I have been lucky in my life to be surrounded by amazing women. From my teen years and early 20s living in British Columbia, to my move to Newfoundland, to traveling abroad, I have consistently been exposed to beautiful, pragmatic, inspiring, wise, headstrong, nurturing, caring women.
These women were in so many ways the inspiration and driving force behind my feminisms – such a broad and yet personal belief. And although I was exposed to many wonderful women, I found over the years that it was young girls who most drove my passion for change in this world.
For many years I worked as a childcare provider, and one of my favourite topics to discuss with young girls was the upcoming annual International Women’s Day (on Saturday, March 8 this year). It’s truly my favourite day of the year: filled with pride and celebration, and a recognition of the work and change that still needs to happen to make the lives of women and girls safe, and to make this world a safe and equal place to live. I was privileged for many years to spend the time leading up to International Women’s Day with a small group of young girls, creating beautiful and personal cards for the girls in their class and the women in their lives in celebration of that day.
The conversations that arose from these craft days were always so wonderful, filled with comments like: “My mom needs to be celebrated,” and “Girls can ride motorcycles too, you know. Even though you mostly see men on motorcycles.” Their cards were filled with flowers, hearts and butterflies, represented in the very international feminist colour of purple and written in glitter glue. My worry each year was how their teachers would respond as they strode into their classes on March 8 with cards for all the girls. Thankfully, this never seemed to be an issue, and instead sparked more discussions at school with their friends who exclaimed that they didn’t know it was a holiday.
This year, I am away from Newfoundland for my favourite holiday, and am a mother myself. I have two wonderful step-daughters in my life and a boy to teach about gender equality. I am thankful that my step-daughters have had wonderful and interesting role models in their lives: working parents of both genders, a father who has provided much of their at-home care over the years, grandparents who are supportive and nurturing. Last year to celebrate International Women’s Day we made cards for one another and ate butterfly-shaped pancakes. It is a day where I am, each year, filled with love and gratitude and celebration for the numerous women in my life.
More than a single day
But throughout the year is when we most need to remember this very important day – when our girls are being bullied by one another, when they begin “sexting” to their classmates or asking for a princess or makeover party at six-years old. We need to remember it when our girls are being harassed at their very first job, struggling with gender identity, or when they’re out at a high school party, and as parents we’re worried about rape drugs and wondering whether they know to watch their drinks. We need to remember this day for all the girls around the world who are not safe, who aren’t well educated, who are struggling with inequality and don’t have someone to watch out for them.
I watch my girls, my amazing step-daughters, and wish for protection, for love, for safety, for education, for happiness, for joy for them. We, the adults in their lives, work so hard to make this happen, and yet there are days where I realize that the world around us is so much bigger than them, and than us. And I wonder if we are doing enough.
And now I have a boy, a small tiny male person, and I am watching the world already pigeon-hole him into such specific gender roles. If he wears polka dots he must be a girl, or if he has a bonnet on he’s a bit “girly” – these are the comments that we hear. And all I want is for him to be whoever he chooses to be, unfettered by stereotypes and gender roles. And likewise, for him to be able to keep and hold on to the sensitivity that he has, the empathy and emotions that he has, as so many men are unable to.
As parents of two girls and a boy, my partner and I have multiple responsibilities to help our girls be safe, and teach our boy to respect women. It’s a conversation with our boys that so many of us veer away from – how to respect women. And it’s such a necessary conversation, when the media and gender roles and stereotypes in their lives are instead teaching them that girls are in so many ways still property, objects, possessions.
Imagine if we all had these conversations, how beautifully and quickly the world might change. Perhaps that’s a giant wish, an impossible hope, but it’s such a necessary one. It’s one that I want for my children: a world free from violence, free from stereotypes, where they can simply be who they want to be. Such an impossible hope, but perhaps not impossible after all.