Feature writer Katy McDowell - @Tea&Thongs
Coming from a long line of incredible women, of course we were all borne from a woman but my family is heavily numbered in females. My mum is the youngest of four sisters, two of which only had girls and I only have a sister. To be a mother of one of each is unique and delightful but comes with its own challenges, especially in today's world and I am glad that they will always have a balanced viewpoint to start from.
The importance of gender stereotyping has never been clearer. It wasn't anything that was ever given much consideration when I was a child. We had barbies and dolls growing up, my sister liked lego and skateboarding and this was neither frowned upon nor celebrated, it just was. Having a little boy opened up a whole new world and we had cars, lego and superhero figures. All he really wanted was a pushchair though, to push his teddies in. Promptly purchased on Facebook was one Silver Cross pram. Do you know why I bought that one? To my shame it was because it wasn't pink. Why the hell did that matter to me because it sure as anything didn't matter to him. It certainly wouldn't matter to me now.
Going on to have a little girl made things so much clearer. She wanted to play with the cars and the dollies. She was headstrong from the offset and chooses her own clothes and activities. She loves gymnastics as much as she loves rugby and is not deterred by a load of rough boys running after her at school. I wonder though how much of that is because she has an older brother, how much is because I am way more gender aware than five years ago and how much is just the way she is.
Her favourite top at the minute is a crop top that says 'girls run the world.' It is a baggy hit so swings around above her belly button and she wiggles her hips with it and ramps up the sass. I never thought I would allow my five year old to wear a crop top but while she is in clothes she is happy and confident in she feels like she can take on the world and I want her to feel like that forever. I know too many women (myself included) who body shame themselves and are unhappy with their figure. If she feels beautiful now then I am all about that.
Becoming more aware of what it is to be a woman has opened my eyes to a whole new world. I always just accepted that although 85% of primary school teachers were women, only 38% of headteachers are female. Male teachers are represented in a leadership role at a ratio of 2:1 of their overall representation within primary schools. This makes me wonder, are they better at being a teacher, better at being a leader or does their inability to give birth mean they are more likely to be selected into a leadership role? I am still looking for the actual answer to this question but can give an educated (pardon the pun) guess. I picked teachers as this is my profession but I wonder how true this is in other establishments too.
I recently met a lady who truly opened my eyes. She has three teenage sons and a nine year old daughter and they are currently travelling Australia. We got chatting over my admiration of her dungarees, I love dungarees. She was totally my kind of lady, no small talk, straight into the nitty gritty and we were chatting about the differences in raising sons and daughters. The bit that struck a chord with me was that she demands almost total obedience to her of her sons but not of her daughter. I must of looked at her a bit oddly but totally undeterred she went on to explain that her sons are already strides ahead of a lot of people in the way that they will be treated and the opportunities they will have, just because they are white and male.
I couldn't argue with her because the sad truth, is she is right.
Her sons are well educated, well rounded lovely boys but they will always have opportunities to succeed. They will never need to choose between working full time and being present for all the special moments in their childrens' lives. They will never have to sacrifice one dream for another. Although she expects her daughter to follow the rules she isn't as tough on her as she is the boys. She actively encourages her to push boundaries, stand up for herself and what she believes in and almost forces independence on her. All in the hope that in later life this will put her in an excellent place to follow her dreams and fight her fight, whatever she chooses that to be.
This lit a fire in me. The embers had been glowing for a while but the realisation that other people thought along similar lines was a revelation. My daughter is loud, over confident and the absolute best at getting what she wants and needs from a situation. Well they don't sound like admirable traits but I 100% think they are. I hope she carries these through life. It makes her damn hard to parent but if it means she is a strong, proud woman who fights for what she believes then every moment of frustration and embarrassment, usually in public will be worth it.
Gender equality is one of those phrases tossed around by people, often trying to win your vote or make you believe that has been attained but let me tell you, it has not.
At the risk of being controversial I am not even sure that is what I am fighting for, but gender equity is what I am fighting for. It is important to understand the difference, gender equality is striving for the outcomes for men, women and gender - diverse people to be the same. Gender equity is the way we go about achieving that gender equality. Being a visual learner I feel like this diagram explains it way better than I can with words.
