Strong women: may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them

As anyone who has spent any length of time with me will attest, I like to talk. Actually, more specifically, I like to talk with people – not at them. I actually despise the sound of my own voice, so I try hard to ensure it’s never a one way thing. I have many conversations with many different individuals on any given day, but invariably the most challenging ones are those I have with my daughters.

They are currently 7 and 6, and one of the things I love most about children at this age is their ability to see things the way they are. Everything is so gloriously black and white, and when you’re so used to seeing all the different potential shades, it’s refreshing to have a frank conversation with someone who doesn’t have an agenda.

As a family we home ed all our children, and the girls have recently been studying the Titanic with me. We’ve touched on issues of class and social hierarchy, and of course equal rights for all has raised its head a few times. Last night, the eve of International Women’s Day, I found myself being challenged again.

My eldest asked why we still needed IWD – all women are surely equal now?

Sigh.

I love that she thinks like this; however, it makes me sad to realise it won’t be long before the real world shows itself to her and she understands the sad truth.

I explained that in some countries women were still not free to choose who they would marry. That, in Iran, three out of ten women don’t even have the right to choose what they wear. We discussed the forced hijab, we touched on domestic violence.

The conversation could have gone on for hours, but their shoulders are not that wide, and I don’t want them feel they have to carry the weight of their gender. Ever. Let alone right now.

I don’t carry it, and I refuse to. I have never thought of anything I have, or haven’t achieved, and attributed it to my gender (apart from childbirth, before any of you get cocky). If I have done something amazing it isn’t in spite of the fact I have a uterus. If I have failed, it was because I, Lu as a flawed individual was found wanting, and not because I didn’t have boy bits.

However, that doesn’t mean to say for one second my gender doesn’t come in to play during my interactions with others. Especially within the world of business. The problem is sexism permeates everything, and sneaks in through the language we use, often without people realising.

In the last week alone I have had a disagreement with a “gentleman” who ultimately referred to me as a bitch, purely because we conflicted on the best way to proceed over an issue. Had I been male, and our disagreement the same, I sincerely doubt name calling would have been part of the discussion. Certainly not to his face, for that is a sure fire way to instigate a fight. I confess to having broken three different people’s noses in the past, so in honesty, this was a bit of a risky move on the part of the name caller. Gentle, delicate, defencless little lady I sure as Hell ain’t.

I have also been labelled “bossy” because I asked another man to do something for me to help move a project forward. A man in the same position would not have been subjected to that. Bossiness has inherent negative connotations, in fact, the definition is “fond of giving orders; domineering”. Synonyms include overbearing, autocratic, officious, tyrannical, oppressive and harsh.

Bossiness is something that is ascribed to women who attempt to lead; who make decisions, who hold authority, who manage situations, who have the audacity to ask men to do something rather than do it themselves. It is not a word used to discuss men in the same position. A man would be admired for his leadership skills, and if challenged, he would be respected. Not called a bitch.

Finally, just yesterday I was in a situation where another man tried to intimidate me. Pulling me to one side, he positioned himself two steps above me so he would be able to lean down over me, and he shouted in my face. He would never have done this with another man, as it was so confrontational it would have resulted in a fight; but somehow, because I am a woman, this is OK. He knows he is “safe” because the worst I am going to do is cry.

Of course, I didn’t cry.

I did get a little bit of rage though.

My rage, as always, is more directed to the fact that for many they believe it’s OK to belittle, discourage, and intimidate women – as long as you don’t actually threaten them or touch them.

I assure you, it is not.

Stop.

Think about the words you use. Before you call a woman bossy, ask yourself if she is being unreasonable in which case challenge her, or are you simply put out because she is exerting control over the environment?

If you disagree, own that. Don’t resort to name calling, in any situation.

If you have a point to make, do so without trying to impose your height, weight or strength on someone smaller, lighter and physically weaker than you.

Be respectful to women. We constitute half the population, and we’re mothers to the other half.

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