Today is International Women’s Day and as it stands, in some areas of social media it will provide a focus for 2 campaigns, #ThisGirlCan and #LikeAGirl, both aimed at empowering girls to be who they are and love it, unencumbered by stereotype , sexism, paradigm and oppression. And oppression comes in many forms – media parameters of how we should look, historical overhangs of ‘ladylike’ behaviour, and the fear that allows men to call women ugly, stupid, fat or pointless to control and subjugate.
Just to be clear, today will see plenty of blog posts where powerful women with voices will – with pride and pleasure and brilliance – write sponsored posts to support both the day and the campaigns. This isn’t one of them (though I did write a post on Patch of Puddles that is, and was proud and pleased to do so in support of the topic). I mention this not because I’m sore at not getting the money but because of the wake up call it provided me. I think of myself as the poster girl for campaigns like these – strong, well worded, self made businesswomen, survivor of significant trauma, birther of 6, ferociously bringing up girls to be exactly who they want to be without fear of being judged for it. It has shocked me to the core to think perhaps I don’t have that written across my face, that perhaps I don’t make these beliefs loudly heard enough, that perhaps I’m not actually living these values hard enough.
I have to admit, I thought I was. And now I have to question, am I? And if I’m not, am I absolutely sure I’m passing on the message to my children that I want to. Because it is true that I couldn’t write a manifesto on what feminism means and use all the right words and it is true that sometimes I keep my head down for fear of being bullied or belittled or finding I was wrong. And if all those things are true, perhaps I’m not good enough. And that needs to change.
One thing I had missed though was that there are two campaigns running; #ThisGirlCan by Sport England and #LikeAGirl. So I’ve looked at them both, having had it pointed out to me by my daughters that in fact they are not the same.
#ThisGirlCan is about getting sporty, getting sweaty, never mind how you look or how good you are or what point you start from, your ability or the obstacles in your way. It’s about making a start and having no interest in how it looks from the outside.
Perhaps it epitomises the thought in my head the day a far from swoon-some bloke drove past me and cackled out of his window at me running, all almost 15 stone of me at the time.
“Yep. But I am. And you aren’t.”
#LikeAGirl starts with a negativity – ‘you throw,run,hit,jump like a girl’ and spins it to the positive.
Here is Fran, doing it #LikeAGirl.
If I’m honest, I have a preference for the first campaign in terms of the subtly different core values it builds on. I’m not really interested in even acknowledging these other negative comments any more. They just should be gone. I’m surrounded all week by female writers, female coaches, female doctors and nurses, young girls building businesses and young girls pounding the gymnastics floor for 16 hours a week, doing 100’s of chin ups, press ups, v sits, sitting down and crying because they hurt and the move won’t come and getting up and trying again.
I work every week with kids who will never be great gymnasts and look longingly at the 8-10 year olds flic-ing across the floor but keep working those handstands and cartwheels and balances to be as good as hard work can make them.
My personal passion is those kids, the ones who arrive out of condition and lacking confidence and who I scream with delight for the first time they do a vault that makes them high five me.
Yesterday, I happened to be chatting elsewhere with a lad on a trade fair stall I’m not personally connected with who said “Yeah, it’s the girls who create the products. We boys just aren’t so good at it.” A fascinating remark – on the one hand, rather depressingly telling and on the other, an interesting example of a self-deprecating understanding of a changing dynamic. He didn’t mean ‘we leave it to the underlings’, he clearly meant ‘we just aren’t so good’.
“Never mind,” I said .”In this day and age there is no reason why you boys can’t become as good as the girls”. He acknowledged the wink I said it with wryly, but I meant it. Girls can be a tough act to follow these days.
And then, on the other hand, they have so much to fight past still. The Team SCA video I’m promoting on Patch of Puddles is on YouTube; cynically targeted at this video about feminist empowerment was an advert for a site purporting to explain the mistakes girls make that mean they can’t maintain a relationship. “Catch a man and keep him dot net” or something tediously similar. And the sneers about International Women’s Day, dressed up as humour. ‘It should have been yesterday but they took so long to get ready’ has appeared several times in my digital day today. And we are supposed to laugh, take it in good part and accept it, like we are supposed to accept our worth being valued by our weight and our looks and the clothes we wear or the make up we put on. Still, unbelievably, supposed to accept it like ‘good-natured teasing’ is an acceptable face for ‘sexual harassment in the workplace’.
We are bad sports, if we don’t allow the grin, instead of being allowed to say, “You, my friend, are the problem here. Are you standing up for the equality of your daughter, wife, partner or granddaughter when you indulge in this? Are you absolutely sure you are allowed to comment on my person? Are you okay if I start discussing the length of your penis in the workplace, like you discuss my breast size?” Everyone should follow Everyday Sexism on Twitter, just in case they don’t realise the size of the battle.
But we fight it in our own ways – and maybe I don’t, as it turns out fight it loudly and passionately enough to be an advocate but I fight it in my home, in my home town and in my every day life. If a butterfly stamp can change the world, I’m stamping loud and proud with these four.
They are my gift to the future, I hope. Sweaty, determined, not interested in being told no, not interested in any negative connotations of ‘like a girl’, passionate, smart, full of power and guts and grit and compassion, humour and consideration. And I hope and believe they’ll bring up their brother to believe the most important thing he can do is treat people as equals, proper equals where gender does not figure in the reasons for choosing or celebrating or supporting. I hope my son will grow up knowing why a dancer makes such a great rugby player and screaming to ensure women’s sports get equal viewing time on television.
That’ll be my legacy. It’s possible I have some work to do on my own role, but I’m proud of what I’m sending out into the world.
These girls most certainly can.