What if every girl in the world had access to education? What if women could walk home alone at night without fear of being attacked? What if those who hold political power reflected the demographic of the people they represent? What if 50% of leadership roles went to women? What if childcare was affordable and accessible? What if the media stopped using women’s self-image as a weapon to make us feel guilty and inadequate? What if we stopped enforcing gender stereotypes and started telling women and girls that they could be whatever they damn well like?
Can you imagine a world like that? Wouldn’t it be incredible?
It’s International Women’s Day; a day to celebrate women. To champion, empower, and advocate for equality. To raise our voices in praise of how far we’ve come, but,crucially, to look ahead and take action to create the change that needs to happen to bring true equality.
Getting fired up
I spent this afternoon surrounded by inspiring women at a workshop run by my local MP and all-round eMPowering woman, Stella Creasy. They take the name of Circular Firing Up Squads – don’t let that put you off – these are workshops designed to bring women together to get fired up, cheered on and – most importantly – to go and take action. To put ourselves forward, speak up, make ourselves heard and take opportunities. To encourage more women to step into leadership roles and create change – one woman at a time.
And here’s what I came away with.
We HAVE to start owning our talents
Our workshop started by looking at the way we talk about ourselves as women. About our careers, our achievements, our feelings. The majority of women there were consistent down-players, deflectors – we laugh off our achievements and feel we’ve somehow accidentally landed where we are. That, any minute now, someone’s going to cotton on and chuck us out by our ear. That feeling that Sheryl Sandberg captures perfectly as ‘Imposter Syndrome’. What I call on a personal note my ‘Chandler Bing reflex’ – the use of humour as a defence mechanism to fend off compliments.
This HAS to stop. We have to start owning our achievements, our talents, our positive qualities and gifts. To acknowledge that we bring skills, worth and value to what we do in our lives and to speak proudly of these things whenever we damn well please. Or at least in job interviews. Because one thing’s for sure – no one else is going to do it for us!
Cheerlead others, just don’t forget to cheerlead YOURSELF
We wrote post-it notes to our 14 year-old selves, our 80 year-old selves, our best friends and the men in our life. It was interesting (though not surprising) how much more forgiving the notes to our best friends were than the ones we wrote to ourselves.
We tell our best friends off if they’re hard on themselves. We praise their talents, give them our love, positivity and encouragement, but when it comes to ourselves? We berate, dwell on our mistakes, worry, regret and fill our internal dialogue with ‘can’t’.
This HAS to stop. Yes, we are flawed – but we are no more flawed than anyone else. Think of all the things you could achieve if you talked to yourself kindly, with love, care and understanding you give those you love.
Give FEAR the finger – feel the fear and do it anyway!
So many of us – myself included – talked about fear being the thing that held us back the most. Fear of what other people with think of you, fear of putting ourselves out there, of being judged, of not being good enough.
For a long time, I had a blog called Cake and Feminism (now morphed into this one) in which I barely wrote about feminism because I was too scared I’d get it wrong. That I hadn’t read enough books, or would say something that people would laugh at as idiotic, or too idealistic, or self-righteous. I now realise that my opinions, thoughts and feelings are as valuable as anyone elses. And if you think I’m talking shit? Well then you’re entitled to your opinion, too.
On Saturday, I finally plucked up the courage to go to a Boxfit class. I’d wanted to try it for months, but felt intimidated by the prospect of being surrounded by tough guys, not knowing what I was doing, or having rubber arms. I am SO glad I did. It was one of the best things I’ve done in ages, I felt totally bad-ass for the whole rest of the day, and I feel like I’ve found a type of exercise that might just rock my world.
I wouldn’t have ANY of that if I hadn’t felt the fear and done it anyway – and this is just one small thing in my life that I’ve not done out of fear.
AMAZING things happen when we support each other
In the final part of our session, we became a team of cheerleaders – everyone with a role to play in each other’s success. We were asked to speak up if the woman we were working with had undersold themselves in talking about their goals and aspirations.
In this room of dynamic, ambitious, creative, gifted, inspiring women there were so many among us that lacked self-belief, that couldn’t see our own talents, felt defeated or fearful. It was incredible to see the powerfully positive, supportive and at times, emotional, ‘cheers’ that came from around the room. The strength of feeling that came as compliments, affirmations, re-assurances and offers of support.
There is HUGE strength in numbers. How much faster would progress happen if we all stood together to fire up and cheer each other on? What if we stopped criticising, stopped judging, and actually reached out to one another to encourage and empower?
So stand up and reach out. Cheer lead, fire up, encourage, inspire, stand behind, support and champion women. The women in your life, your workplace, your communities. Your mother, sister, friend, daughter, or boss.
In helping each other realise our potential, we have the potential to change the world.
You can find out more about Stella Creasy’s Circular Firing Up Squad here.