It’s International Women’s Day 2021 and I can’t help but wonder, am I a terrible feminist? I was speaking to Camera Confidence Coach, Tania Pais (from https://taniapais.com/) this morning about how we choose to show our appreciation on International Women’s Day. Tania spoke about how we should do it in a way that feels good to us. Whether that be a social media post, a call to a loved one, or even not celebrating at all.
I loved the way Tania put it. For me, this day seems to bring up some unease. I can’t fully explain what it is, but a gushy show of affection for the women in my life just isn’t my bag. I often wonder if I would consider myself a feminist at all?. Like, am I doing enough to be considered a “proper” feminist?
Now, as defined by Google, Feminism is: “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”. In other words, making sure women are treated with respect and decency equal to that granted to their male counterparts. As far as I’m concerned, being a feminist is just a given.
You should treat everyone around you with the same decency and respect irrelative of whether they are a man or a woman. In fact, in an ideal world we would treat every person with the respect and decency they deserve no matter their sex, gender, age, race, sexual orientation, whether or not they like noodles, if they have a blue car or a red one. It’s about equal rights for everyone, despite the things that make us different from one another.
There’s this whole notion within feminism, that people who choose to take time out while they bleed are somehow giving in to an anti-feminist belief – the notion that we are, in one way or another, incapable or unable to function during our period. You might think that it sounds like something from the dark ages but in some parts of the world, this is still considered the norm. So, some say that in upholding the opinion that people would benefit from resting during their period, we perpetuate that notion.
I absolutely call bullshit on that. I will always rest on my period. I give in to the reprieve my body is asking for. Not because I am lesser than anyone who doesn’t bleed. But because I choose to. And it’s not an act of anti-feminism. It’s not giving in to the patriarchy. I believe it’s a matter of autonomy. It’s one thing to be told that you CAN’T do something because you’re bleeding, and it’s entirely another to say “I CHOOSE not to do this because I’m bleeding”. Do you see how those are different?
I also don’t believe that feminism is about competition. Sure, anything you can do, I can do bleeding. But I don’t have to. It’s a choice. I don’t think it’s about saying “I am the same as a man” or “men are trash” or “women are just as good as men” (Note: do you see the irony in pushing those last two narratives at the same time?). It’s not a struggle of which is the better sex. It’s not about women trying to prove they’re as good as men. I think it’s about expecting the same amount of respect, dignity, and choice regardless of what is, or is not, inside my knickers.
My choice to listen to my body and slow things down when necessary does not make me lesser or weaker. The fact that my body is constantly going through a cycle is something I choose to use to my advantage. It’s not a downfall, or a condition that I put up with. It’s a gift.
That said, as people who menstruate – we still have choices. Some people opt to use a hormonal contraceptive to negate their cycle and the effects that come with that. Again, it’s about autonomy. Choosing to live your own life in a way that suits you.
I think it’s okay that men, women and all variants in-between are different. I believe that our differences are our strengths. They make us who we are and they serve us in different ways. I love the things that differentiate me from other people. I appreciate my value as a woman. It doesn’t mean I hate other people. Or that I think I am better than other people. I just love the things that make me, me. I can appreciate myself while still appreciating the diversity in others. They are not mutually exclusive.
I have to wonder though, does the very notion of International Women’s Day perpetuate the idea that women are lesser? When you say “we need a special day to be recognised because the world doesn’t value our worth”, does it not just highlight the fact that the world does not value our worth?
I’m not saying I don’t agree with the sentiment of International Women’s Day. Because I am 100% here for supporting women. But, while that is true, in fact, I’m here for supporting humans. People. I’m here for inclusivity and feeling. I’m here for human connection on the many levels it can come. And I’m here for that 365 days a year.
That’s not to say that I don’t acknowledge the biased societal systems that we live in. I understand that women are often undervalued in society. I choose to be the kind of person that is accepting of all people. I choose kindness and curiosity over hate and narrow-mindedness. But I also understand that not everybody makes that choice. That the world isn’t always fair and kind and accepting.
In an ideal world, International Women’s Day wouldn’t be necessary. Maybe I live with my head in the clouds when I say I don’t fully know if this day is helpful. That perhaps this day just reinforces the very narrative we’re trying to dispel. Or maybe this day just feels counterintuitive to me because I absolutely refuse to believe that my having a vagina has anything to do with my worth as a human being.
Perhaps the very beliefs we are trying to break down, are the ones that lead us to celebrating this day in the first place. Perhaps those beliefs come from ourselves as often as they come from other people. Perhaps in celebrating this day, we are fuelling a self-fulfilling prophecy of our worth based on our gender identity.
I don’t have the answers when it comes to combatting discrimination within society. It has far more complexities than I could ever navigate. But I do think the key is in compassion, kindness and understanding.
It’s about opening up conversations. It’s about listening to both sides of the story. It’s about taking the time to understand one another. Change will happen one person at a time. It will take more than International Women’s Day to change the world. It will take more than a celebration of our differences to break down societal hate and stigma.
The theme of International Women’s Day this year is “challenge”. So, this is my call to you. To be the better person. To understand someone’s story. To ask the questions, listen and get informed. Question your reality. Question the beliefs you hold. Find out where they came from and decide for yourself whether or not they are true. Change starts with one person. That person is you.