It’s 2016 and some people are wondering why we need an #InternationalWomensDay at all. Maybe someday we won’t need a day to make people aware of women-centric issues. That day has not come yet.
I realised I was a Feminist (capital F) when I was 8 years old. My mother, who had her own income from work, took me with her to a local department store to apply for a store card. All went swimmingly well until the very nice woman behind the desk said: “And your husband needs to sign here”. Suitably chastened by her gender, my mother took the form and went home. Now my mother does have a husband, known to me as my father, but he was not likely to sign that form. So my mother did what any slightly rebellious woman might have done…… if you catch my drift.
But so what right? Times have moved on. Women, even married ones, can have jobs and overdrafts and credit cards no matter what name they use. And what name do you choose? When I got married I kept the name I was born with because I’M A FEMINIST. It still confuses people. They assume either I am not married to my husband or that indeed my surname has already been changed and he is in fact Mr. Niamh. He doesn’t mind too much cos ya know #NotAllMen!! Again, so what. I’ll take the cheque made out to either name but isn’t it the extremely thin end of a massive wedge?
When my middle daughter was a baby she had very little hair. Just a brown tuft in the middle of her head. Her favourite coat was a dark grey wool jacket with cat ears on the hood. She also had an extremely funny and smiley face so when we were out and about strangers would stop me to speak to her. She was invariably mistaken for a boy child. The friendly strangers were in no way trying to insult me by telling me what a lovely little boy I had; my point is that her little grey coat was such a signifier to them of maleness that it never occurred to them the funny little boy could be a girl. If the coat had been pink, they would have instantly known.
I like to run and so does my husband, but he has never once come home from a run crying or phoned me half way through a run because he was afraid. I gave up running in the dark early evenings of winter because I was sick of being scared. I’ve had “c**t” shouted at me. I had a bottle thrown at me out of a car. I’ve been followed. A very well dressed man once barked at me as I ran past him near my house. I’ve had a car full of young men drive along side me jeering and hooting the car horn. People tell me to join a running group. “Don’t run alone. That’s asking for trouble.” But I like running by myself. It’s my THING. I think. I talk to myself. I pretend I’m being interviewed by Oprah. But it’s not worth the pain. I am over 40 and I won’t run alone in the dark.
Let’s not forget that I’m an Irish woman so even God can’t help me if I’m pregnant and don’t want to be. The Queen might though. Read this piece by Kitty Holland about the horrific treatment meted out to Ms Y, if you haven’t already, and tell me we don’t need #InternationalWomensDay.
I have a list of things much less important than #repealthe8th but no less representative of how women are perceived. I challenge you to watch the genuinely funny buddy movie The Hangover and follow it up by the “female friendly” companion piece that was Bridesmaids. One was a hilarious tale of friends getting into trouble and looking out for each other til the very end; the other was a tale of jealousy, vulgarity and backstabbing best friends. Hollywood really loves women. Star Wars and Superhero fans I challenge you to find a Princess Leia or Wonder Woman doll in a high street toy store. They just don’t have a place in the Boys Aisle and don’t start me on Lego Friends in the pink aisle. Parents, are your female children allowed to wear trousers to school the same as the boys?
These are just a few concerns of a white, Irish, middle class (ish) cis woman with an honours degree in English. I’m lucky. My children have access to education and medical treatment. We have warm beds, food and clean water. I am free to travel. I’ll leave you with this article from the Huffington Post on access to female sanitary products in the Third World. I might not feel compelled to go horse riding, swimming or play tennis once a month but in relative terms I’m a very lucky girl. Periods matter. But that’s a blog for another day. November 19th maybe, #InternationalMensDay!