I’m in Italy with work for a couple of days. When we arrived at the hotel yesterday, I asked the woman at the front desk if anything was happening in the town for Shrove Tuesday. She smiled and started to tell me it was a special day for the ladies. She hadn’t fully understood my English and had instantly thought I was talking about International Women’s Day. In Italy, women are given yellow mimosa flowers to mark the occasion.
Clearly International Women’s Day is bigger than Pancake Day in Italy.
My old flatmate B messaged me this weekend to tell me I would love it where she is in Moldova too – apparently ‘it’s like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day and your birthday all in one’.
It appears that across Europe IWD is a day to honour and celebrate women, and it’s taken seriously. But in the UK, feminism is an f-word: feared, forgotten, forbidden.
There are lots of women who don’t want to be called feminists, who don’t think they’re feminists. And if feminism means burning your bra and trying to be a man, then I’m not a feminist either.
Feminism in the UK is associated with mad and strident, angry and bitter womanhood, with slightly crazy behaviour, with man-hatred and weird haircuts.
But I am a feminist, because feminism is about having equal standing with men. It’s very simple. It’s not strident, but it is important.
I am grateful that I live in a country where equal pay and the right to an equal political voice is enshrined in law. I am grateful to have had the same educational opportunities as boys, and that I can apply for work and gain it based on my skills and qualifications, not my gender. I live in a country where I will not and cannot be stoned for looking a man in the eye.
These are rights that not all women share, and they were hard fought to be won. And I am eternally grateful to those women who made those things possible for me, and for a whole generation of women and girls – even those who enjoy those rights and freedoms and don’t consider themselves feminists.
We stand on the shoulders of those giants.
But I also want to be able to step into a lift full of men, and not have that flicker of questioning fear about what could or might happen to me. I want to be able to walk the streets at night without a racing heart and a continually muttered prayer for protection. I don’t want to hear that the conviction rate for rape is less than 20 per cent in the UK on the news in the morning when I wake up. I don’t want to be heckled in the street and I don’t want to be told to accept that it’s complimentary.
Men and women are different. And women are more equal than we have ever been. But I don’t want to sit back and accept that being more equal is as good as being ACTUALLY equal. Opinions may differ on what that means and how to achieve it but until we have parity with men, International Women’s Day is more important than Pancake Day and Mothers’ Day and Valentine’s Day and your birthday, and all the other dates we mark, celebrate and commemorate. Let’s keep asking the question, like Judi Dench does in this YouTube video, ‘Are we equal?’ until we are.