Just a side note: I fully understand and accept the term gender - diverse and the awareness around this at the moment is groundbreaking and fascinating. I am focusing on the gender gap and the differences between men and women because this is what interests me and fuels my fire but is in no way meant to detract from the myriad of battles the gender - diverse community battle on a daily basis.
Recently while watching a show about the Yorkshire ripper - I know how to live - a feminist was talking about the curfew that was imposed on women at the time. Women were advised to be home by 10pm so as not to become the next victim. I accepted this as a reasonable suggestion until she started talking. Women are the innocent victim, why is it presumed that women should lock themselves away because there is a crazy man hurting them at random? Why can the curfew not be imposed on men to protect the women? Whoa. Another pivotal moment, and although being the naturally cautious person that I am I would have been safely in my house by 8pm every night I could totally see what she was saying. Women are not the ones at fault but they are the ones being punished just for being female.
History is full of wonderful women who have changed society and made miraculous scientific advances. Marie Curie, she became the first female Head of the Physics Laboratory at Sorbonne when her husband passed away and discovered the medicinal benefits of radium and polonium. She is known for her brilliant work on the treatment of cancer and has many awards for this. She was awarded two Noble Prizes and was the first person ever to have this accolade.
It would not be an article about women without a mention of Emmeline Pankhurst. Her tireless work along with the Women's Social and Political Union, more famously known as the suffragettes meant that women were given an equal right to vote as their male counterparts. Knowing a little of her story I always always vote, I find it a little bit harder each time as my faith in politicians dwindles and my belief in their ability to make decisions in the best interests of the people they represent is almost negligible but I always do. Not that long ago it was a choice unavailable to my gender and it would be irresponsible of me not to use that vote, however hard it is.
I recently wrote a piece for my blog about my disillusionment of humanity (It's called Ladies if you fancy a read). It started off as a piece about my wonderful grandmother, who despite sadly passing away ten years ago is still a constant inspiration to me. She was a wireless operator during the war, she took the things she found out to the grave with her, never betraying her signing of the Official Secrets Act. She lost her husband way too young and lived out the rest of her years alone in the relationship sense but surrounded by her family. She was strong, voracious, loving and inspiring and her influence certainly shaped me. Being a young woman during wartime must have been hard, seeing much loved brothers and beaus going off to war, many never to return, women were called upon more and more for jobs they would never have been considered for before. It sparked a change in the way women were viewed, still able to be mothers but with a job, earning their own money and still running their homes.
Sadly, it has gone too far the other way. Although the disparateness in gender equality is as real as ever, women are juggling much bigger caseloads. The presumption that the woman will run the home, work, cook, clean and organise the children is still alive and well but much less enthused about and rightly so. Here is a magazine article that pops up every so often and we all chuckle at but this was the reality for women at the time.
"Have dinner ready, plan ahead ...be a little more interesting for him"
Women now have a harder life to juggle than ever before. The fact that we are expected to look our best, dress nicely, look after ourselves whilst running a household and managing our childrens' lives and work is almost an impossible feat. Social media encourages us to believe in a certain way of being but it places so much pressure on us. Working full time whilst running a home and family is an incredibly large and daunting task and so many young women accept this as their normal. Staying at home full time to provide unending support for your spouse and family is just as daunting. Children are picked up from school less and less by parents as mothers are required to work more meaning grandparents taking on the job or paying for after school clubs. Financial pressures make this an unavoidable situation for many and yet no credit is given for how hard this is. We are just expected to meet this never ending list of demands from so many different areas. No wonder so many people find this unmanageable and harmful to their sense of self.
A seismic shift will come, it's on its way. I know more men than ever that work part time to be there for their children because their wives are the main wage earner. More male representation is happening at playgroups, after school lessons and in playgrounds around the world. I do still see men doing shopping, clutching a list like their lives depend on it and expecting commendation for doing it. Never mind that it is likely their significant other that has taken on the mental load of writing the list, deciding what to cook when, taking into account the kids clubs and any special offers she's already researched online. I know I am stereotyping but only to encourage change along, to encourage balance back into our lives.
