It seems only fitting on International Women’s Day, to reflect on where women stand today, and where we still need to go.
I am so thankful for all the opportunities that I have access to, that many women before me have not and that many women around the world still do not, to this day. There are women today who still do not have access to education, or basic rights over their bodies. I have had an outstanding education from the age of four, to being in my final year of University. Today, I am able to work; able to vote; able to file for divorce; able to persecute a rapist – marital or otherwise; have access to abortions and am entitled to equal pay – although statistically, we aren’t getting it. I am thankful that, by law, I have rights over my own body; am entitled to make my own decisions; and have access to most of the same opportunities as men. Unfortunately, just because these things have changed on paper, at least here in the UK, does not mean they have changed in practice.
“Women are 51% of the population in this country. Bitches got the majority. Say hello to that – and then wave it goodbye because it’s the only one you’ve got. You are 29% of MPs, 22% of University Professors, 10% of FTSE 100 Directors. We’re not there. So what’s the problem? Our Mums and Grannies fixed all of this didn’t they?” – If you haven’t seen it already, go and catch up with the first episode of BBC 3’s Newest Drama: Clique. (Think ‘Skins’ but grittier)
There is a poignancy about this day. I feel bittersweet that although we have made such progress, we still have so far to go. Sadly, in the last 6 months, America has taken a huge backwards step in its treatment of women. We can’t know what will happen as a result of this, but we can guess that it will legitimise and enforce the attitudes that women are sexual objects, in America and around the world, making it even more acceptable than it already is to treat us as such.
Statistics show that one in three women have been or will be raped, beaten, co-erced into sex or otherwise abused in their lifetime. To put it into perspective: I am one of three sisters. This is a statistic I am fundamentally not OK with. We are in a society which claims to be equal on paper, but is not in reality.
In my three years at University, without my permission, I have been touched by hands in clubs whose owners I did not know. One evening this year, myself and two housemates were chased right to our door by a hooded man. Just two weeks ago, entering a bar in Birmingham, my friends and I paid £2 less each than the boys who came in behind us. I suppose what it actually cost to pay less, was being cupped on my bum by the bouncer before he closed the rope between us and the rest of queue. I spent the remainder of my night embarrassed and uncomfortable, when I had begun it feeling happy and carefree. These are not uncommon instances. I am not an anomaly.
I can’t propose an overnight solution, even though it’s a nice thought. I do, however, study English Language & Linguistics and have had the Power of Language drilled into me again and again. We need to pay more attention to calling people out when they use sexist language, or comment on a woman’s appearance/clothes/sexual promiscuity/femininity before commenting on her brain. Avoid ‘man up’ and ‘throw like a girl’. Think about ‘growing a pair’ versus ‘being a pussy’- there’s a theme in our words about what we believe it means to be a woman. We need to stop saying Girl Power, and start saying Power – Power is not something magical that belongs to men; we do not need some separate celebration when we are powerful. Let’s start with linguistic liberation. Create change with your words first, and set the example that women can be spoken about, and in-turn thought about, in the same way that men are.
We need to stop telling young girls that they are bossy, and start telling them that they have leadership skills; don’t call a girl sensitive, instead say emotionally intelligent. Change the words; change the thoughts; change the stigma. I know that the gender inequalities have negative effects for men too, and I feel as strongly for my brother as I do for my sisters. But today is International Women’s Day. Women and men: empower yourselves and your sisters, your mothers, your friends. Be thoughtful with the language you use when you talk about women and girls. We’re all part of the problem and can all be the solution. I don’t want my sisters, or any women, growing up in a world where they feel that their bodies are of more value than their brains. I don’t want this world to continue to be a place where my sisters and I represent a statistic.
Be unapologetic in using your voice for yourself, and all the women around the world who don’t have one. Happy International Women’s Day,
Anna Fents x
Visit the One In Three Women campaign
This is What Gender Inequality in Britain Looks Like in Charts – The Independent
If you have found anything in this article upsetting, visit Rape Crisis for information & support.