I’m the daughter of an empowered woman. She’s a professor, a researcher, someone who made her life the way she chose it.
I’m the grand daughter of an empowered woman, of her generation. An equal marriage, an earner as well as a mother and housewife, someone still living independently at nearly 90, someone who has lived 30 years as a widow and done so with grace and courage and determination.
I’m an empowered woman; I had the right to have my family when I wanted and the avenue and support to work around them in a way that fulfilled and satisfied me but kept me where I wanted to be, at home with them.
I like to think my legacy will be the 4 daughters and son that I’m raising with my teeth bared and my voice raised to make sure they grow up utterly rejecting the concept of gender divides or accepting a secondary role for women. I was fortunate enough to go to a girls only school that meant I rarely encountered any sort of direct sexism, lucky to be in a family and society where female education was paramount and my marriage has been one where equality – our roles carved out by ability not gender – has been central.
I’m bringing up my girls to utterly reject sexism and, as he grows, I’m all too aware that the job is even greater in some respects with Bene. It is our job to raise him as a feminist and a man who values and stands shoulder to shoulder with women knowing without any sense of concession, that they are equals, not humans given a validation as equal. Equal, without question, from the outset. I hope, as he tails along behind his sisters – those gymnasts, the rugby players, the dancers, the taekwondo (almost) black belt, the academics, the singers, the actors and the musicians – that he will be all too aware that he has a hard act to follow. Will he have the courage to dance and break the boundaries back in the other direction? I hope so. That would be a true reflection of our success I think.
This week SCA Ocean Racing Team got in touch to ask me to write about their race and endeavour, as part of International Women’s Day. They are an all-women sailing team, battling a round the world yacht race for the first time in 12 years. Skippered by British Sam Davies, they are about to head from Auckland to Brazil, a brutal leg that will include icebergs along with everything else.
It’s an inspiring video and gave me a lot to think about.
It struck me as I watched, as you would hope, that these are women of different colours, background, experience, age and with different responsibilities. It takes a certain type of courage to undertake a long, dangerous trip against the elements when your little girl is left on the dockside, just as it takes grit to undertake the challenge knowing your are ‘doing it for’ your own personal age/race/background subdivision. It’s a phenomenal responsibility and emotional toll, never mind the physical one.
And it struck me, because I thought all those things and noted them, that we are still dividing. I still noticed ‘mother, young, older, black’ even though I’m right there at the forefront of believing women as ‘just equal’ and by that, I mean ‘exactly equal’. No big deal. Just humans, just the same. Yet the legacy we are fighting means that it is deeply ingrained to look at women and measure according to sub division. Would I have done that with a male team? I don’t know that I would. And so I correct myself, learn, move forward and ensure I pass on something better to the girls I have responsibility for.
Women are amazing. Whether you follow the #ThisGirlCan initiative by Sport England and applaud girls for getting sweaty and not caring how they look, or the #LikeAGirl campaign that aims to break the stigma of females being ‘less good’ at something because of their gender, we need to remember that. We all have the power to be a role model. I know I can change the world in four tiny, butterfly stamp ways by bringing up my girls to be a step beyond me. I know I can influence just a few young women in my life to grow beyond what they thought was assigned to them. I see my 16 year old gymnast-coach-rugby player already inspiring girls behind her and knowing her place in the world.
I’ve found myself saying the word paradigm a lot recently, in my role as mentor and mother and coach. We have so much to do but the key to it is building up those who inspire us, not knocking them down for fear of their success.
Team SCA, as they race the Volvo Ocean Race, are all about this. The eyes of the world will watch them for 9 months as they battle the elements and rely on each other – a team, a community – together. The Amazing Women Everywhere campaign runs alongside their own challenge, and asks you to help build a photo mosaic of inspiring women around the world, with their story, a lasting monument to change-makers and role models. A donation will be made to the World Wildlife Fund for each upload.
This post is in collaboration with Team SCA. All thoughts are my own.