It's that time of year again: International Women's Day.
On Saturday 8th March women and men around the world connect to inspire and celebrate female achievement, to reflect on progress made, to call for change, and to drawn attention to those forging new ground. It's hard to miss the party, from political rallies, business conferences, government activities, and networking events, to craft markets, theatre performances, fashion parades and WRITING.
Okay, so I'm biased. Writing is my "thing" - so much so that I declare speech to be my second language. Until I've composed stories or blog posts or articles or journal entries about me, myself, I, it isn't real to me. Unless I've put pen to paper, finger to keyboard, I'm not really sure how I feel. Writing words is a way of organising my mental jigsaw. My words teach me how to be my own person.
Words are a powerful tool. Even the most subtle nuance can alter perception and understanding. Like Sheryl Sandberg says, a strong, assertive woman is often labeled "bossy", which has intrinsically negative connotations, whereas the same attributes in a man can be considered "leadership skills" - words we place a much higher value on. But, as Ellen Page so beautifully articulated, these are "pervasive stereotypes about masculinity and femininity that define how we're all supposed to act, dress, speak and they serve no one." Change our language, and we can change our personal story - and that of those around us. This is true whether male or female.
I used to think of myself as "uncommitted": to jobs, to boys, to countries. I replaced that word with "adventurous". I'm no longer "stubborn", but "full of conviction", not "changeable" but "a woman of extremes". It's changed my relationship with my self. Words help us to understand our complexities, too, something women often shy away from, and not without reason. I'm vocal, but also romantically shy, have strong leadership skills but prefer to collaborate. Complexity is what makes us people, but complex women are difficult, frustrating, or even crazy, contemporary culture tells us, wagging a disappointed finger.
From GIRLS' Hannah Horvath to the female lead in Jesse and Celeste Forever, 3D female characters suffer a fascinating double standard when compared to their male equivalents, and that can be reflected in real life. In her article Hate Lena Dunham? You'll Love Llewyn Davis writer Raina Lipsitz suggests that "While Dunham's show has been lampooned since its debut as an insufferable glorification of white-girl privilege and unearned angst," the comparable male protagonist displaying the same behaviour in film Inside Llewyn Davis "has been acclaimed -- and not in spite of its main character's dislikability but in part because of it."
We use language to hold men and women to different standards, but I use words, writing, to find a way to unpack my complexities. Because, like high school sophmore and Rookie magazine founder Tavi Gavinson says, when it comes down to it, the crazy, the difficult, the confused - ultimately the complex - is not a female condition, but resolutely a human one. International Women's Day is about celebrating the commonality between everyone, in order that women may have the same opportunity and celebration as their male counterparts. The theme for 2014 is: "Equality for women is progress for all" -- something I've written about many times before - because, like Page says, we're all the goddamn same.
Our lives aren't a question of how to be a successful woman, or a successful man, but how to be a successful human being. That's genderless. But where women are held to particular ideals (often nurturers, team players, "nice"), so are men (often providers, leaders, "assertive"). What if they want to break out of their box, too? What about the men who want to stay at home, display sensitivity without reproach? What about the fellas who want to do what the chicks do, as much as we want what they have?
Randi Buckley said that, "sometimes the leap is taking any steps at all, even the smallest of them. Our well intentioned "rah rah" personal development culture has made it seems that if we don't do things in a huge way, we really didn't do anything. Hogwash. Even two degrees difference on a rudder will lead you to a different shore."
I agree. Feminism and the celebration of women as part of a team so that everyone can live better isn't about making huge changes with sweeping manifestos and declarations of WOMAN. Feminism - uniting the genders in equality -- can be as simple as using language to find a voice, period, and asserting it to remove gender connotations from our language, so that we might be free from them in life.
Bossy/assertive. Loud/vocal. Caregiver/Effeminate.
It all starts with words.
Laura Jane Williams is a workshop leader and panellist at Wales Millennium Centre Women of the World Festival 2014, in partnership with London Southbank Centre. She'll be running a free "Female Writers; Finding Your Voice" workshop as well as a Teen Writers session, encouraging young women to use their words. Laura will also be joining the all female line-up for Inspiring Change, an IWD conversation and debate, live-streamed here, and live-Tweeted on @theCentre with the hashtag #WOWCaerdydd