The Conversation We REALLY Need to Have on International Women's Day
by Jo Macdonald
It’s International Women’s Day again and that means there will be the inevitable flood of articles and posts on the gender wage gap, violence against women, health care issues, and a million other things. All of which are hugely important, and need to be talked about as widely and loudly as possible. But, there’s a piece of the conversation missing.
And that’s how WE as women show up for other women.
Because if we want men to behave better, then we have to behave better too. I've heard women chatting passionately about women's rights and how men need to do this and do that (and I totally agree), but then in the next breath gossiping about a colleague or friend... 'have you seen how fat she is now' and 'well if you sleep with someone on the first date what do you think people are going to say about you' or 'Oh my goodness, look how old this actress looks now, she's really let herself go'.
I know it's easy to do, especially when hanging out with a bunch of girlfriends, or after a glass of wine or two. None of us are perfect, but if we want there to be an end to inequality and more respect for women then we HAVE to take a long hard look at our own behaviour. Which means asking ourselves if we are really behaving the way we expect men to? Are we truly supporting other women?
Because what we need to be doing is:
Celebrating our girlfriends’ successes – not getting jealous about it, or passively aggresively putting them down, or accusing them of showing off, but instead celebrating them and letting their success inspire us to achieve our own.
No longer competing against each other to be the most successful, better looking, to get the guy, be more popular etc. We need less competition and more collaboration between women.
Stopping judging other women for how they choose to dress or look – if we don’t want men to do it, we need to stop doing it. Whilst we may not be guilty of sexualising each other, when we judge each other based on outward appearances we are still a part of the overall problem.
Quiting bitching about female celebrities - their makeup, hair, clothing, their size, their voice, how they're aging, who they're dating etc. You don't have to like them, or what they wear, say or do, but don't put them down because of it.
Keeping politics respectful – we need more female politicians to represent us and speak for us. But it takes a pretty tough woman to step up and cope with the media scrutiny, the disrespect from so many male colleagues, and the heated debates with constituents. Let's not add to the problems. You don't have to like and support a politician just because she's female, but it is important that if we don’t agree with her we remember to stick to the facts. Disagree with the politics, don’t resort to name calling or commenting on her appearance. We have to start setting the standards for how we expect men to deal with political conflict with female politicians.
Supporting women-led ventures and industries – get behind women’s sport and go to matches/games/events, go to exhibitions featuring female artists and tell your friends to go, choose to buy gifts from small businesses run by women and talk about them on social media. If we want women to become more successful and celebrated, then we have a responsibility to ensure that happens by starting with our own choices. We can't expect more support and financial backing for women if we're not showing up for them and investing in their work and achievements. We have to help prove that there is a demand for more women in all industries.
Teaching our daughters not to shame and blame – lead by example and help your daughter/s understand that women supporting women means not bullying someone for how they look, that calling someone a slut is never okay, or saying that if a girl is wearing certain clothes then she’s ‘asking for it’, or that a teen pregnancy means someone’s life is over. Teach them that when we support each other we are stronger. Teach them that it’s okay to not like another woman or some of the choices they make (this is real life not a fantasy afterall, and we're all different), but that it's never okay to shame them or treat them with disrespect.
Raising our game at work – by being a good boss; supporting, mentoring and nurturing other women; creating an environment where women feel safe and heard; by proving that being ambitious and successful doesn’t mean seeing every other woman as a threat. I’m not talking favouritism here, I’m talking basic decency and kindness. You can be tough but fair, you can be driven but respectful, you can be at the top of your game without throwing your weight around. In short… don’t be an ass!
There are many, many ways that men need to seriously raise their game. That male attitudes need to radically shift. That rules and laws need to be rewritten. That change needs to be embraced so that equality, respect, and safety for women becomes something that is at the heart of our society. BUT we must look at ourselves too, and take responsibility and action for our own behaviour towards each other. Only then can we truly set higher standards and be the example of how we should ALL treat women.