a woman: the miraculous ability to create and nurture life.  And I found out that this is a mixed blessing in so many ways.  Feminism and the womens' rights movements have a achieved a huge amount.  Today a woman can do almost anything she wants, so long as she doesn't have children, or other caring duties.  Even though everyone expects to get good quality care when they need it.

It is still through our fertility that society exerts power and control over women.  Even before birth, the pro choice people will blame you for having an abortion.  Right wingers will shame you for having a child if you not married.  Once your baby is born, your overwhelming urge to nurture and protect your child also becomes your weakness.  It enables men to control you, employers to sideline you, society to ignore you and the education, health and social welfare systems to beat you down with paperwork,  expectations, bureaucracy.  You become a second class citizen in the eyes of the world, even though you are doing the most important job of all: rearing the next generation.  Yet children are not valued, and nor is the job of looking after them.  Homemaking has very little status and is not much fun, for most of us.   Many mums put all their energy into their children, but get the blame if they they don't grow up perfect.

Why should women be expected to give up everything for their children?   Is it good for women?  Is it good for their children?  There are lots of pictures floating around Facebook about Mothers and the sacrifices that they should make for their children.  But I think that 'liking' these pictures means that society will just expect more sacrifices from mothers.  And where are the equivalent pictures for fathers?  I know that many of today's fathers are very involved in the lives of their children.  And that is something to celebrate, but it is not expected, it is not assumed.

Don't get me wrong: I love my children more than life itself.  I just don't love the way that society views me now that I am a mother.  And until that changes, International Women's Day is pretty meaningless.



28 comments:

  1. Every word of this makes perfect sense.

    I don't mind International Womans Day as it is a way for women to come together, but I agree with every word you say about how women and children are treated in our society. It's horrendous how it can go.

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    1. Thank you, I hope today does involve women coming together, that would be good.

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  2. My own experience was the polar opposite - the majority of the adults I dealt with until the age of about 12 were women, and the men were either very old, were around much less because of work (my Dad never talked about his job - I only found out what it was when I was 18 and worked there during college holidays - and he did not have a social life to speak of and still doesn't), and there was an uncle who had long-running mental health problems. I was the only boy in the extended family until I was about 11 (and of course, he was much younger than me), and the other children I saw most of were a sister and a female cousin, and I had very little interest in "boys' play" such as football (which absolutely dominated the playground at my junior school). Women seemed to hold the power in the family - most of them worked, the one that didn't work full-time (my Mum) was well looked-after -- my Dad helped pay her way through college when my sister and I were a bit older. My mother drove before my Dad, there were no fast cars - an Austin Allegro then a Ford Escort (we had our first *new* car this year). There wasn't a lot of money to go around.

    When I was 12, I was sent away to boarding school, something I have written about extensively and there has been some media coverage of it in the UK recently (Kesgrave Hall). The school was touted as a special school for boys with behavioural difficulties who were academically bright, but was in fact run by cowboys, was an extremely violent place (especially in the first year I was there), and if you were at the bottom of the pile you were expected to put up with everything and not complain. I complained to my mother repeatedly, expecting her to withdraw me, but she told me there was nowhere else for me to go and I should just keep my head down. When I told my friends about this years later, I was asked "where were your parents?" - the answer is, they were at home, living a normal life, basically enjoying themselves. I have a strong suspicion that my mother was not willing to countenance any further disruption to her own life, and especially her career. (As a child I could be quite embarrassing, difficult to live with and a bit controlling with my obsessions, but that had largely disappeared by the time I was sent away - my difficulties only really presented at school.)

    I appreciate that my mother didn't want to end up as "just a housewife" but really, children are vulnerable, they do not ask to be born, they do not ask to be trapped in "child world" where they are expected to live with the consequences of others' decisions until they are deemed capable of making their own, and in my mother's case, nobody was beating or otherwise abusing her - it was me that happened to. These days she's very sympathetic and says the school was crap, the headteacher was a sadist etc., calls it the worst four years of her life as well as mine (which I don't believe) - back then, she blamed me.

    I think people forget that we live in modern western society - it is not Afghanistan with its harsh form of patriarchy, it is not the South African townships with their endemic violence and rape culture, it is not Britain (let alone Ireland) in the 1950s. Adults, including women, have choices, and have done for decades -- they do not have to get married, they do not have to have children. Also, I accept that schools like mine have largely disappeared and that it's no longer possible to live in London and raise a family in a decent sized house on one income, as we did. I know some parents, particularly mothers, do make huge sacrifices for their children, but really, some don't. Some sacrifice their children instead. And having to tolerate years of violence in a "special" boarding school or a whole life in a long-stay institution is a vastly greater sacrifice than being a housewife or stay-at-home mother.

