Yesterday, I was at Blogfest16 which is organised by Mumsnet, the UK’s biggest parenting network. The day consisted of various discussion groups with panels made up of some extremely inspirational and successful women: in politics, comediennes, authors, campaigners and the day was rounded up with a keynote speech from Davina McCall. It was a day that was rich in women. The audience was packed with them – most bloggers are female and I counted 4 men. As I listened to the speakers, I thought to myself how uncomfortable it must be to be a man in the audience. Themes began to emerge and repeat themselves. As the panels changed and a new group of women spoke about an entirely different subject, the same issues were being said over and over again and what was being voiced was just how much woman struggle in the face of men. Even these wonderfully intelligent and incredibly strong women were telling us that they have to fight because of men, again and again. I use the word ‘fight’, because from where I was sitting it sounded as if it was a daily battle to deal with the overbearing strength of the males in our society. Women’s voices aren’t heard, they were saying. We have to shout, but men don’t like us shouting because we are supposed to be happy and when we shout we don’t appear happy and when we don’t appear happy the foundations of society are rocked. Shouts of complaint are referred to as ‘moans’. Haters on line are always male, one panelist said. Ignore, ignore, ignore was the repeated advice. Sexism in the workplace is still rife, particularly in certain sectors – commercial radio didn’t get good press. Women must support each other, was another emerging and recurring theme. I sat and listened and I sat and thought: but we are not supporting each other. I read comments where women are judging women on line every day. Forty two per cent of Trump’s voters were women. Women who would rather vote for a man who demeaned them and bragged about sexual assault, than support a woman’s bid to be the first female president. I have recently been thinking about how there are still huge inequalities between men and women and as I spent the whole day listening to these strong women, it really brought it home to me, when I saw that even they seem to be struggling to be heard on the same grounds as men. Venus and Mars are still miles apart. “Women, support each other” they said, but the truth is: we don’t.
I suddenly felt a huge responsibility, as I have 5 daughters I can influence. I questioned whether I am doing enough to make them realise the task that lies ahead for them. How can I best equip them to be able to fight these battles? I don’t want them to be afraid of what the future holds, but I want them to be aware of these divides: forewarned is forearmed. Yet teenagers don’t seem ready for this fight, or particularly interested or bothered. This worries me. There is a palpable apathy that comes from their attentions being drawn on line to other things: to a celebrity, selfie, body-obsessed culture. A culture where fighting male dominance is irrelevant, but rather grabbing their attention is key. Just getting attention, anyone’s. It’s less about supporting other girls than comparing. It’s less about ignoring the haters, than letting them affect you and allowing them to drive you to being someone you are not.
I thought about my teenage years. I remembered the abuse I got from male friends through banter and how I didn’t know how to deal with it, so I took it. Harmless right? But it hurt. It confused me. Because I never learnt how to deal with it, I carried this confusion through my 20’s and 30’s – accepting that the male voice is louder. Expecting to be talked over. Expecting my voice to be the smallest in the company of men.
Last night in the post-Blogfest bar, partner said to me suddenly: “listen.” There was a cacophony of female voices. Loud, deliberate, intelligent and strong. “This is how I want our daughters to be,” I said to partner and it is my responsibility as their mother and their most influential voice, to get it right.