04 March 2020
I recently watched an old episode of the IT Crowd, where Jen Barber and another female member of staff are competing for praise and validation from their boss Mr Reynham (played by Matt Berry, funniest voice on TV) who isn’t fit to be running a company, let alone appraising their professional competency. To Jen’s relief he announces, “Jen, you are an excellent woman.” She’d won his unworthy approval.
It made me think about what we as a society think makes an ‘excellent woman’ and how that criteria has changed over my lifetime.
From a young age, I always questioned why I was being held to account by a different set of rules. Why did I have to do the hostess badge at Brownies, the first (and only) badge I got which required me to serve afternoon tea and cake to Brown Owl? Why did my careers adviser suggest to me aged 14 that I become a secretary, before I’d even opened my mouth to talk about my ambitions? Why at 18 years old did the friend of my boyfriend think it was ok to tell me he’d only buy me two halves, not a pint as I’d asked for – pints were for lads. Less funny was the constant unwanted attention we regularly received from adult men when out and about in our school uniforms.
Collectively, the messages we received growing up did nothing to help us see ourselves as equal. Luckily, I had a family that encouraged both my sister and I to aim high, earn our own money and be independent.
As a young women, I was free to make the career choices I wanted to, with education being key to that. As a mother, I’ve just about managed to navigate a career I enjoy around bringing up my three children. When I’m feeling the strain of juggling work commitments with family life, I’m so grateful for flexible working arrangements – something I’ve benefited from as they have become more widely available over the last decade. I think back to the owner of my children’s nursery telling me how in the ’70s she’d pretend to be calling from elsewhere when she needed to notify a mother that their child was unwell, as the mother would get in trouble if seen to be letting her personal life affect her work life.
Thankfully, much of this would be inconceivable to my daughters. But we can’t be complacent about women’s rights.
The playing field for women is not equal and the battles we thought had been won are being challenged. Wherever we see inequalities, we must challenge them. The examples I’ve given from my childhood pail into insignificance when you think globally of the impact of poverty and violence have on women.
This brings me back to the IT Crowd episode and the unnecessary pitting of different women against each other. Gender inequality comes in many shapes and sizes. It’s all wrong, damaging and unacceptable, yet it continues.
We all need to commit to creating the circumstances and opportunities in which young women and girls believe from an early age that they can, will and should succeed in life.
Last weekend I had the pleasure of spending time with 100 girls and young women who took part in our Champion Girls programme, led by female instructors, captured on film by a female creative team and motivated by a female-led team of incredible youth workers. All of those women are role models to those young women and instilled a sense of self-belief in the participants. The saying “If we think we can, we can” has never been truer.
Happy International Women’s Day to you all!
– Gill Goodby, Head of Policy and Communications
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