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    1. I totally agree that life for Western Women is a complete picnic compared to the lives led by women in other parts of the world. And some commentators said that IWD should really be about those brave women in places like Afghanistan who are trying to make a difference. I also understand that many boys and men have difficult lives too and I have read about your school and it is so awful it is scarcely believable, no child should have been put through that. I'm not arguing that every woman should go out to work, more that mothering and the care of children should be valued and not used as a means of control.

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  3. I started writing you a reply but it was getting so long that it should be a blog post. I'm going to blog a reply now. I don't entirely agree with you. Give me half an hour, I'll link back to you.

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    1. Thank you and I'm glad that this post has started a discussion: I will head over to read shortly :)

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  4. So true. Sad, but the way of the world. Until men can have the babies nothing much will ever change, eh?! Brilliantly written.

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  5. I'm not keen on International Womens Day either because, in my opinion, it pitches women against men, even if it doesn't mean to. I mean why do we have to come together - to find solidarity against a male dominated society? If this is the intention then surely this perpetuates the male v female division. I can just imagine how some men would look down on this Womens Day; just adds to the stereotype that we're second to men. I mean if there an International Mens Day? Deb

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    1. As someone commented today: the fact there is an international women's day says it all. It shouldn't be needed. And I don't want to pitch women against men, I think society and culture needs to change, and attitudes need to change too. I'm not sure that IWD is the way to do that

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  6. Very well said. I agree with all of your points about women, their fertility and caring roles in society. But I think this is exactly why we need an international women's day. I don't think it's a day of celebration, I think it's a day to further highlight the inequalities and second class status we hold and use it as a springboard for forcing change.

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    1. Yep, that's a good point, and I was glad to help raise awareness of domestic abuse again today

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  7. Ok, my reply is up. I won't put the URL here as blogger comments don't pick up the link.

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  8. I think women are differnt than men. And that is how it should be. Do I think that we need a day to celebrate our power? Not so much.

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  9. I like to think we're equal, but different. We are made vulnerable by becoming mothers, but I've certainly tapped into a deep well of strength and ability that I never knew I had.
    All your points are absolutely valid, but it's diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks. I love being a full time mammy. I don't have the pay slip or the social status, but it does afford me a sense of purpose and (oddly enough) freedom as I am my own boss.
    I guess I feel that freedom because I don't care how society views me.
    I feel very lucky as women's day doesn't have any impact on me personally, but whisk me back 40 years and put me in my mother's shoes and I'd be singing a whole different tune. Or transport me to Afghanistan or India. It's all about circumstance. XXX

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    1. Thanks Jean and lovely to hear from you: this post wasn't intended in any way as a slight to full time mammies, more that I wish their job was valued more! And I think that it's because it is not valued that so many of the cuts are affecting women and children in this recession xxx

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  10. OMG I love your post
    so true
    why are we supposed to be godesses making endless sacrifices
    you " jumped out of aeroplanes, "I did not know that - please post on that sometime
    Thank you for your comment on my last post - I felt so understood and connected with you when I read your comments - even though you are an ocean away - this is the joy of blogging

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    1. Thank you :) I love the way that connections are built through blogging too :))

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  11. I agree to a degree. I hate that there has to be a separation. That equality is not a reality. That to be a feminist means you have to be angry and that you cant enjoy having doors held open for you etc. I dont like International Women's Day because I wish there was no need for it.

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    1. I wasn't feeling great when I posted this, and even though I call myself a feminist, I;ve no problem with a man opening a door for me, I call that manners! I would do the same for him if I reached the door first :)

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  12. Fabulous post, very thought provoking.

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  13. Brilliant post and very well said. However, the thought struck me that International Womens Day might make society think about women and their contributions to society (you know what I think on that score!)I had hoped it would start a conversation on it. Just like your post has....

    xx Jazzy

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  14. I love this post. Have you read Mother Ireland? It's essential for feminist mothers to read.Thanks for visiting my blog.i'm gonna read through yours now, I think we've a lot in common

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    1. Thank you, I'm trying to visit and follow more Irish blogs and really enjoying all the ones I'm finding, I just wish I had more time!

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