The big global event for me this week is usually World Book Day, but I can’t let International Women’s Day go unmarked. It’s a sad fact that we still need it, and an even sadder one that it is often the attitude of other women that stands in the way of progress. Here’s how I arrived at this rather depressing conclusion, and why I believe that adjusting your own inner voice to speak kindly to yourself is the real key to making the change we need.
I watched this wonderful video recently, on the sofa one evening, sitting next to Mr RLC Words. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a blog post from 2017, narrated by Cynthia Nixon (Miranda from Sex and the City), and it describes the contradictory expectations that are placed on being a woman today: https://vimeo.com/393253445
Don’t eat too much, don’t eat so little; don’t dress provocatively, don’t be such a prude. “This is what we have to put up with!” I remarked to the hubby. He considered this for a moment, and replied, “It might be just the way that video’s made – but it sounds to me like a lot of that stuff comes from other women.”
And you know what – he’s right. The patriarchy that has been in place for centuries relies entirely on the compliance of the women within in it to dictate what others should or should not be doing; to create this generally accepted view that we aren’t good enough, and that it’s perfectly acceptable to judge others, and find them wanting. It pits women against other women, and against a standard that has no definition or reason – just that whatever you’re doing, it’s probably not good enough, compared with someone else. Aside from making everyone feel rotten, isn’t this constant comparison quite exhausting?
It’s true that there are men – many of them of a certain generation – who are quite happy for women to be second-class citizens: useful in several respects, but not quite the same as men in the value they can add to the world. But the Donald Trumps of this world are a dying breed, and are easy to dismiss. Far more insidious, malicious and damaging are the judgemental words of the women closest to us, and the women we admire from afar.
So this is what we need to work on – forging our own paths, making a life that’s right for us, enjoying and revelling in the bodies we have, and bringing up our children in a way that feels right for us and them. And most importantly, we need to ignore those complicit, patriarchal voices that are alive and well in the media, that normalise the belittling of women for the way they look, dress or behave. Only when there are enough voices joining together to say, “We’re not playing this game any more” will those nasty, malicious and judgemental voices learn that it’s unacceptable.
The first place to start is how we speak to ourselves. Next time you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see, or judge your abilities and find yourself wanting, speak more kindly to yourself. Imagine what you would say if you were talking to your dearest friend about themselves – and imagine if someone spoke to your friend the way you let your inner voice talk to you! Use kind words to yourself, and it’s suddenly the easiest thing in the world to ignore the judgements and pronouncements that surround you about how perfect you should be.
On International Women’s Day, celebrating women must not be done against a standard of perfection – perfect mums, perfect career women, perfect swimsuit models – but for just being women, and everything wonderful, magical and beautiful they give to the world. We can change it, we can smash that damaging and isolating patriarchy – and all it all starts with a little self love and kindness. All else flows from that. Girl Power means nothing if we don’t use it for good.