I started my blog on International Women’s Day by coincidence, not by design but it does chime with a recent experience of mine. In January I was lucky enough to go to my daughter’s Baby Shower. I was a bit unsure: weren’t Baby Showers a twee American import involving lots of coy games and fluffy notions of what birth and babies will entail? Maybe once they were. But I had seriously underestimated this group of strong, modern, and – frankly - hilarious young women.
The young women that I spent that January evening with are the embodiment of feminism; they have shaken it down into a supportive, liveable, workable, way of life – they are a team. They make their own choices, celebrate mistakes and triumphs, and support each other through – despite not being quite into their thirties – miscarriage, cancer, and relationship breakdowns. They have allowed themselves to enjoy sex, to discuss their own physicality, and to be proud of all their choices; whatever they may be. They are comfortable with their bodies, with their sexuality, and with their right to make their own decisions. I applaud them. I am glad that, one day, they’ll be able to discuss the menopause openly in a way that was denied to my mother’s generation and is still only the thin end of the wedge in mine. These girls can make cupcakes AND work/laugh/DIY/have whichever relationships they want. They make their own rules.
I was afraid of feminism when I was young; my aunt wore a badge throughout the 80s that said ‘anyone who wants to be equal to a man lacks ambition’ and, whilst funny, I didn’t think it was awfully helpful. I thought that feminism was, by default, aggressive and bombastic. My mother, on the other hand, never emblazoned herself with such slogans but would quietly lay a patio if one needed laying and expected proper women to own an electric drill; and yet, as a very young woman, I didn’t see my mother as a feminist because she loved to knit and sew. At school I was taught that my ambition – to raise a large (noisy) family (tick) was letting feminism down, and that didn’t help my perception of feminism or myself. Now, I know my mother was the prototype post-modern feminist. Knitting, sewing, embroidering because she wanted to (and because she was very good at it), not because she had to.
It wasn’t just me struggling to assimilate feminism and my place in society. I remember asking a friend (an Oxford graduate) out on a ‘Girls’ Night Out’ in the early 80s. She refused on the grounds she couldn’t disgrace feminism in that way. If I changed the title to a ‘Women’s Night Out’ she said, she would come. I didn’t, she didn’t: the rest of us had a right laugh.
And talking of laughs, my daughter’s Baby Shower wasn’t fluffy, or coy, or even particularly pink. One of the girls organising it (yes, Pauline ((the Oxford Grad)), I called a woman in her late twenties – a working woman, someone’s mother, a home-owner – a ‘girl’ because I can and because I want to) asked everyone to bring a copy of their favourite childhood book and to write a message to the baby in the front of it so that she would have a, very personal, library of her own by the time she was born. The messages were beautiful; I couldn’t read any of them out loud without crying. They celebrated friendship, they offered love, and they told my daughter’s unborn girl that she could be anyone she wanted to.
There was wine, and pizza, and cake. And then we played games, in teams of women: how many items can you remember that the Hungry Caterpillar ate; how much do you know about the mother-to-be; and – my favourite – a picture round called ‘Labour or Porn’. It’s a wonderful brave new world.
Happy International Women’s Day to girls, women, mothers, daughters, boys, men, fathers, sons, and all the other feminists.