To The Women Who Make Me
I am in shock that I've actually written a blog post too, don't worry.
It is International Women's Day. A day to recognise, celebrate and appreciate. A day to keep pursuing that change, whether it's a pay gap or making a conscious effort to make the term more inclusive. There's not a 'hot take' you can have on International Women's Day and I think trying to make it some revolutionary thing takes away from the day itself. So I can't promise you'll read anything extraordinary today, not that you do any other day, but I hope what you'll find is some truth and insight, some you might have in your own life, and some you might be yearning to hear.
I think I could go through this, woman by woman in my life, explaining who and what they have done for me. But a) I fear I haven't got the emotional capacity for that and b) I would find myself being rather repetitive.
Being a woman to me is a blessing and a curse and I think you're being naïve to think it's not. I love being a woman but you can't ignore the steaming hot side dishes of sexism, oppression, judgement etc etc. I think there are 2 responses - 1) adapting and doing your best to thrive despite it and 2) those who actively do what they can to change it in whatever they do. You don't have to be an activist to fight against these things, and actually the important thing is that you fight for things like equality no matter where you are or what you're doing. However, I truly do believe, based on the experiences I've had, that that mindset is not a naturally inherited one. I think, as with most beliefs and mindsets, it's shaped by those who raise you and where that takes place. Environment - both people and place - are integral to this - I don't this can be undervalued.
To my parents
I believe this because, at least in my case, the only thing I can integrally attribute my beliefs and
understanding to is my family. My father, mother, and 2 older sisters. Maybe it's as the youngest, I have always felt fostered by my environment, listening and learning to those around me, to the point where when I felt I could, the listening turned more into listening and talking, confidently. And being raised as a women was no different to anything else. In fact, I think the fact that that it wasn't made into anything different is what allows me to thrive in my circumstances, even to this day. And it's not to say that the difficulties or realities of what it means to be a woman were ever erased or diluted - they absolutely were highlighted. But it's that being a woman wasn't turned into an obstacle. My being a woman was never a problem to diminish and it allowed me to perform my gender and thrive in the term. But that's not the truth commonly lived by women across the world, particularly in my culture.
My parents weren't allowed to know what gender my sisters and I were before we were born. Legally. This was because there was a trend in Asian communities to abort if it was a girl. The value of your womanhood is judged from day one, your life can be dependent on it. And this is only one of many factors of a patriarchal culture. This perception of women as 'less than' is apparent from the off, something you grow up with and a threat my parents battled against relentlessly. Despite their upbringings, wildly different from ours, they raised 3 daughters to value and champion their womanhood, rather than have it fall in line with old world values that dismissed us. And for that, I will always owe them the person I've become today and I continue to be. Yes, there is a time where you begin to independently learn and grow, but even then, the ability to be independent and go after that comes back to those who made me.
To my mother.
When one of those people dies, you instantly rely on the other. No matter how old you are, you revert back to a child and you just need your parent to tell you what to do and that everything will be okay. Since June, the word 'woman' took on a whole new meaning as I saw our mother take on a new identity, a chapter of her life and that of her children. She held our hand, hasn't let go since and supported everyone. I have never seen strength like it, and I truly believe her womanhood saved us. I think our Dad knew that. Our mother rejected the cultural expectation of just carrying on and not feeling, of looking after everyone else and forgetting yourself. Our mother taught us what true self-love is. Our mother showed us that being a woman is balancing everything you have to and still picking yourself back up. That is the woman who makes me, still to this day. Mama doesn't like being told these kinds of things, but as her child, I want the whole world to know why I am who I am.
After all, isn't that what it means to tell your authentic truth?
To my sisters.
I can say without a doubt, most of the decisions I've made in my life thus far have been influenced by the two women I share a very special and particular bond with, one no one else in the world will ever truly understand. I have always and will always look up to them no matter what, and some of the hardest moments in my life have been going against their advice or example, but that is an important part of growing up. However, my confidence and ability to do this is owed to them. My sisters have taught me how to hold myself and communicate, how to interact with others, how to use my voice. And as a woman, they've never shied away from making sure I'm aware of the reality of what that means. Having a sister who is 6/7 years younger than you is a responsibility that I will never know, but when I reflect I can only appreciate what this means and the impact they've had in raising me in this unique way. Thank you for being my guide, but not ever forcing me to match it.
To my pals.
I guess that is the best collective term for all the other people - men and women - who have shaped me. Going to an all girls school for 15 years was an intense experience, but one where I was blessed to be brought up around some of the most incredible women. Women who challenged me, women who motivated me to keep doing better and keep trying, women who showed faith in me when I couldn't find it. And I really don't think you can underestimate the importance of growing up with that. More than anything it teaches you respect. Not in a weird, hierarchal, old world way, but in an equal way. Oof, the big buzz word. My parents always told us to make sure that in our relationships in life we are equals with the other person. As I've grown up, I've come to understand that this goes way beyond just romantic relationships. This is a necessity in any relationship, whether it's familial, professional, friendship etc. And now I can't not need it. I learnt this most harshly at school, as most do, where you give those who don't respect you more chances than you should, you get hurt and you learn. And it was those who did respect me and treat me as their equal that ultimately are still my closest friends. This also applies to university. At an all girls school, you learn quickly, that those who tear other women down find it a lot harder to navigate their way. When you support, embrace and show respect to other women, the power you find there is rare. Beautifully rare.
To the men in my life who choose to listen and learn from me, thank you for treating me as your equal. And those who don't, you're only pushing me to be a stronger woman.