I wrote these words in honour of International Women’s Day. It’s a passionate piece for which I make no apologies, because everything I’ve written here has been drawn from my experiences since girlhood.
This is why we need International Women’s Day, and why it’s essential to think of girls and women and the messages we’re given on more than one day per year.
This list might appear rather lengthy but, believe me, it’s far from exhaustive.
When men make me feel I’m not as good as them, I am enraged.
As a child, when I saw the posters of naked women adorning the walls of the workshop of my father’s plumbing business, I was enraged.
At the age of ten or eleven, when I helped clean the vans and trucks used by the plumbers and I had to pick up the magazines full of pictures of bare-breasted women or women with their legs splayed wide that were strewn about inside and stack them neatly before replacing them, I was enraged.
At fourteen, when I walked down the street and a man approaching in the opposite direction groped my crotch, I was enraged. When it kept happening throughout the rest of my teens, not just in the street but on public transport or at school, I was enraged. When I wouldn’t dance with a boy at a disco and was told I must be a ‘dyke’, I was enraged. Not for being called a ‘dyke’ but because he was so arrogant to assume it couldn’t possibly be him. At nineteen, when a man approached me at a bus stop with his penis in his hand and asked me if I wanted twelve inches, I was enraged.
As a young woman, every time I disagreed with a man and was told I didn’t know what I was talking about, I was enraged. Every time a man explained something to me because he thought he knew more than me, I was enraged. Every time a man ignored me and what I had to say, I was enraged. Every time a man treated me like I was less capable or less intelligent than him, I was enraged.
As a medical student, when a male patient caught my arm as I was about to leave and asked me out, I was enraged. As a doctor, when a male patient kept asking about my marriage and told me that if I ever left my husband, he’d be interested, I was enraged. As a doctor, every time a male patient masturbated while I examined him, I was enraged. All three times with three different patients.
When, as a doctor with a young family I was offered a part-time job without pay, I was enraged. As a doctor who was a mother and was expected to settle for less pay, less opportunity, less career, I was enraged.
Every time I hear men say that society is best served by a woman staying at home and looking after the family, I am enraged. Every time I hear that ‘it’s biology’, I’m enraged. Every time a man does not recognise that I have a right to use my brain, I am enraged. Every time I’m told how lucky I am because my husband hangs out the washing or cooks a meal, I am enraged. Every time I’ve been expected to manage a household, carry all the emotional needs of the family, and try to fit my own career around this, I’m enraged. Every time I’m told that wanting more from my life than motherhood alone is ‘selfish’, I’m enraged. Every time I see a man able to have a career so easily, I’m enraged.
Every time I hear a man speak derogatorily about a woman’s appearance, I am enraged. When the headmaster of my sons’ school told me I looked good for having four children, I was enraged. Every time I hear a man talk of a woman who has ‘kept her figure’ after having children, I am enraged.
Every time a man treats me as if I’m stupid, I’m enraged. Every time a man does not recognise that I’m as intelligent, possibly even more so, than him, I’m enraged. Every time a man does not recognise that I am every bit as good, as worthy and as equal as him, I’m enraged.
Every time I’m told, ‘Oh, that’s just the way it is’, I am enraged. Every time I’m told, ‘You just have to accept it’, I am enraged. Every time I’m expected to accept the unacceptable, I’m enraged.
While men continue to cut women down, I will be enraged. While men continue to expect women to settle for less, I will be enraged. While men continue to treat women as ‘lesser’ and not as equals in workplaces and governments, I will be enraged. While nearly all positions of power in this country and around the world are held by men, I will be enraged.
And while men continue to believe that this is not a problem, I will be enraged.
It goes without saying that while men continue to maim and kill women, I will be enraged.
And every time I am mocked or criticised for my rage, I will be enraged.
Next week I have another formidable female writer joining me in the attic. She’ll be talking about her latest book and why she wrote it, as well as her writing process:
‘Thomas Mann once wrote that ‘writers are those people who find writing difficult’. He must have meant me … Writing rarely comes easily to me, because it is always bound with enormous self-doubt. But what I find particularly daunting is first drafts. I can be seized when writing them, to the point of paralysis, by the feeling that I have nothing, or nothing worthy, to say.’