I am determined that my son will be a useful spouse be that to a man, a woman or a non - binary person. He will not leave his dirty socks on the floor and presume that they will be picked up, washed, paired and put back in the drawer for the next day. He will understand the work that goes into running a household, preparing meals, ensuring everyone is where they need to be at any given time. Just as my daughter will. I actively, all be it gently, remind him to open his own blinds, put his own clothes in the washing bin and many other age appropriate duties. Just as I do with my daughter. We are a team and even though I am not conventionally going out to work at the moment, I still have many other things I would like and am expected to do and am not just here to service the needs of my family.
I just want to go over something I mentioned above, my brain works in zig zags not straight lines. I am in no way in a position to comment on how racial inequality impacts on the different groups in our society but I just wanted to mention this.
Two things enlightened me to racial inequality: this lady’s comment about her boys opportunities for success just because they are white. She didn’t say it in a show off, superior way but in a sad, resigned way that society has come a long way but still has a long way to go.
Around the same time I was reading a book by Jodie Picoult (I love Jodie Picoult) called Small Great Things. It is about a black nurse who is asked not to treat the baby of a white Supremacist. Sadly the baby dies and the story is about the ensuing court case. It was fascinating to read about the amount of times she has been followed around a shop or passed over for promotion and she set up examples to show her lawyer the inequalities that still exist in today’s society! She also talks about how owning her own house in the area she lives in is impossible as she doesn’t have the benefit of family money. These chords really hit home for me and I wanted to mention them. Although a work of fiction, the plight of this nurse felt so real. Please read books, they can be so enlightening on viewpoints you’ve never given any consideration to before.
Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and it is right that what you believe aligns with you and your sense of self. Working in a female dominated profession allowed me to embrace my femininity but I do believe that little boys need just as many positive male role models as little girls. Having a husband in a male dominated profession is just as enlightening, until recently there were ladies with their tops off on their calendars and they were all given a talk about treating women equally in the staff room. The world is changing and in many ways it is a truly wonderful thing.
The freedom to be oneself has never been so available but in the words of the wonderful man that is Stephen Fry, to be offended is no more than a whine and we have to be careful of ensuring we don't go too far the other way.
As a woman I am not offended that there is a calendar of willing ladies with their breasts exposed on the wall but I am offended that it may not be known to everyone present that I am just as able to make a cup of tea in the staffroom as the men that work there. Job adverts often specify they are looking for a particular gender or race, to ensure they have a good spread of every community group in their employment, which is admirable but this loses the essence of the best person for the job being given the role. Although important, should the fact I am a woman be the reason I am given a job over a man?
I love being a woman and it is a fact to be celebrated. I went to an all girls secondary school and sometimes wonder how much of that impacted the way I am.
I had one male friend who moved away when we were ten and one other male friend who I still consider a very good friend now and I have a husband. Growing up I had positive male role models but the only males I spent time in the company of were my dad, grandad and uncles and since my interest in fishing and rugby is zero to nothing we had little in common. They were all brilliant men but I didn't grow up with any boys and I don't work with many men so I sometimes find it hard to relate to men and see their version of the world.
My son has helped to open my eyes about what it means to be a boy and as he grows older I have the privileged opportunity to see the world through his eyes.
This is the world as I see it, not as everyone sees it. I do not seek to show you how every thirty five year old mother, daughter, wife, sister, friend and teacher sees the world, just my tiny portion of it. These are my views and beliefs, shaped by my own experiences. It is important to know that everyone has their own beliefs and the way they see the world and by knowing one another's truths we can gain more acceptance and understanding of each other. By speaking my truth I hope you will gain a little bit of knowledge about where I am with the world and I would love to hear how your truth is similar or different to mine depending on the experiences you have had.
"Hello, I'm Katy, mother of two, wife of one. Primary school teacher in a past life and now enjoying my garden and cups of tea way more than I've ever had the opportunity to do before. Dabbling in writing and being creative, allowing myself to be carried along on this next journey as I heard towards my late thirties (scared face). I love tea, cake, laughter and sunshine, the opportunity to have all four in one day is always a good day at the office".