International Women’s Day 2018 - Feminism and Me

This started out as a post on my private timeline on Facebook to acknowledge, no, celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day.  As I wrote it grew longer and longer and I soon felt this needed to be a blog.  Apologies if it’s a bit disjointed, I just went with my thoughts and allowed everything to flow.

Last year on International Women's Day.  I shared the below poem that I had seen.

At the time I felt tired and drained.  I felt low.  Last year I was seeing other women achieving so much and had a little bit of "why not me?" happening.  But, I continued to watch and, rather than be jealous, I waited for my moment, I started to learn from them, be inspired by their strength, their courage, their determination and the sacrifices they have made.... (I would love to name them all here, but I'm not sure they'd like to be honoured so publicly).

What a difference a year makes?  This year I don't think I've ever felt stronger or more powerful.  I'm evolving and, as a result, my work is too.  I will be vocal, I will ask questions and I will be a part of the fight for change.

But, I will also be kind, compassionate, and care for the families I support.  I will be calm and bring nothing but love to them as I support them through the magical time that is the perinatal period.  The transition of bringing a new person into the world.

There's much I want to achieve over the coming year.  My head is filled with ideas to support women.  All women.  Those who have never conceived (by choice or not), those who didn’t get to hold their babies in their arms, those who didn’t get to take their babies home, those whose babies didn’t stay with them long and those currently raising children (their birth children or their adopted or fostered children). 

Wow.  I feel quite emotional having written that!

As well as the many achievements that have happened for women over this year, there have been setbacks for too. I have celebrated the achievements and my heart has ached and I have cried for the setbacks. 

Yesterday I saw someone share on Facebook a post from Sky News declaring “Feminism has gone far enough, most Britons say”.  I have read the article and the statistics quoted from their own poll of 1,482 people.  Whilst the majority of those who participated in the survey do feel that a man is likely to be hired over a woman when they are equally qualified for a job and that men are paid more than women in equivalent roles, it would seem there is a stigma around feminism. 34% of Britons consider themselves to be feminists (42% of women and 25% of men), and 20% of men said they wouldn’t want to start a romantic relationship with someone if they said they were a feminist.

Whilst this last part made me sad, it didn’t come as a surprise to me (which I suppose is even more saddening). 

Following the new owners of Formula 1 announcing their decision to end having grid girls present at races, there was a huge backlash against feminists.  The feminist campaign had, apparently, ruined the sport.  I don’t recall there being a campaign though, only the new owners, having reviewed a variety of parts of the sport and its marketing, responding to changing attitudes within society.  The presence of grid girls was finished a few years ago in Formula E and I don't recall any backlash.  Perhaps as it’s less popular it went unnoticed, but there was also no announcement around it. 

Anyway, I digress, I am going to talk about one FB post I saw that stuck in my mind.  It referred to the “PC Brigade … running amock”.  The comments following included “the only ones who are complaining are the ones who are jealous”, and “you never see a beautiful feminist”.  Is it any wonder so few people consider themselves to be feminists or identify with feminism if feminism is all about jealousy and not meeting the patriarchal standards of beauty?

I saw a video of Mhairi Black MP yesterday where she was speaking about some of the sexually aggressive abuse that she receives “day in day out”.  She’s not only a woman in the public eye, but an outspoken one too. And this is the way she is treated.  For doing her job!

Before I became a mother I wouldn’t identify myself as a feminist, but that’s not to say I didn’t consider myself be a feminist.  I suppose I just felt neutral on the subject.  I wasn’t talking about feminist issues and I wasn’t campaigning for change.  Yes, there was a lot of unwanted attention received from men (often sexually aggressive), but it was such a normal part of not only my day to day life, but that of my friends too, that I didn’t consider it to be an issue.  It was NORMAL (I wince as I write that part).  I felt myself to be equal and valued in my home and in my work and I felt that was all good enough. 

When I became a mother it was as though my eyes were opened.  There was a huge shift in the way I saw the world, much of it beautiful, but two things I learned very fast and became very passionate about were that birth and motherhood are feminist issues.  My experiences of birth and the early days of motherhood have shaped me.  They led me not only on the path I am now on as I serve and honour the families I work with, but they have also opened my eyes to a society that doesn’t value mothers or the rights of pregnant and birthing women and it hurts my heart.

This morning I read a poem by Paula Cleary (doula, birth activist and founder of Birthplace Matters) that explains things perfectly for where I am today, in this moment right now, as I sit on my sofa and type on my laptop.  Her poem is called “Snowflake” and ends with the lines

So I’ll suck it up now
But you better beware
When the snowstorm is coming
This snowflake will be there

The snowstorm will be here imminently and this snowflake is ready.

You can read the full poem here (trigger warning – obstetric violence).

Helen Discombe