This International Women’s Day feels particularly potent, doesn’t it? It feels like there’s a lot riding on it. And there is.
Last year seemed to have thrown us backward. Our pre-conceived notions of what we thought to be social norms were shown up to be as fragile as a spiders’ web. Our feminism suddenly felt flimsy. We, women, felt, and still feel, fragile, fearful and as though our voices are muted.
So, what are we looking for from this global focus on women today? Well, a shift of sorts, a tilt on the axis – a sense of, if we all push, we can do it. We can force change.
As we post this piece, the Strike4Repeal crowds have brought Dublin city to a standstill with huge numbers turning out to cry for a repeal of the 8th amendment, and cities across the entire globe are rising up with women showing up for our gender, for our equality, our place in the world and a better future for us all.
These big pushes are exactly what are needed – mirroring Margaret Mead’s words, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
But what about what we need to do as individuals? How do we embody feminism? How do we stay still and steady on our paths?
We need to think and act on both macro and micro levels.
To me, there are several seemingly small things that will help to enliven and elicit change for women; they are not entirely radical concepts. But they are radical to enact as they require change in one’s mind, and then they require change in one’s behaviour. I don’t mean to sound too preachy, but please bear with me…
I am about to turn 42 this year, and as I look around at a lot of the bloody marvellous women I am lucky to know, I see one thing in common; they are all very, very hard on themselves. They feel pressure to be a particular way. To be a particular kind of career woman, mother, colleague, friend, sister, daughter, employee, partner, wife, hostess, cook, confidante, carer, entrepreneur and even a particular kind of dog owner. With all above artfully displayed on Instagram, of course.
FFS women! Why?! Why this pressure?
And I’m not immune – far from it. I feel pressure every single day from the various roles I play, and versions of my persona I cram into just one 24-hour period. It’s too much. And what’s more, we do it to each other. We say we don’t, but we do. Women are natural comparison curators. We watch it, and we log it. Storing details and moments on our internal hard drives of comparison and doubt (it’s like Instagram there, but not so pretty!).
It’s too much. It’s unfair and it’s reductive. What’s needed here is a large dose of self-awareness. For, the way I see it, this is the keyword we all need. We need to start getting to know ourselves fully, and accepting who we are; who we have been, and who we may be in the future, in order to just get on with things.
I know several friends, who, on entering their forties, found a load of things come crashing down for them emotionally as they tried to navigate a new narrative. But what’s happening for them, is that, as soon as they can be guided to accepting the circumstances in their control, versus the ones that aren’t, they are practically gliding through the process of change.
Now, let me explain, that ‘acceptance’ does not mean a passive acquiescence to troubling events, or a limp recognition of one’s traits whether you like them or not. No, it’s a much more radical act of self-care – it gives you permission to be you. And that’s the first and most vital step, and therefore most required before you demand that someone else meet you with acceptance and awareness.
And, no, I’m not saying you need permission to be yourself. From anyone, other than your own self. This is an inside job – but it’s a big one. Big movements start with small. It starts with you. Therefore the future of feminism starts with you.
(It does you know, I‘ll get to that later – but no pressure!)
For me, in the past five years, my personal circumstances have been very topsy-turvy (new babies, relationship breakdown and becoming a single mum, my own mum being very ill with cancer, the never-ending treadmill of work/parenting/work/parenting), I could go on, but won’t!
But, the best thing I did do, from what I can remember from that time, as I don’t remember much of those early baby years due to some sort of adrenalin-ised fight or flight takeover of my body and mind, was to begin to go to counselling where, I started to learn the process of acceptance.
Acceptance of myself, and of the knowledge that I was doing a good job; that the trauma I was going through, would, at some point, dissipate. And that I was a good person.
All this was quite macro obviously – I had to learn to accept the big things that were rocking my world and find the micro coping mechanisms within. Which I found via setting new standards and boundaries for what I would, and would no longer, accept as visiting behaviours to my life.
The first thing to accept, and then immediately veto? My negative self-talk.
That sh*t does you no good my friend! You know you know this, but do you still do it? Do you do it about your body? Do you do it about your weight? Your face? Your hair?
‘It will all be fine when I lose 10lb/get botox/change my hair/go on Tinder’?
