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True Equality: Nothing to Lose and Everything to Gain

I have been mulling over my last blog on Imposter Syndrome and in particular the idea of who can change the world for women and those that feel excluded by our current society. And in the middle of then and now, I went to see the Barbie movie and watched the semi-final of the Women’s World Cup. Two seemingly banal events – a movie and some sports – but they have both left me with thoughts about the next steps we need to move society on.

Let’s take the Barbie movie first. In one of the first scenes, Lawyer Barbie is making a statement to the court. After delivering her message, she confidently says, “I have no problem expressing logic and feelings, without it diminishing my power”. *Brain Explodes*. How many women out there feel this? How many of us have either not been taken seriously because we are ‘too emotional’ or withheld their feelings so they can be taken seriously? I know I have and do this most days. The times I have wanted to cry from anger or frustration and withheld my tears so I could get my point across is untrue. The message we are told as girls and women is that crying takes away our power. Emotions = weakness.

And then there was the America Ferrera speech. To hear someone verbalise the struggle of being of a women with a captive audience made me cry (and I let myself in this moment). The constant struggles to be a mum and not talk about your children, to have a career but don’t ask for more, to be a wife, mother, daughter, friend, perfect work colleague whilst thinking of everyone else’s feelings is overwhelming. What I want to know is who started this terrible rumour that we have to be perfect and we can’t express our feelings? I don’t know for certain, but I am pretty sure it was male expectations, perpetuated through the ages by everyone of us who has not felt able to challenge them. The message for all of us – no matter what our gender identity is – emotions make us weak. However the problem is that this isn’t working for us. Just look at the rise in men’s mental ill health and suicide – 70% of men say that have felt depression or anxiety and 40% have never talked about it to anyone. Three-quarters of all suicides are men. Read that one again…. Three quarters of all suicides. Men report lower levels of life satisfaction than women. When we have feelings and we repress them, they have a habit of being expressed unconsciously and causing more harm to us. It is a bit like whack-a-mole – push something down and up it pops somewhere else.

To go back to the Barbie movie, during the storyline, the characters move from extreme Feminism to extreme Patriarchy and back again. I was left wondering, ‘what about real equality?”. A few years ago I listened to an interview with Caitlin Moran and she talked about how we will only have true equality when men accept their ‘female’ traits as much as women have been pushing their ‘male’ traits (I am paraphrasing here but I think this was the jist of it). This stuck with me. Women have been finding ways to be in leadership, to have autonomy and freedom and choices but we can only grow into the space that is available to us. For progression to happen fully, we need men to move with us by raising us up and, possibly, accepting those female traits.

Take the Women’s World Cup. The number of men that have dismissed or negated this achievement for women is huge. And did the press really celebrate the Lionesses before they reached the semi-finals?! A little-known fact about me is that I quite like football and I used to be a big fan, going to games and following my team (Up The Boro!). In my strict Catholic school, when girls were not offered the chance to take football referring at GCSE, I kicked up such a fuss, that they let me do it. I mean, good on them as this was 1996, and I do love a good fight over a principal. In my 20’s, the derogatory comments from men about the ‘bird’s eye view’ meant that I started to censor my opinions on football. At first, I had challenged them, but it felt like too big a job for me on my own. My point here is that if our society and our children consistently hear and see these attitudes towards women, the pattern will always be repeated. For us to take the next step forwards, we need men to take it with us. Equally. We need men to show their support for women in sports – it is important and vital and did you see some of that passing in the semi-final?! We need men to comment on our daughter’s intellect and curiosity, not her looks. We need men to model to our sons how to listen and respect the opinions of women and how to have healthy discussions where emotions are expressed. And we need both men and women to feel safe in this – there is nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

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