Does International Women’s Day still matter?
—Of course International Women’s Day still matters. Get ready for the usual shtick … we get paid less, raped more, and we are still left doing most of the caring, cooking and cleaning. Our bodies are still objects for comment, contact and creepiness. We are slagged off for complaining and silenced across all walks of life in every medium possible. International Women’s Day will matter until women are completely equal citizens and it will even matter after that.
I do think, though, that we must be careful that we don’t fall in to the trap of making it about exceptional women. I love to sit and listen to the stories about Mary Seacole, Malala Yousafzai, Marie Curie and Jane Austen as much as the next gal. I’ve been known to fist-pump at the moment in a film when the woman is the victor. I’m a sucker for girl done good. But we will still need International Women’s Day until our successes stop being so exceptional. In reality they are not. There are millions of brilliant women scientists, athletes, artists, chefs, astronauts … everything. We just don’t hear about them.
Yeah, there need to be more women in almost all fields that don’t pay the cheapest wages – I hear you, sister. But truth is we are not angels or saints. We must stop allowing the narrative to be about just a few great women, great as they are. It breeds a culture of seeking the exceptional rather than the norm.
There is a risk of women being put on a pedestal and viewed in sepia tones. It happened with motherhood. The world played a trick and said that a mother has some sort of ‘special bond’ with a child that a father doesn’t have. Rubbish. Dads love their kids just as much. The idea of specialness does nothing but hold moms back and excludes dads. It is unbelievable to me that modern policymakers fall for the really well-evidenced and scientific ‘special bond’ and create a paternity leave so far behind maternity leave it might as well not exist. Men should be given the exact same options to stay off work and look after their babies. It would be good for moms, dads and kids.
It is often said that we will have equality in parliament when there are as many average women as there are average men. It’s the same thing across every area of life. When we start celebrating, valuing and talking about all the women out there just doing their stuff, we’ll have made it.
I don’t want to be thought of as amazing for getting in to parliament. I don’t want people to be passing comment about how I’m tough and brave. It might be true, but it is rarely said about my male colleagues, some of whom are just as tough and brave as me. I want International Women’s Day to be a shout-out for my normal sisters out there who are just getting on. But hey, our natural awesomeness is, I suppose, pretty comment‑worthy.
Jess Phillips is member of parliament for Birmingham Yardley
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