My mother was a feminist, the first in her family to go to university. This was in Australia in the 1930s. She was also in the Land Army, but that’s another story. She travelled around the world before the jet age with small children in tow. She was wonderfully independent. Most importantly she had a strong sense that everyone deserved to be treated equally and fought for social justice in many ways throughout her life.
Her sense of equality meant I had to learn cook, wash up and clean just like my sisters. I’m very grateful for learning these skills at an early age. She was a Christian too so we did observe Mothering Sunday, but not Father’s Day – that was just an American invention to boost the card trade according to her.
Not surprisingly, my sisters are feminists and my Other Half is a feminist. I’ve always been happy to do my share of the housework and as I am currently a househusband, I’ve taken over the lion’s share of the housework.
In my working life I’ve had male managers and female managers. Some were better than others, but that had nothing to do their gender.
So, back to International Women’s Day. Its exact origins are disputed but it started in the years before the First World War. In my mind I always associate it with the textile workers strike in Lawrence, New York in 1912. The workforce were mostly women and immigrants and the strike became know as the Bread And Roses Strike, after their slogan “We want bread and we want roses too”.
The topic of bread, or lack of it came up again five years later when women organised a protest march in Petrograd on International Women’s Day. The male comrades urged caution, but luckily the women ignored them and went ahead. The protest grew into the February Revolution and toppled the Tsar in Russia.
When women started fighting back they had to take on a raft of issues all at once. Whether it was the Victorian “Matchgirls” at Bryant & May or the Leeds Textile strike in the early 1970s. They had to convince their male dominated union that this was a good idea or even possible.
During the miners strike we saw the birth of Women Against Pit Closures. They started with “women’s work” organising the soup kitchens. But then they started going on the demonstrations and challenging the sexist attitudes of their menfolk. Like World War Two when women went into the factories to build the tanks and planes, the Miners Strike was total war, so the men couldn’t afford to disrespect women. Attitudes changes.
When I look around the world it seems women are so often at the forefront of real change.
Take the AIDS epidemic in Africa. For whatever reasons, men just can’t seem to take responsibility. For women it’s a much bigger issue than the immediate act, perhaps it’s because they will be left holding the baby – literally. The same seems to be true about bringing clean water to a village, or starting a micro-business in Bangladesh. Is it about motherhood? I’m not sure, but women seem to get the bigger picture about collective effort and thinking ahead to the next generation.
I can understand why powerful men might fear women’s equality, I’m sure they fear any equality. But I don’t understand why ordinary blokes like you and me should fear it. The issue came up again during an otherwise very good piece on Newsnight this week about the rise in men’s suicides. Was this because of feminism? What? No! I think unemployment, debt and being told you should be providing and be in control might have more to do with it. And Surely men are more likely to find the space to talk about the stress they’re under thanks to better counselling facilities fought for by women.
There are lots of events going on today, so if you’re female take some time out and go along. I shall celebrate by watching Made In Dagenham on Saturday night which tells the story of the women at Ford who led a successful battle for equal pay in 1968.
I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’ve got nothing better to do and you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.