To be a Woman

For those of you who are not aware, today is International Women’s Day (IWD) and the theme for this year is #ChooseToChallenge. I have mixed feelings about International Women’s Day, and I am going to use this as an opportunity to explore further.

From my research National Women’s Day was first established February 1909 in the United States by Theresa Malkiel, an activist for labour rights, women’s rights, and socialism. Despite being a mother, a published author, and someone who spent her years working on education for foreign-born women, when she died, she was remembered as “widow of a well-known New York lawyer”. In 1910, Clara Zetkin, a women’s rights activist, pushed for the day to be recognised as a holiday across Europe and in the coming years it become more widely recognised as International Women’s Day and is marked as a holiday in several countries around the world.

Do we need International Women’s Day?

If I am being completely honest, I only heard about this whilst I was at University (I wrote a blog post in 2017), before this I was not aware of it! And from talking to several women in my community it appears they are not all aware of this day and some hold it to little significance. This led me to wonder how inclusive of all women IWD is.

I am all for celebrating women, we are amazing in all our ways and I appreciate how important IWD is for so many individuals, but I cannot wholeheartedly say I feel the same. I guess I lean more towards the idea that we should be keep the momentum throughout the year and not just for one day but then again, I am not consciously doing this myself. I mean I could easily share a viral IWD post on my Instagram just to show my solidarity but that is just following the herd. Whilst I was sat battling with my thoughts on how I feel about IWD I had what could only be described as a lightbulb moment. Why not ask women in my life what being a woman feels like to them? I sent out a message to a few of them and they agreed to share their thoughts and feelings…

It was through opening this conversation to others that I saw a different side to IWD. H shared why she felt IWD was important to her,

“We need a day to celebrate what we do – in a world that so often overlooks it.”

I guess hearing this from someone else, someone who felt the significance of the day made me understand that in this (rat-race) world, we need the time to reflect on experiences and celebrate it as H is planning to, by “hearing others’ stories and sharing our own”.

We as women need to stop looking at each other as competition and start to see each other as teachers or guides. Someone who we can learn from. Not everyone I spoke to agreed that we need a day to celebrate Women. When I asked whether IWD is of significance to her, S responded with the following:

“It doesn’t really make a difference to me… why reduce something to a day or month, this is an everyday thing.”

I could understand her point of view, women’s rights should be something we strive towards every-day. S also felt it was “very underrepresented” and this I agree with, as I mentioned earlier so many women out there are unaware of this day and often it is taken over by those in the media light who are not representative of women.  

SA agreed with this viewpoint as for her, “there is not a day that goes by without that feminine energy” and we should celebrate our womanhood every day! In her words “how you cannot appreciate such a species?”.

Z did not think IWD would change anything for her, “I have to uphold several roles no matter where I go. A wife, a mother, a colleague, an employee, a daughter and daughter-in law and I don’t see this one day changing things for me”. This is your average women and for her IWD makes no difference. Z is empowered, and she will take on all these roles and will do so successfully.

For K, she loved the idea that we are celebrating women however,

“The fact that the patriarchal system has designated one day to celebrate women it is as if we are a minority.”

I have several thoughts, how are we whilst living in the 21st century having to have a day dedicated to recognising the efforts of women! We should not have to have these conversations. Women’s rights should be a given, but I guess there will always be work. K felt strongly about the idea that “voices and opinions should be voices daily”, so if there is anything, we can take from IWD 2021, let it be that we make the efforts to continue with the work we are doing today, every-day. Speak to other women, lift each other up and celebrate our individual and collective success.

Being Woman

For R it came down to image, how society wants you to be both women. The beauty standards that most women cannot live up to simply because it is not attainable, and we should not feel the need to live up to this! The over sexualising of women and how they want you to be both “sexy” and “innocent” bothers her. She also wants to be the mother, the carer, the provider, the bread winner, the dreamer and for her she can be all but not without lifelong sacrifices and even then, it will not be enough for society. She went on to explain how personal expectations are mirrored by societies expectations and for the longest time she held views just to oppose what society expected of her and not because it was something she wanted. She wanted to rebel and prove a point to show others that she can do all what they say she cannot. These are the words she left me with

“Sometimes I think we live our whole lives proving a point about who we are that we forget who we actually are.” Definitely food for thought on how we present ourselves to the world.

