IT’S just another date on the calendar, a token gesture, some say. Even counter-productive, others argue, putting back the agenda of sexual equality instead of driving it forward. Why do we need a day just for women, when we don’t have one dedicated to men? What about people who identify as neither gender?
I could go on. This year however, International Women’s Day should give us all something to consider. You must have been on Mars with Perseverance if you haven’t noticed that Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex and self-proclaimed campaigner for equality in all forms, is the most prominent woman in the world on this day.
That explosive television interview with Oprah Winfrey, conducted with her husband, Prince Harry, sixth in line to the British throne, by her side, threatens the monarchy with the biggest crisis since the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936.
Counter-claims that the Duchess “bullied” royal staff and retainers, reported to have been at the sharp end of her strong personality, could send the whole thing into orbit.
This unedifying spectacle, dragging individuals into the gathering storm as it thunders on, is even reaching the heart of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government through his Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, a former private secretary to the Duke of Cambridge. It is doing no-one any favours, least of all women.
Let’s step away from the “she said/he said” internecine feuding and take a moment to mourn. It is so sad that one way or another, a chance has been lost. The Duchess was given the privilege of a world stage in which to forward her causes, and presented with the opportunity to do so much good, supporting girls and women across the Commonwealth and standing as a figurehead for sexual, racial and social egalitarianism, the doctrine that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.
And for me, at least, egalitarianism and feminism are one and the same. It saddens me – far more than the plight of Meghan and Harry does – that ‘feminist’ has become a term of abuse.
In everyday terms, today should be about celebrating parity, not conjuring up put-downs and adding further fuel to polarisation. Not least because this pandemic year has underlined some stark truths about men and women. The United Nations says that global gender equality could have been pushed back 25 years.
In the UK, girls and young women are taking on far more responsibility for household chores, cooking, cleaning and food shopping. A staggering 66 per cent aged between 14 and 24 are spending more time cooking for their families as a result of the pandemic, compared with 31 per cent of boys and men in the same age group.
Not in our house. My husband, 18-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter might see me doing the laundry, but they will also see me putting in 12-hour working days or dragging sacks of compost up the garden. There’s no male/female division of labour here; it’s each according to their strength and ability. My husband, a builder, does much of the weekday cooking because he enjoys it. We expect both the teenagers to keep their own rooms clean and change their own beds.
If household debate becomes a little heated, as it sometimes does, I point out that every man who has grown up with a mother who had to work to keep a roof over his head should respect feminism; without it, this woman would have been unable to take a job and earn her own money.
Simple, yes? So why all the vitriol? Blame Margaret Thatcher, the UK’s first female Prime Minister, for frightening the horses and putting the wind up the pinstriped men who ran the Conservative Party. There are many politicians, on all sides, still struggling to come to terms with this, treating their female colleagues with vituperation. Please don’t tell me to ‘calm down dear’, as former premier David Cameron once did to Labour opponent Angela Eagle.
Or why not pin it on the Spice Girls for shaking up the pop industry’s assumptions about teenage girls, or more chillingly, fundamentalist religions which make subjugation of girls and women a tenet of faith?
There are a myriad reasons why, in 2021, we appear to live in a world in which the clock is rapidly ticking backwards. I can guarantee that, somehow, the blame will be pinned on women for being a certain way or doing a certain thing. That’s the rudimentary injustice we face – Meghan Markle exemplifies.
And really, as adults, parents and influencers, even in a limited sphere, we should all try to challenge this. Make your own little list of all the reasons why women are simply still not treated equally. Keep it to yourself or share it for discussion. There would be no better day to do it than today.
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