Today is International Women’s Day, and bloggers have been asked to blog against sexism. I have thought about it all day. I listened to Women’s Hour this morning and heard Fay Weldon and someone else talk about their responses to Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room, I heard about the women’s movement in Uganda and a fascinating interview with the young female director of Peter Schaeffer’s Equus, currently showing in London and showing rather more of Daniel Radcliffe than we have grown to expect. Then I pottered around in my kitchen, cooking dinner for my husband and three of his work colleagues coming round for dinner tonight. Later I cooked again for my children, took one child to ballet, took the remaining two to the grocery store with me, collected the third and took the whole lot for two hours in the playground. We came home, I fed and watered my small team, and then my husband returned to read stories to them while I put the finishing touches on our dinner. I also changed out of my tatty playground gear, put on fresh clothes and some make-up before welcoming our guests.
Outwardly, it would seem that my life is no different from the tragic Seventies housewives represented in the Women’s Room, as I focus on food preparation and childcare. I think the key difference between me and the women whose lives Marilyn French was trying to change with her seminal book is choice. It’s also the key difference between me and the millions of women living below the poverty line in third world countries. And between me and women who are subjugated by religion.
I have the privilege of choice. My mother always said to me that I could become anything I wanted to be and I grew up believing her. I worked hard to get good school results so that I could attend the university of my dreams. While there, I flirted with falling off the rails, but my dream of having a career and being someone kept me focused and I got good first and postgraduate degrees. I had a career, took some time off to have children, and am now slinking into the working world through the back door by having my own writing and editing business. How incredibly lucky and privileged I have been.
My parents did not have to choose between educating me and educating their sons. I did not have to stay home and care for my brothers. I was never a girl-child looking after other children. As a child I did not have to cook or wash clothes or fetch water from a river. I did not have to fight to go to school. I did not have to fight to finish school. I did not have to defeat anyone’s will in order to go to university. I did not battle to find jobs. I did not have to support an extended family when I did earn money. I did not have to stop working when I got married. I did not have to carry on working when I had babies. One day, I will not have to stay at home when I would rather be in the workplace.
International Women’s Day asks us to think of sexism in the workplace, of the glass ceiling, of men who don’t yet do 50% of the house and child-caring, of the struggle that mothers have to work flexible hours, of the taint that women who work full time feel in not being their children’s primary caretakers. These are good things to be thinking and talking about.
I also ask you to think about ten-year-old girls caring for five little siblings after their parents and grandparents have been killed by AIDS, I ask you to think about women who can’t guarantee their children clean drinking water, about women who must obey their younger brothers, women who must appear hidden in public so that men will not feel lust for them, women who are belittled, abused or raped. They do not have the luxury of choice.
Today, I reminded myself to remember and be grateful for my privilege.