I tried all those things. It wasn’t any better. It was better when I no longer cared about them as much. It was better when I accepted that I looked fine, that I liked my shape (I’ve had two children for God’s sake), that my hair and skin are nice for my age, and that Tinder is the seventh level of Hell.
When I accepted that I HATE weight training, and that botox actually hurts and made me look weird, I found that I lost weight from walking by the sea (my favourite thing to do, anyway), and that stumbling across Adriene Mishler’s Find What Feels Good Yoga channel on YouTube was transformative for my peace of mind and guess what else? My body! I’ve never been as toned as when I followed her 30 Days of Yoga last year. And I haven’t lifted a weight since.
That’s a ramble, I know, but do you see the acceptance creeping in? Do you see what it brings?
Yes, accepting things about your personality fosters confidence. Confidence to be you, to look like you, to wear, or not wear, whatever the hell you want. Seriously, we’re done with that argument – please, from this day forward wear whatever you want – reveal your body or shield your body, wear every clashing colour and crazy print. It’s your body, to with what you want. The days of judging each other must be OVER.
Accepting yourself gives you confidence to advocate for your own body, your own beliefs, and your own protest.
It fosters fearlessness. It boosts bravery. And to that, we must all rise up and say YES!
Personally another massive learning was to release the pressure I was putting on myself. And this was as important as anything I’ve ever done. Pressure, when applied by one’s self is the second worst of the female internal messaging tricks (the ‘you look like sh*t’ trope is number one, because it really messes you up and holds you back).
Here’s the thing to know – almost all of us are doing our very best in each and every day. And we are allowed to have bad days – lot’s of them in fact – calling in sick to work as you need a duvet day, not getting dressed and eating beans on gluten loaded toast (and maybe chocolate) for all three meals in said day are all ok. Best mantra? The word ‘Tomorrow’.
Because you’ll try again, and that is all that’s required; to try. You’ll do it – stop with the pressure. And as for all those acing the day over on Instagram? Come on! All filters, lies and highlight reels, you KNOW how it goes. Release the pressure.
Another thing I am concerned about for its’ reductive effect on us is the so-called ‘Therapeutic Life’, where the trend is constantly increasing to consult external experts for help on how we live our lives. Yes, we all need help at times – I’m a firm believer in counselling, as you’ve read above – I think everyone should do it. It’s just the ‘do this, don’t do that’ thing perpetuated by lifestyle media that is dangerous and makes us feel less good as women.
Let’s accept that we know how to live our lives – or when we don’t, we learn via our mistakes – that’s what it’s all about. We’re handing our life paths over to experts, thus removing all opportunity to transcend in situations, to evolve emotionally and to feel any goddamn joy! Obstacles and hard things are put there for us to overcome. They are catalysts for change. If we’re so doubtful of ourselves that we need to constantly consult ‘experts’ on what to eat (no to dairy, no to gluten, or is it yes to gluten at the moment? I’m confused) how to raise our kids, how to behave at work, how to set our own goals, then what are we? Pawns, that’s what. It’s joyless and judgemental, and it’s bad, bad messaging – we are free beings – we need to live as such and learn our own lessons.
And THIS is what’s important about this path to self-acceptance. Learning the lessons, making the mistakes, loving yourself anyway and seeing your development. It starts with the stuff inside you, but it ripples out. Once you’re content with you; your ideas and ideals get stronger. Your passion progresses beyond you and you can shout louder.
And do shout. You have a responsibility to stand up for yourself. It’s part of the evolution of the survival instinct. Be brave. Be heard. If not for you, for our daughters. Don’t be mute when it matters to them. We have to teach them how to be heard, we have to teach them how to be strong and steady. Their world holds far more mysterious forces than we can yet know, so it’s their emotional self-sufficiency that is paramount here. They must feel they will be listened to, and that starts now – when WE listen to them. When we accept them in all their glorious, complexities. And when we show them what it is to stand. To march…
So this is what I’m talking about for Women’s Day today…Amplify your self-acceptance. Do that work on you, find the nerves, the doubt, the worry – all the dark spots in your psyche – and try to sort them out.
Accept that you will have doubts? Yes.
Accept that the way may be hard? Yes.
Accept that your voice is not worthy? Never.
Friends, today is the day to love your fellow women and above all love yourself. It will ripple out beyond you. Make small steps that will lead to big strides.
Be Bold. Be Brave. Make Change.
Wear all your crazy colours.