For SA, this was what being a woman felt like:

“Women bring a sense of warmth. Our nature is that we are loving and forgiving and nurturing.”

She mentioned how she thought this may bother feminists. This got me thinking about the term feminist and what it means to me. Being a feminist involves the advocacy of all women and we should not belittle a woman for what she feels. I think it is important that we as women remember that this is not a battle, we all have different views and perceptions of what being a woman is all based on personal experiences. Feelings are valid, do not let anyone tell you otherwise.

For H, being a woman means expectations.

“It’s hard to be a woman even though we’re in the 21st century, it’s still hard. Constantly being judged, having to fit into society. The expectation to look a certain way, to talk a certain way, to do things that “women” should do. For some women, the responsibility of family is heavy; to be married at a certain age, to have been educated to a certain level, to succeed in everything we do. We are rarely asked the question: what YOU want to do and if we are, we are discouraged from it or told we should not do it because that’s not what women should do. We still must scream to be heard and even then, we are still not heard. As a woman all I want is to be free; free from society and what people think.”

This is true for many of the women I spoke to and even for myself. Personally, I feel as though media has a huge role to play in what we expect of others. But it does not work alone, culture, work, family, and friends also play a part. Expectations will look different for all women. As a Pakistani for me, there are huge expectations around marriage, getting married and what is expected of you once you are married. It feels as though every woman comes with a sell by date and that you are not truly recognised until you are married (there is so much to explore around marriage in the SA community but more on that another day).

Woman as a mother

For many women, they embrace all aspects of being a woman and how important the role of a woman is as a mother.

“The willpower, love, and affection that we show as women are traits that our children inherit. My children have become a part of me and my journey in bringing them into this world is the most beautiful thing I have experienced – no one can take that away from me. A woman’s life and experience in navigating this world is never easy – but with each struggle, there is a beautiful outcome. Raising children is difficult but being able to see the fruits of my effort in their development has brought me contentment and a sense of achievement; this is my idea of success. Everything I am and hope to be is modelled against my elders. My grandmother raised and supported 2 generations of women in a country that was foreign to her but made it a home for us all. My mother’s constant love and nurturing allowed my sisters and I to navigate the world with openness and confidence, whilst keeping headstrong about our goals and passions. Strength and sacrifice; for me, this is what raises and makes a woman.”

The woman’s place is at home.

I hate the concept of “girls mature faster than boys” and ” the woman’s place is at home”.

We do not mature faster than boys. It is others that force us to mature faster and to see ourselves as sexual beings. We would be more than happy to enjoy our childhood a little longer and to walk into womanhood at our own pace. Often there are times we are in a woman’s body, but our brain has not caught up and we end up becoming wives and mothers before we know it. Again, we have no choice, this is to be decided by others. A woman’s place is not just at home, we are only human beings, we are the queens at multitasking and can be better at anything if only we are given a fair chance.

I grew up in a society that was run by men, well it still is. Where woman have never been valued, respected, or appreciated no matter how hard they try no matter how able their abilities, they are always overshadowed by male members of the family or society. Woman have always been treated as second class, always been told ” know your place”. They are identified as human beings but never have they been convincing enough to be treated like human beings.  

N shared this experience and as much as it was difficult to read, I am so glad she shared because it is unfiltered, and it is raw.

It was only yesterday when I asked these women to tell me what it means to them to be a woman. I am in complete awe of everything that was shared, raw and unfiltered feelings from your average woman. The reason I chose to ask these women is because these are the women who are not in media or active on social media and would not usually share their experiences. I wanted today to be about them, and for society to hear their voice. I am so grateful and proud of how brave they are to share some of what can be triggering.

International Women’s Day is significant for some and not at all for others. This does not give anyone the right to shun others for their involvement (or lack of) in this day. To move forward as a society, we have to be able to accept that being a woman means different things for us all. After a lot of discussion and reflection I know that for me, today was about handing the mic over to the women and hearing their stories, giving them centre stage and sharing experiences and I hope this momentum will continue. I will make every conscious effort for it to continue. Because more often than not, there will be someone who will resonate with what another has to say and if it makes someone feel little less lonely in this world, then we have achieved something.

This is a message to all the women out there, no matter what you do, what your occupation, what your marital status, no matter where you are in life you got this. You are resilient and strong and so so amazing x

Thank you for reading x

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