We Are Not ‘Girls’

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day – and today marks the start of the inaugural Queensland Women’s Week. I am very fortunate to be living in an age and a country that allows for the celebration and discussion of such issues, even if they are, at times, drowned out in a sea of other, ‘more important’ issues. My participation and interest in the Australian (and International) literary community allows me additional exposure to thought-stimulating and well written pieces about feminist issues the whole year round – not just when days like this roll around.

I am pleased that issues like the gender pay gap are getting some more air time in the lead up to International Women’s Day, but at the same time, it is disappointing that this is still news. We’ve known about this for a while, and it is saddening that every year, similar articles are released – which means that nothing significant is being done. I can’t, for the life of me, imagine why.

The place of women in STEM fields has come to the fore in the past year – and it is about damn time. When my dream was to be a researcher, one of my biggest concerns was that I wasn’t going to be taken seriously when I was climbing the ranks, and indeed, even when I was fully qualified. Part of this concern came from my mother (who’s been known to exaggerate claims before to get my sister and I to do what she wanted us to do), but another part came from my own experiences and observations. It is truly horrifying to hear that my anxieties are not unfounded, and have very real and damaging consequences for women who just want to do what they love. How can we be encouraging young women to enter such fields when the people at the top are engaging in such activity – and turning a blind eye when it is being reported?

If we expand our scope a little further, it is clear that such attitudes are widespread and normalised in our current society. I caught the end of The Daily Edition today, and the male host introduced International Women’s Day by saying that they had “a great bunch of girls” to celebrate the day with them. It is truly shocking that in this day and age, it is still acceptable to call grown women ‘girls’. Maybe I’m nit picking (and I’m pretty sure I’m not), but the word ‘girl’ implies a juvenile quality, while its usual counterpart, ‘guy’ does not have the same connotations. Notably, ‘boy’, the proper opposite to ‘girl’, is only used when referring to male children.

Interestingly, I was once seeing someone who became extremely combative and defensive when I said jokingly, and in passing, that “all boys were the same”. I stood my ground, and we ended up agreeing to disagree, but I can’t ever imagine a woman kicking up a fuss over such an issue. Maybe we should.

I think my stance on such issues that have been so ingrained in the way we talk and see the world is quite similar to those on casual racism. In no way is it okay, but I know that such thoughts can slip through the cracks (admittedly, I get them too) – as long as there is an internal dialogue whereby you stop and consider why the thought you had was inappropriate, why you had the thought in the first place, and what you can do to prevent it from happening again. It can be difficult, but I feel like it will be worth it in the long run.

I have been reading and thinking about many issues pertaining to women and their experiences in history, thanks to the Honours topic I have chosen (we’ll have another post about that, it’s way too big and I’ll probably get way too excited). Specifically, I’ve been reading about the place of Indian and Pakistani women, and I came across this quote:

“The contradictions women express reflect the contradictions they experience in real life. Even when they deny the contradictions, the discrepancy between the woman’s experience of herself and the meanings attached to that experience by the male-dominated culture is often apparent.”

The book from which this quote was taken was written and published 30 years ago – and I believe it is still relevant today. Similar sentiments have been expressed in relation to the attractiveness, intelligence, and ability of women in the current day – just look at the place of the women’s cricket and soccer teams in comparison to the men’s teams of the same sports.

I know that I am fortunate to be typing this on my computer, in my own apartment, and that I can put this out onto the internet without fearing for my personal safety. I am lucky to be living in a country where, as a woman, I am allowed to voice my opinion – no matter how misguided others may think I might be.

There are so many places around the world where this would not be possible, so please spare a thought for the women who are actively campaigning for women’s rights overseas. These women – of all shapes and sizes, from all different backgrounds – deserve our attention and our support. So this International Women’s Day, this Queensland Women’s Week – do some research and read up about some of these courageous women – or maybe look for and think about attending an event near you with a female speaker. You might just learn something new.

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