This year I have really struggled with what to write about for International Women’s day – something which I don’t normally find hard. I feel like while we’ve made great progress in some areas to bring about gender equality, in others we are going backwards. I am beyond conflicted in my feelings around the subject and sometimes it is as though we are all saying the right things but the actions of society generally, aren’t reflective of the opinions we are voicing.
There are phenomenal programmes & organisations set out to help get women into technology, science, leadership positions, on boards, into management, into maths. We have incredible female role models that are speaking out on these issues – Emma Watson, Taylor Swift, Lizzo, Chidera Eggerue and Jameela Jamil to name, frankly, not even a fraction of them. Personally I feel so fortunate to be at a company where my employer is actively trying bridge the gaps that exist. And this is great.
But it isn’t enough.
The last 12 months I have felt more angry, upset and disappointed than proud of how women are spoken about. I have conversations with people who express thoughts that women are being offered jobs over men purely because they don’t possess a penis – and this has been implied towards myself. I see men in bars/on the street/on the tube/in the supermarket objectifying women. I see and experience men in a club who think they have a right to touch you. Cat-calling still exists and people make far too many damn excuses for it. “Take it as a compliment”. No, thank you.
Disclaimer: I know not all men are like this and I fortunately have some bloody good ones in my life, but this DOES happen. Too often.
And then there is the media.
There are three dates that stick out to me this year. Three dates which have fueled my emotional feelings towards this topic and why I feel the need to express my feelings here. 8th January, 31st January and 15th February; the day Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced they would step down from their royal duties, the day the Taylor Swift documentary, Miss Americana, was released and the day Caroline Flack was reported dead by suicide, respectively.
All three of these women have experienced personal attacks against them by the media, relentlessly. They have been criticised for their appearance, who they’ve dated, their personality, their fashion styles and for just being them. Each of them have experienced seriously dark thoughts because of the nasty words printed in major news outlets.
Meghan Markle; to the point her and Prince Harry have decided to step back from their senior roles within the Royal family. A decision which cannot have been easy yet one which has mostly been blamed on Meghan – I’m sorry but since when has Prince Harry ever been the type to do what he’s told, he’s the cheeky younger brother after all. Meghan has been criticised for not wearing tights, then wearing tights – SERIOUSLY.
Taylor Swift; in her documentary, talks about how dark her days became – how she literally disappeared for a year because she thought that’s what people wanted. The hurt and the darkness she felt from the words being posted online, the fact that she had her heart broken and would be publicly slut-shamed for “dating yet another guy”.
And then there is Caroline Flack; while there are recent events that caused her to be flung into the spotlight (I’m not here to speculate on these as no one knows what actually happened that day), Caroline received over 10 years of personal attacks from the media. Again, related to who she was dating, the fact they were younger than her, that she hadn’t settled down and had children. She was labelled as boring. Her appearance consistently criticised.
And then she committed suicide.
These are just three examples of how badly women are treated in the press but sadly there are many more. It’s not just the outwardly negative comments that get made either – it’s the constant referral to women’s outfits when they turn up for interviews, it’s the commenting (good or bad) on their appearance when they turn up to events to speak about seriously important topics and it’s the inability to write articles that praise women for their talent without automatically defaulting to looks.
This can’t be right?
How can we expect equality in a world where the main sources of information so are so inherently bias in their coverage of women?
Even beyond traditional media, social platforms house equally vile, sexist and damaging comments towards females. Women tear down other women whilst sitting behind the safety of a screen. It is not okay.
Every single person has a responsibility to show kindness and to help undo the bias that exists in society between different groups of people. International Women’s Day is not about putting women over men, it’s about equality. So, regardless of gender, be the force for change. Challenge people’s bias comments. Challenge the nastiness. Support women, because yes, it is needed. The world is so bias towards men that we NEED to over rotate the focus onto women, we need to help women make it into tech/science/leadership roles so that we can live in a more equal society.
And we need to support each other, not tear each other down.
To all the other women out there, I hope you feel valued and if anything, take a chance today to say thank you to a woman who’s made a difference to your life.
To my best girlfriends, thanks for being my unconditional cheerleaders.