It’s 8pm on International Women’s Day 2017. I’m sitting in near darkness as the sun sets on what’s been a beautiful and unusually hot day for March in Melbourne. Cross-legged on the couch, I have chocolate on my left and an icy cold beer on my right. My 2 kids are in bed, my partner out. I feel warmth radiating from my face and wonder if I should’ve applied more sunscreen today. I’m tired. Actually, I’m exhausted after a busy, challenging, sleep-deprived week, but fulfilled after a gorgeous afternoon on the beach with my friend and fellow entrepreneur Bridget, and our kids.
We discussed IWD and what it means to us this year, both having given birth to girls in the past 12 months. I spoke of my social media feeds being full to the brim of events celebrating women, more this year than past years, I felt. Honestly, my social media feeds are always full of articles, quotes, statistics (good and bad), photos and stories of women, women in business and equality. For long before social media reared it’s (sometimes ugly) head, I've been knee-deep in advocating for women, advocating for equality. Even as a little girl with a curious mind, I questioned the status quo. I preferred not to stay quiet. I wanted to lead and not follow. I asked ‘why?’. Then I asked ‘why not?’ if I didn’t like or understand the answer.
Why aren’t there women in engineering? Why can’t women play footy? Why is it the woman’s duty to stay home and look after the kids? Why is pink a girls’ colour and blue a boys’? Who says girls can’t be one? Who says girls can’t do that? Why shouldn’t I be allowed to do that if boys are? Why were the only options for school leavers in my mum’s generation nursing or teaching? Why could men do what they wanted? It must’ve been exhausting at times for my parents!
Last week with my dad, I was reflecting on this ‘curiosity’ and obsession with challenging the obvious gender inequality that was widely accepted and the norm as a child, I asked him where it all came from. He said ‘you practically came out asking why girls can’t do what boys do.’ He added that some of it was probably from my mum too.
Typical of their generation, my father had the final word on most things. I found this frustrating, even at a young age. When I was 4, after asking my mum if a friend could come over to play and her response being ‘we’ll see what your dad thinks’, I said to her with hands on hips ‘can’t you make a decision for yourself?’ Yikes. I imagine my almost 4-year-old son asking me this now and I’m fuming at the thought!
But I do know how strong a woman mum is and always was. Though back then, strong women weren’t exactly welcomed. She, and so many other wives and mothers of that generation were supposed to be looking after the home. Cleaning, washing clothes, doing dishes, getting lunches ready for school the next day, baking, cooking, ironing, getting uniforms ready, packing school bags, thinking about what to do for dinner that night and probably the rest of the week. And often, all the while they’re managing their own job, their own life, the admin that comes with running a household, taking care of a family. It was never-ending.
I often reflect on how hard it must’ve been then. I’m now a mother of 2 myself, my nearly 4-year-old son and my daughter who just turned 1. I struggle sometimes. I especially did when they were younger. No one tells you how bloody hard it will be. I also run a business, I’m a stay-at-home-parent and have a very supportive partner. In comparison to my mum dealing with all of this in the 80s and 90s, I’ve got it pretty damn good. I can say what I want to say (and do!). I can be who and what I want to be and am supported either way. I can run a business. I have freedom of speech. I can share my words, my photos, my story in a way that just wasn’t possible or wouldn’t have been acceptable in the decades before us. I am free. I am lucky. And I am grateful for all of this.
I’ve had people say to me ‘you’re so lucky he helps around the house.’ I sometimes have to bite my tongue. I’m fortunate to have a supportive partner, absolutely. But I wouldn’t call it luck.
We are grown-ups. We live together. Our home is ours. Our family is ours. The clothes, the washing machine, the dishes, the work, the admin, the mortgage, the responsibilities are all OURS. And frankly, I couldn’t be with anyone who thought otherwise. This is a team effort. And this mentality mostly works.
Yes, there are times when I feel like being a stay at home parent doesn’t ‘equal’ the full-time job he has. There are times when I feel like the work I do keeping the children fed, clean, entertained and content isn’t enough. Because I don’t earn an annual salary for my job as a SAHP. I don’t get to clock in and out and have a timesheet reflect the ridiculous, non-stop hours and availability required as a parent. There aren’t any KPIs to hit. There’s no annual leave earned, no sick leave, no carers’ leave. No getting-up-in-the-night-for-the-third-bloody-time leave. There’s certainly no boss patting me on the back for a job well done.
So how does one feel like this work is enough if it’s not measured? If there’s no bonus for hitting targets? No pay? It’s certainly not my partners’ fault. But when it comes down to it, we may celebrate women on this day each year, we may have made progress from the darkness of the past but we still have a long way to go.
Equality in the workplace, at home, in relationships, within a family, within a country, within society itself.
Sometimes I feel like we take 2 steps forward only to take 3 back. It’s frustrating. It’s heartbreaking. It’s stifling. Some of the things I learn and some of the injustice that exists just makes me want to scream at times and I know I’m not the only one.
But we can’t sit on our hands and wait for it to change.
We can’t complain and do nothing.
We can't pledge to make a difference and it just be a token call-to-action for this date each year.
We MUST be #BoldForChange, no matter how heavy the heart.
No matter how excruciating the injustice.
No matter how fearful we are to speak up (in countries where speaking up won’t get us ostracised).
No matter who or what we are labelled to be.
In my 36 years, I’ve been labelled and treated as many things:
I am not ‘just a girl.’
I am not 'cute' because I have curly hair.
(TEENAGE YEARS UNTIL MY MID 20s).
I am not someone whose trust should be abused because I am a little girl.
(AS A CHILD, GROPED BY A MAN KNOWN TO ME).
I am not a joke or an insult because of my gender.
(RUN LIKE A GIRL/THROW LIKE A GIRL/KICK LIKE A GIRL – AS A GIRL AND AS A GROWN WOMAN).
I am not cute and worthy of a pat on the head because I am short.
(AS A CHILD UNTIL MY MID 20s).
I am not someone whose trust should be abused as grown woman.
(AS A WOMAN, EMOTIONALLY AND PHYSICALLY ABUSED BY A MAN I WAS IN A SHORT-TERM RELATIONSHIP WITH).
I am not a mumpreneur.
(SINCE HAVING KIDS, EVEN THOUGH I HAD A BUSINESS FIRST).
I am not ‘just a mum.’
(SINCE HAVING KIDS AND NOT GOING BACK TO WORK).
I am not to be inappropriately touched because I am female.
(TAXI DRIVER, MAN ON TRAM, COLLEAGUE, DRUNK CUSTOMER, SOBER CUSTOMER, BOYFRIEND OF FRIEND).
I am strong.
I am capable.
I am clever.
I am passionate.
I am determined.
I am a business owner.
I am a mother, a sister, a partner, a friend.
I am someone’s child.
I AM A HUMAN BEING.
I am woman, hear me f*cking roar.
And not just today, but every day and I make no apology for it.
It’s with this passion and determination to make a difference, that I run my business - Soar Collective.
We see strong women. We see passionate women. We see the possibilities and magic they are capable of and we want to support and empower them every step of the way on their entrepreneurial journey. Regardless of what they’ve been through to get where they are today, regardless of the challenges and biases they’ve experienced.
Seeing firsthand, the connections and collaborations which happen within the community daily are a reminder that what we have created and what we are doing, is making a difference.