As International Women’s Day approaches, I started thinking about all the strong women I know – and I realised that I really don’t know many women who I wouldn’t define as strong in some way or another. Strong women aren’t just women in leadership, they’re all of us. Whether it’s those who are battling personal demons or health issues whilst working a twelve hour day or making sure their children get their daily quota of fifty different fruits and vegetables, those slogging every possible hour to achieve their career goals, or those who are sick of waiting around for a man to come along so are buying that house alone. Whether it’s those who are fighting their way through all the frogs to find their Prince Charming (and my god, am I happy for the ones who found him – you give me so much hope!), those who are giving their lives to care for others, or those who simply look out for the other women around them – the listeners, the shoulders, the ‘can I get you a cup of tea’ers. We’re so much stronger when we’re strong together.
On my journey to work this week, I had to smile as the woman in front of me – laden down with laptop and handbag – very nearly chucked her steaming hot cup of coffee into her face whilst trying to kick the door behind her open for me, rather than let it shut in my face. A stark contrast to the man who a few minutes previously had barged in front of me and done just that. This isn’t a post bashing men, I promise – I’m sure half the women in Canary Wharf would have done the same as him, and vice versa – but it made me think about how important it is for women to look out for other women; how in a world of men letting doors shut in our faces, it’s a whole lot easier if we at least help each other to keep them open.
I was also inspired this week by Iratxe Garcia Perez, the Spanish MEP who spectacularly stood up to prehistoric Polish MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke. Having clearly lost his tiny mind, Korwin-Mikke told European Parliament that women are ‘smaller, weaker, less intelligent’ and should be paid less than men. Perez replied to this dinosaur with such passion and power, such fire in her belly that I felt really quite emotional watching the video. We need women like Perez. I wish this was just a post about strong people; that women didn’t need a special day set aside for them – but Korwin-Mikke proves we’re just not there yet. We need all the help we can get.
In today’s world of body shaming and cyber bullying and circles of shame, it’s horribly easy to find ourselves putting other women down. But what hope do we have of being treated equally, if we can’t do the same to each other? