Earlier this month, we celebrated International Women’s Day and because I don’t always look at my personal social media accounts often, this week I’ve been looking at some older posts from earlier in the month. I saw one particular post to celebrate International Women’s Day that stood out for me. The verse was ” Here’s to Strong Women: May we be them, may we know them, may we raise them.” As I read the verse, my immediate thought was how much I relate to it and that it’s an empowering sentiment. I am very blessed to have wonderful relationships with many strong women and I am so grateful for all that they teach me, as well as the strength that we encourage in, and share with each other.
Those of you who know me well won’t be surprised when I tell you that I spent a lot of time thinking about this verse, breaking it down to relate to it in its individual parts. The line that I kept circling back to most was “… may we raise them.” My initial thought was that this bit doesn’t really apply to me as the mother of an only child who is now a man. However, the more I considered it, I realized that the messages that we teach our sons are just as important in making changes to how the world sees girls and women within our world, as those we share with our daughters.
International Women’s Day itself has an interesting history and is defined by http://www.internationalwomensday.com as a global day to celebrate the cultural, social, political and economic achievements of women, as well as being a call to action for gender parity.
The first official International Women’s Day took place on March 19th, 1911. It was based on a proposal made in Copenhagen the year before at the International Conference of Working Women. At this 1910 conference the more than 100 women who attended embraced the idea that on the same day every year, in every country there would be a celebration of a Women’s Day. After much discussion worldwide in the years following the initial celebration in 1911, it was decided in 1914 that International Women’s day would take place annually on March 8th.
Beginning in 1996, there’s been a theme associated with each International Women’s Day and the campaign theme for 2021 is “Choose to Challenge”. This year’s theme is further described as “A challenged world is an alert world. And from challenge comes change. So let’s all #ChooseToChallenge.”
I was really excited when I read this because I feel it applies well to the things I’d been thinking about the “strong women” quote I’d been pondering. The messages, values, lessons and examples that we share with our children of all genders have the potential to affect how they respond to others in their lives. In order for things to evolve, ideals and sterotypes that no longer serve need to be challenged in order to inspire change.
Looking at the big picture and the messages that I personally tried to pass along to my child, these are just a few of the core values that I attempted to instill in him:
- Kindness and respect are valuable and important to give and to receive. You won’t always agree with others but you should respect their right to an opinion or belief and not belittle them because it differs from yours.
- Space can be healthy and discussing anything when you’re really angry is rarely productive. Violence solves nothing.
- Think before you speak and consider whether what you are thinking of saying is helpful, necessary and kind.
- Generalizations about groups of people are rarely accurate and typically inaccurate. ALL women, ALL men, ALL people of a certain faith or culture DO NOT ALL act in the same way. Those kinds of broad statement generalizations are truly unfair to the people in those groups who ARE respectful, mindful and supportive of the achievements and differences between themselves and other human beings.
- Housework doesn’t give you hives, allergies, palpitations or other medical side effects. It’s also not one person’s job because of their gender and should be done together with the people you live with. At the very least it should be discussed to figure out how you’ll each contribute to your home. It was important to me that my son know how to look after the chores in his home so that he’d be able to not only be a “partner” in a future relationship by helping with housework, but also so that he didn’t seek out relationships to fill the role of housekeeper or pseudo-mother.
- It’s ok to hold the door for another human being. It’s common courtesy. If someone holds a door for you, say thank you.
- The “guy/patriarch/man/father figure/masculine entity/dude of the manor” is NOT responsible for making ALL of the money, ALL of the decisions or paying for EVERYTHING in a relationship, unless he happens to be single and the only person in his household. These kind of things require input from both people in a relationship and some compromise. It shouldn’t be assumed that just because you’re “the guy” that you need to pay for all the things you do together either. Treating each other is wonderful but shouldn’t be one-sided. You shouldn’t expect anyone to always pay your way either.
- Contributions to a relationship aren’t always monetary and how each of you will participate in your partnership needs to be discussed and agreed upon together. Either way, contributing to the relationship isn’t optional for either of you.
- Your “significant other/mother/partner/room-mate” etc. is not required by any law, rule or standard (real or imaginary) to make all of your meals, add your favourite condiments and deliver your plate of food to wherever you happen to be in the house. While this may occur on special occasions, it shouldn’t be expected for every meal.
As with most things, I’ve approached the list above with humour, but hope that the lessons intended made it through. The world has come so far over the last 110 years since the first International Women’s Day celebration and even within the last 40, nearly 50 years of my life, so much progress has been made in the opportunities that are available to women and girls. That being said, there’s a lot more progress to be made and I dream of a world that is kinder and more equitable and accessible to my young nieces and great-nieces (and someday grandbabies).
Within my own lifetime, I’ve been asked to step aside from waiting on someone because they preferred to have a man help them. (Within the last few years.) I’ve been excluded from consideration for a promotion because I was a “healthy female of child bearing age”. (That’s a direct quote.) I’ve been in a situation where a customer was making unwanted advances and sexual threats toward me and the response from my supervisor when I asked for help was to “not upset the customer because he spends a lot of money in the store”. (For the record, I did chose to upset the customer and stand up for myself. The customer still got to shop in the store and I was transferred to another location.)
The interesting thing is that not all of these examples of misogyny in the situations I mention were perpetrated by men. I’m not mentioning these example because I want sympathy or to incite angry thoughts but to demonstrate that as far as we’ve come, we have a ways to go. I like to think that these challenging situations have helped me to be more open minded, tolerant and respectful to others no matter their gender, beliefs, heritage etc.. I truly hope that I’ve succeeded in passing those embracing values on to my son. Ultimately, we can all #ChooseToChallenge. We all have a role to play in how we challenge outdated and unfair ideals starting at home with our children and the examples we set for them. May we teach them all equally well.