Teaching my girls that a women’s place is anywhere she chooses to be

leia-resistanceSo two things happened recently that I never imagined. That a man like Trump could get to the Whitehouse (I mean, did you see that picture of him signing executive orders surrounded by a bunch of other white men?) and that my 80 year old dad would take part in a feminist march.   These two extremes show how much has stayed the same and how much has changed since I was a young girl.   Which is why I took my three daughters to the Dublin march in support of Women on Washington mach last Saturday.

When I grew up in 70’s and 80’s Belfast, a woman could just about step outside the framework of her place being in the home (although men wouldn’t have necessarily realised that yet), but a girl’s place was firmly still in the framework of being good, quiet, nice and under no circumstances dear, can you make a fuss.

The first time that I remember being seriously scared of a man was when I was 15.   ‘Fame’ was the height of sophisticated TV, and I wore my red leg warmers with pride. Rollerboots were the craze of the day, and all my friends were getting them.  My parents didn’t have spare money to throw at something so frivolous and but after weeks of pressure they relented, with the caveat that I had to earn half the money and they would put up the other half. So I got a Saturday job in the local fruit and veg shop, a 15 minute walk away from our house.  Going to an all-girls school, it was the first time I had really had much dealings with men outside of my own family and family friends.  It was a hard lesson I would keep learning.  The main man in the place buoyed up his boredom by making lewd comments. Nothing too risky but enough to make me feel uncomfortable and ill at ease in the women’s body I had started to inhabit after a lifetime of being in a child’s body.  He thought it was totally ok to give me saucy looks, winks, raised eyebrows and the odd throw away comment that made me cringe.   Unfortunately the man who delivered the fruit and beg stock believed he had the right to take it to a whole new level.  He thought it was totally ok to manoeuvre a child into the big stock fridge out the back of the shop and lock her in there with him.  He thought it was totally ok to grope her and laugh at her when it was obvious she wasn’t happy. 

Walking home that day I knew I would never tell my parents because I didn’t know then that it was totally ok for me to stand up and make a fuss. I endured that job for a few more months, but by the time I had saved enough money, roller boots were no longer the thing (as my parents no doubt had already worked out).   Every job I had through school and university involved men thinking it was totally ok to make comments about my body, touch me and make me feel uncomfortable. 

It took me decades to work out that it was totally ok for me to make a fuss and stand up for myself.  I will not allow my girls to take that long.

I still remember the shock of waking up that morning of the US election and realising the impossible had impossibly happened. 

In the previous weeks I had told my daughters a little of what was going on, and being sure that the impossible wouldn’t happened, I stupidly told them the awfulness of that man. So it was a hard morning when they woke up and I had to tell them that actually the impossible man had won.

“But he’s horrible to women?  How could they vote for him?” my eldest asked.

I didn’t have an answer for her. But I do now.

When it seemed like the world was endorsing misogyny and ignoring such blatant ignorance the antidote was a global resistance.

Dublin held one of the 673 marches that were organised in solidarity of the Women on Washington march, and I was there with my three daughters and 8o year old dad with the millions of women and men around the world.   I didn’t bring my girls there to politicise them or make them raging roaring feminists.  I just wanted them to see that a woman’s place is anywhere she wants to be, including on the streets standing up for themselves and that it’s totally ok to make a fuss.

I know lots of the naysayers will point out that the marches made or will make no difference. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t on the grand scheme of things.  But I felt galvanised and it was the start of the crucial conversation I need to have with my girls growing up that they can ALWAYS make a fuss and it is NEVER ok for a boy or a man to make them feel uncomfortable or dish them. 

I wrote about the reasons why I was taking them for the Irish Times.   I got trolled. And for a split second I felt like I did, locked in that fridge with a man who thought it was ok to put me down.   But then I realised his attitude and comments were exactly why I needed to take them.   I then wrote again about their reaction to the march.

I wish I’d had the confidence to tell that man in the fruit and veg shop – and all the other boys and men who thought it was ok to do and say what they did – to back off but I didn’t.  I do now, and as I say in the articles, I hope my daughters understand that they are supported by millions of other women who have their back, and that it’s totally ok for them to stand up and resist.   We wore our Princess Leia stickers proudly – a woman’s place is in the resistance – and promised next time we’d all wear our hair in her buns.

The Women’s March on Washington far exceeded all expectations.  About 1.2 million people gathered in Washington, DC and another 3 million gathered in cities and towns across our nation, making the Women’s March the largest mass demonstration in U.S. history (and regardless of the ‘alternative facts’ being presented, more than the inauguration day). With 5 million people marching globally, January 21st was likely one of the largest coordinated global protests in world history, and I am delighted my girls will know they were part of that.

In my house a fart is called a trumpet, and to fart is to trump.  Fitting.  A lot of hot wind that makes your face curl up in revolt.   And revolt and resist we will.

About Grin & Tonic by Alana Kirk

Bouncing into middle age armed with courage, ambition and a pair of tweezers (chin hairs for anyone over the age of 45 reading this) I am a writer with a mission: to redefine this midway point in my life when the last thing I want to do is hang up my high heels and become invisible. This is the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end. A single mum to 3 fabulous girls, an author, and a fundraising consultant, both ends of my candle are on fire. As I enter this new stage of my life, I want to explore what it means for 'mid-aged' women today, who were promised they could have it all, ended up doing it all, and just do not identify with the traditional image of middle age.
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