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What does it mean to be a woman in 2020? Are we moving towards equality, or is it 2 steps forwards and 2 back? How does the appointment of Kamala Harris as vice president in the US, fit with an increase in demand for plastic surgery and an obsession with Instagram filters? The #MeToo movement took a stand against the abuse and objectification of women, yet it seems to be acceptable practice for girls to manipulate photographs, so they appear as wide eyed, pouting dolls. I’m not saying appearance isn’t important, but it concerns me that we seem to be leaning towards a view of beauty that is less human and more toys R us!
But maybe that is the problem. Maybe we are too intent on putting women into boxes, and this hinders progress. You’re either pouting or political, sporty or feminine, a girly girl or tom boy.
I have begun to realise, that not fitting neatly into one of these boxes, has held me back.
I grew up in a very equal household. My parents, both nurses, worked similar shifts, and earned similar pay. There were no ‘his and hers’ pastimes. Their leisure activities revolved around a shared love of the outdoors and nature. Never having much money, they had to be resourceful and work as a team. It wasn’t unusual to see my mum with her head under the car bonnet when ‘the bloody thing wouldn’t start’, or rolling up her sleeves, hammer in hand, to complete projects around the house. My dad was no stranger in the kitchen cooking tea.
There was no way I was limited by my gender.Or maybe I was.
A recent conversation with my partner’s 15 year- old daughter caused me to reflect on my own teenage years. While discussing her friend, who identifies as ‘non- binary’, and my attempt to understand what this meant, I asked her – ‘how do you identify?’ To which she replied, ‘well I am happy to be identified as female, but really, I identify as ME, as *Peggy’.
I found this statement incredibly powerful. It made me realise that despite the equality I witnessed at home, I had very much been impacted by the labels to which we are often expected to conform. I was clever but no genius, I wasn’t ugly, but neither was I considered pretty, I enjoyed sport, but was no athlete. Yet I felt unique. Unlike most teenagers, I didn’t yearn to fit in, or be part of the crowd. I wanted to stand out but standing out requires self- belief and this wasn’t something I had in abundance.
I was ‘loud’, or ‘argumentative.’ I was tall and clumsy, and often called fat. People thought I was different alright, but not in the way I hoped for.
I spent much of my time trying to be ‘one of the lads’, equating, in my mind, anything feminine as weak, boring or superficial. Boys seemed to be less restricted by labels. And while it may not always be true, they seemed to me to be able to move through life with more ease, they didn’t have to be exceptional to create an impact, they just had to show up.
I think that being ‘one of the lads’ allowed me to stand out but afforded me a security I lacked standing on my own. But it wasn’t authentic.
I struggled to reconcile some of the aspects of my personality. I was comfortable portraying strength, confidence and assertiveness, but was uneasy with vulnerability and uncertainty.
But as I grow older and bolder, I am ever more at ease with who I am. I stand out for being funny, a great leader, for having ideas and being kind. I enjoy riding my bike, wearing no make-up, and can fart like a champion. I love to have my hair done, wear make-up, and feel fabulous in a pair of heels.
I have passion and confidence, but at times am scared and unsure. I’m OK with it all. I’m unique.
As I move through my 40’s, I am learning to build my own box, although one I intend to stand upon, rather than be put in.
And to answer my own question, what does it mean to be a woman in 2020?
It means, 100%, no compromise, to be ME.
I fully appreciate that women aren’t the only ones who suffer stereotypes, and that men and boys can equally struggle with the expectation of ‘being a certain way’ but I do think that as women we are still judged far more on outward appearance, which is often another layer we have to deal with in order to discover our true selves. I hope these blog posts help inspire and empower young women to be who they want to be. To know that they are valuable and valid, no matter what their path in life, whether it be making homes or making history.
Why climb ladders, when you can climb trees?!
*names have been changed but thank you to a very special young lady who inspired this blog.