My social media streams, the news, and people on campus were buzzing with energy and feel good messages about womanhood and empowerment. Yesterday was International Women’s Day, which is a day that is recognized worldwide to celebrate women and their contributions to society, as well as acknowledge the struggles that many women still face today.
I feel that before I go any further in this piece, I need to acknowledge my positionality – where I stand, and where I’m coming from – in order to proceed with peace of mind. You can all blame it on the fact that I am a communication student.
I write this a woman of colour that has an incredibly privileged upbringing. I live in one of the best places in the world (my bias), where I am free to practice my religion, where my speech is free, where I can go to school and learn, and where it is relatively safe to do all of those things despite the fact that I am a girl.
As I see the posts and photos that celebrate women, my mind can’t help but go to those women that may look just like me but be in an alternate reality, one that is oppressive and unsafe because they identify as a woman. There are women in this world who are oppressed because of their womanhood, something that I sometimes take for granted.
Growing up, I never thought very much about the fact that I was a girl. In actuality, I just saw myself as another person, albeit a person that liked cute clothes and experimented with makeup once I turned 14. When my body started changing at the age of 12, I didn’t think much of it either. Of course, it was something that was inconvenient and I hated how it affected my body, but I got through it. I lived with it.
My womanhood was just something I lived with. And I really didn’t care about it.
How did I get so passive? And what changed for me?
I feel like a combination of things created the ultimate storm of passivity. I grew up in a boy dominated class where I felt like I had to constantly compete in order to be seen. Boys told me that girls couldn’t play sport or do well in science – sometimes to be funny, but most of the time because they believed it. Crying was the ultimate mark of weakness, and doing so meant that I would further solidify my position as just another girl. I was a girl who couldn’t fight back, couldn’t speak my mind and couldn’t say what I wanted to say.
I internalized all of these things and became super indifferent at female empowerment all throughout high school, and admittedly in the early part of my post-secondary life. But on this International Women’s Day, I thought back to a young girl that I met in the Philippines when I was there for mission back in 2014. In writing this post, I looked back on my journal that I kept during the trip.
I met so many young girls there who were full of excitement and hope for the future, as well as big dreams that they had for themselves. One particular girl that I talked to, who was 6 at the time, dreamt of becoming a doctor so that she could help her family as well as all the people in her village to feel better. At the time I thought that it was inspiring, but I didn’t realize the depth of it until now.
The problem for this girl was that she had a lot of odds stacked against her. Her grandmother was her primary caregiver as her parents were usually gone for most of the day for work. She doesn’t go to school so as to help her grandmother take care of her younger siblings. The living situation was cramped and definitely unsafe.
Despite all of these, she had high hopes and dreams to go to school. She looked up to one of the older girls in the village who was sponsored to go to school, and this older girl also had aspirations of going into medicine. This young girl said to me, “I want to do what she [the older girl] is doing. She is such a strong girl. I want to be just like her.” She then looked away and said in a softer voice, “but I don’t know how I’m going to get there.”
International Women’s Day, for me, is recognizing that the situation for women is not equal.
I don’t have all the answers and the solutions to get this girl education and life that she deserves, which is a life out of poverty and getting her into a good school so that she can achieve her dream of being a doctor. For the longest time, I felt so much despair that there was nothing I could do on my own to help her, and despair quickly turned into passivity.
But women need to stick together. We need to lift each other up and support one another when we are feeling down.
The apathy that I felt about my womanhood has definitely shifted to a place of empathy. As I talked to some of these girls, I realized that some of the things I took for granted with my womanhood were things that were missing from a young girl’s life in a place like the Philippines. By the time I was 6, I had my fair share of sitting around an itchy rug, throwing out words that began with certain letters, writing journals and learning how to add and subtract. When I got my first period, there people there to answer any questions I had and put me in touch with resources and products that I needed. Support is something that is lacking, and yet these women and girls are some of the most powerful ones that I have ever met.
Being a woman is an incredible thing, and I can attest to that because of the amazing women that I am surrounded with on a daily basis. Beginning with my mom and my sisters, to my grandmothers and my godmother, my aunts, my best frien
ds, teachers and professors that I look up to – we are always in the company of women who help us up when we aren’t feeling the greatest, support us no matter what, and help us to achieve our dreams. My hope is that this recognition isn’t just a one day thing, but an everyday thing.
So what’s next after International Women’s Day? Make it your life. Tell them women in your life that they rock and that you are grateful for their womanhood.
To all the inspiration women that I know and have had the honour of meeting – thank you.