Today is International Women's Day.
As a son, husband and father of two daughters, women feature highly and celebrating the glory of women is something that I strongly support and encourage. It is a beautiful thing that we can celebrate such a thing as International Women's Day. It is valuable giving pause and reflecting on the fantastic women in our lives and what that means to us as men and women.
To put this into context for me, the three categories of women in my life have shaped me for the better and I would not be the person I am without their strength, determination, support and love. What you may think of me as a person is a different matter, but let's not focus on that right now.
Taking my late mother as the first example, she was one of the strongest people that I have ever had the pleasure of loving and being loved by. She conquered huge obstacles in her life as a woman. She was a Chinese woman, entering into the UK in the 1970s, living and working full-time in a foreign country, where she had no language skills, no education and where poverty was her starting point. Lately, she also dealt with the disease that would take her life with grace, fortitude and patience where, in the face of pain and a deteriorating body, I would never once hear her complain about her condition or her lot in life. She was a true warrior, selfless and loving to the end.
Secondly, in chronological order only, my wife is and has always been one of the strongest and committed women alive. Aside from the endurance of giving birth to three amazing children, she is a full-time mother who teaches patiently, disciplines firmly and fairly, but most importantly loves deeply. Without her, I certainly would be lost, the children would not be flourishing as they are and life for all of us would not be as rich as it is.
Finally, in my example, I have two daughters - one is two years old and the other is 10 months old. Both are full of character, guts and guile and I hope for a world and a future for them where being a woman is just as free and rewarding as any other person. A world where opportunity does not favour one gender and character is not confined to our biology, but equally a world that does acknowledge and glorify the differences between men and women. Equal but different and to the detriment of neither.
Be Bold For Change
On a day like this, there is inevitably a lot of rhetoric splashed around on social media with posts such as "I am a woman, I am strong and I am brave". Clearly, these sorts of posts are well meaning and are largely encouraging, but I do sometimes wonder if these are helpful to extinguish rather than perpetuate stereotypes. One of the purposes of International Women's Day is to tackle and hopefully seek to change the negative stereotypes that surround women, but I'm not convinced these types of posts help. After all, is this just a reminder of a universal truth or is it seeking to counter something that is stereotypically incorrect? If it is the former, it is not true. If it is the latter, why give the stereotype any attention at all? I am not saying I know the answer, but to me it does feel a little "Moonpig.com" rather than "this is what International Women's Day is about".
Turning this on its head, would the inverse of this - "I am a man and I am caring" - be helpful to defeat or inadvertently perpetuate stereotypes that men are generally less caring and less thoughtful? The reality of life is that a person can be strong or weak, brave or cowardly regardless of their gender. A person can be a fantastic role model to those around them or a selfish conceitful moron. Needless to say International Women's Day is much more than inspirational posts on social media, but social media is important and has a hugely powerful influence on the way in which certain audiences view life and, in this case, International Women's Day. If we seek to Be Bold For Change, perhaps we need to avoid relying on old stereotypes to get us there?
With this year's focus being on the theme of women in the changing world of work, as a man, I would encourage and support the removal of any forms of gender discrimination whether they relate to the economic gender gap or leadership positions. We all need to understand that empowering women at all levels is a positive thing as long as it is merit based and fair. After all, the quality of my care home that my daughters will be able to afford depends on it...
So with all that said, what does International Women's Day really mean to men and should it mean anything?
Well, the answer lies with the man. For me, it's always been clear since my adult life that the future is female, but this has always been the case - we just may not have noticed.
HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today
Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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