Today is International Women’s Day and I am simultaneously full of love and full of this immense anger. I have so much adoration and respect for all the women I know and admire, and yet I am constantly furious at all the ways women continue to be mistreated and discriminated against. This is not just a problem for today, I have been feeling this mixture of love/rage for a long time. Studying History doesn’t help, I am forever reading about all the ways women were mistreated, all the reasons they were seen as inferior, and it makes my blood boil.
I went to see On the Basis of Sex (the new film about Ruth Bader Ginsburg) last week and I sobbed like a baby. The crying wasn’t really warranted; the film was wonderful and touching but no one else cried, and I think my friends were a little shocked to see me with tears running down my face as the credits rolled. The problem was, I had spent the entire afternoon before the film reading about Women’s experience during the First World War, and how their sexual morality was dissected and condemned for no real reason, and I was just so angry. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but at the very end of the film you hear Ruth Bader Ginsburg giving an amazing speech about equality between the genders before the film shows a summary of all the work she did to overturn sexist laws in the American constitution. I think the reason I was so emotional, was because I was overcome with this immense gratitude for all women like her, who stood up and fought and won so that I can live in a world marginally better than theirs.
My dissertation is entitled ‘Female Madness and the Patriarchy in early modern England‘, it explores how the mental illness of women was defined by the biology that differentiated them from men. In the early modern period women were considered lesser beings, their bodies were not as developed and their minds more easily deranged. As a result any mental illness they suffered, was seen as a result of their own frailties. I’ve loved researching and writing on this topic, but it genuinely amazes me that these opinions were not only accepted, but also unchallenged. Men AND Women alike, believed these views, and they did so for centuries. As soon as you begin to unpick these ideas that were entrenched in the past, you see how they affect women even today. Going back to the readings I was doing on women in the First World War, similar ideas about women were being made in 1914, as in 1614 – that is astounding. ‘Khaki Fever’ as an example, effected everyone, and yet it was used in the media in 1914 to accuse young women of sexual immorality and prompt a tightened control over females in the period who ‘could not control themselves’. The shaming of women by the patriarchy is something it seems, that had stood the test of time.
I am obviously not saying things haven’t improved for women since 1914, they have to an incredible degree. And of course I know that there are plenty of wonderful men in the world who treat women with the respect and kindness they deserve. But I still see sexism every day. I see it when the gender pay gap is discussed, when news stories cover rape culture and the assault of women, in the beauty standards upheld by the media. I feel it in summer when I’m catcalled 5 times on my walk home from work because I’m too hot to ‘cover myself up’. I see it when my friends are scared to walk alone at night in case someone hurts them and I see it when people undermine my emotions and act like I am hysterical or overreacting. It might be less extreme, and more discreet, but it is still there, I see it, and feel it and hate it.
In the film, On the Basis of Sex, Ruth Ginsburg is told not to be too emotional and to smile more if she wishes to win her case. You see her later getting so frustrated with the sexist remarks in court, in the unfairness of it all, that it manifests in her physically; she yells a response and waves her arms wildly knocking her mic and causing a shrill noise. It’s an excellent moment because her frustration is palpable. Watching the film I was similarly infuriated by what the judges were saying and her anger felt so justified, but in reacting this way, her anger proved the men challenging her right, her emotions took over and it was messy. I have that problem a lot, I find myself getting so angry in a debate, when the answer seems so glaringly obvious to me, that I can’t help but get emotional. Women shouldn’t be ashamed of this, it is justified. I am angry all the time, and I deserve to be. I will continue to yell and cry if I want to, until things change and I don’t need the anger anymore.
On this International Women’s Day I want to say thank you to all the women who have come before me and fought to improve our lives. Because they have changed things for the better, and I am eternally grateful. When I think about the society that Ruth Bater Ginsburg grew up in, or the society that early modern women had to battle through, it terrifies me. Because I don’t think I am as strong as them, I don’t think I could have survived it and I definitely don’t think I am smart or brave enough to fight it and fix it like they did. But I am going to try my hardest.
I want to thank Elizabeth I for being my personal hero, for using the stereotypes about her gender to manipulate men around her. For using womanhood as a source of strength rather than weakness. When I was 8 years old Elizabeth taught me that being a woman was to be powerful.
I want to thank Emilia Bassano, who I only discovered 7 months ago but who I love endlessly. Emilia spoke out about the unfair treatment of women in the 17th century. She called out men for their transgressions and dedicated her work to praising women. I remember feeling so proud when I discovered her poems. Emilia Bassano was fearless and angry and I adore her.
I want to thank Ruth Bader Ginsburg for working her whole life to make the world fairer for girls like me. Thank you for making me cry in the cinema and inspiring me to do everything I can to help other girls. It is women like you, who were smart and brave enough to fight, that are the reason I can be as opinionated and angry as I am today.
I also want to thank the women alive today, who encourage me to be better. Who teach me how to channel my anger and turn it into something useful. These women probably won’t change history but they’ve shaped my lives in every way imaginable.
So thank you to Dolly Alderton for being my journalism role model, for writing a brilliant book which resonated with me on so many levels. Thank you for putting into beautiful words the importance of female friendships and for celebrating the bonds that women forge, I hope I can write like you one day.
Thank you to my little sister Amy, for being my first ever ally in life, and then later my first ever enemy… You have shared my entire life with me, you know all my memories, all our family jokes and weird stories and I know you will always be fighting in my corner. Now that we are older I feel very lucky to have you as my team mate again. Thank you for being the pride to my joy (see inside jokes) and inspiring me to be a better person, you are going to be a brilliant midwife and you’re already a fantastic human being. Thank you for being the best sister.
Thank you to my best friend in the entire world, Chloe, who is a better person than I will ever be. Thanks for sticking with me for 10 years, through all the cringey tumblr blogs, underage drinking and boy drama. Thank you for teaching me about the world, for making me care about the planet and animal welfare. Thank you for knowing everything about me and for being the only person I would ever call and cry down the phone to. Thank you for wanting to change the world with me. You are my soul mate and I would honestly be lost without you.
Lastly, thank you to my Mum. Thank you for being the first person in the world to teach me that women could be strong and powerful leaders because that’s exactly what you are. Thank you for always being my drinking partner, for teaching me to have self-confidence and embrace my massive ego. Thank you for showing me that women can be simultaneously funny, weird, terrifying and brilliant all in the space of a minute. Thank you for being unapologetically yourself, it is the biggest compliment in the world when people say I am like you.
To all the angry women in the world, embrace the rage. Don’t ever let people tell you that your anger isn’t justified, or it isn’t ‘the right way to go about feminism’, they’re wrong. Keep on making changes and fighting for other women. Fight for all women, black women, white women, straight women, gay women, trans women. Remember to love and support each other. Happy International Women’s Day you wonderful humans!!!