International Women’s Day: Survival Advice for Concerned Men

International Women’s Day can be a very scary time for some men. This day each year, woman across the world boldly and unabashedly celebrate the strengths and achievements of their fellow sisters, whilst continuing to shine a light on issues of inequality and injustice.

Some men celebrate this day too, some choose to keep a watchful silence, others might think all this noise is just an unnecessary rocking of the boat. And some of you feel personally affronted by all this feminine hysteria.

But fear not, Broflakes and men who have taken umbrage! You will survive this! Here is my guidance for making it through the next 24 hours…

First of all, as it’s often one of the most googled questions on International Women’s Day, I’ll save you the bother: International Men’s Day is on the 19th November. Now I’ve told you that, you can refrain from posting a status update or a tweet passively-aggressively asking this question.

Next, take some deep calming breaths, and know that progress and feminist gains will not come at your expense. You don’t lose your rights when somebody else is rightfully handed theirs. Try to remember this before you hit ‘send’ on that trolling message to the ‘Feminazi’ you singled out on Twitter.

Now I know you probably think the gender pay gap is as much of a myth as the female orgasm, but believe me – just because you haven’t been privy to either of these things, doesn’t make them untrue. You can spend your time today googling counter-theories on the pay gap and why it is a malicious lie, but just because Linda in your office gets paid the same as you, doesn’t mean that the pay gap isn’t alive and well in every corner of the globe.

It’s also worth me pointing out that we all know, of course, that #NotAllMen are bastards. But the problem with this hashtag is that it insists we focus our attention on the good, and ignore the bad. Sometimes, we need to focus on the bad to realise that there is a problem, and face up to it as a society as a whole. Responding to a positive and empowering female movement with ‘#NotAllMen’, silences the women that need to have their voices heard. So, on a day that focuses on Women, let’s maybe not try and make it all about patting men on the back for not raping. Let’s keep the focus where it should be. For today at least.

However, if you’re absolutely insistent on keeping ‘men’ at the forefront of International Women’s Day, why not look up and back the burgeoning #AskMoreOfHim campaign that has already been backed by a number of high-profile men who want to do more than just pay lip-service to the idea of equality. Gender equality can’t be that much of a hysterical notion if there are even some rational and considered men, with perfectly formed superior man-brains, who publicly back it too, right?

Finally, just chill your boots (there’s no male equivalent of ‘calm down, dear’ – funny that…). Know that International Women’s Day isn’t a personal attack on you. Just because you got your heart stomped on by some girl a few years back, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a severe global deficit in gender equality that urgently needs addressing.

But rest assured in the knowledge that after today, nothing earth-shattering will happen to change the status quo. The pay gap won’t close for another 50 years. There’s unlikely to be a female president of the US for at least a decade. There will still be more CEOs named John than there will be women CEOs in total. Your life as you know it will not change…and that, for the billions of women across the world, is the problem.

Girls Run the World

Raising a daughter and helping her fine-tune her emotional and social intelligence is a complex business. And for me, a huge part of helping my daughter learn about herself and the world around her will be framed within the context of feminism and equality.

There’s no right or wrong way to do this, and you may disagree with my approach, but this is how I see it…

My daughter will receive every support and encouragement in achieving everything and anything she wants to in life. I will bring her up to know that with hard-work and self belief, she can do anything.

However, I won’t sugarcoat anything. I won’t pretend that getting what you want is easy. I won’t shy away from telling her about the disadvantages that face many, many women. She needs to have an awareness and an appreciation of the hardship and struggle that the ‘fairer sex’ has endured for a over a millennia, and how this impacts her as a woman today.

She will know though, that this isn’t an excuse to hide behind, nor is it an opportunity to admit defeat. In fact, I will encourage her to use this as ammunition to work harder to achieve what she believes in. It won’t be easy, but she will know she has all the love and respect in the world from me.

Maybe a ‘girls run the world’ t-shirt is just a bit of fun. Maybe it’s a manifesto for tomorrow.

Why you should never tell someone to ‘smile’

This week when I was filling up the car, a bloke at the petrol pump opposite looked over to me and said, ‘Cheer up, love. It might never happen!’ I was so flustered by his comment that I think I might have laughed back at him to show him I wasn’t always a miserable cow – I was just struggling with the lock on the petrol cap.

Almost immediately afterwards, I was kicking myself at my lame-ass response. I basically obeyed an order from an intrusive stranger. I let him judge me, without a hint of a clue as to who I am and what I might have to frown about, and I chose to please him rather than defend my situation.

Thinking back, this has happened to me on a few occasions. I don’t think I’ve got a particularly severe ‘resting bitch face’, and even if I do, it doesn’t give complete strangers the right to think they can control me, my mood and my actions with one simple command.

Telling a woman to ‘smile’ is patronising and incredibly condescending. For that moment, it reduces her worth to no more than her ability to please the person that demands a smile from her. How incredibly messed up is that, when you really think about it?

When you ask someone to smile, it isn’t really about cheering them up, it’s about you being happy that the world around you looks that way you want it to look. It can be completely unintentional, but off-the-cuff comments like this are casually thrown about every day and women are generally just too damn tired, or embarrassed or scared to disobey or challenge them. I know, I’m bloody one of them!

What is really depressing about all of this is that from birth, we say ‘smile’ to girls all the time. And when we’re not saying it to them, we buy clothes to remind them to smile, just in case they feel sad about something and they drop the happy façade.

I recently walked through the clothes section at my local supermarket to pick up some bits for my daughter, and there were no less than three separate t-shirt designs that ordered girls to ‘smile’. Want to know how many there were in the boys’ section? None. Why is it that we encourage girls to smile and not boys? Why are we still so obsessed with the notion of a passive, smiling female? And why would it be interpreted as a weakness or out of the ordinary for a boy to smile?

If you want people to smile, you need to give them something to smile about. Make more people happy, do more nice things for the people around you. But don’t always expect a smile. A smile needs to be earned, and it’s not yours to demand. We need to spend less time encouraging people to smile, and more time doing ‘smile-worthy’ acts.

Have you ever had a stranger tell you to ‘cheer up’, or ‘smile’? How did it make you feel? I’m genuinely interested in how widespread this is, and how it impacts the people that have experienced it.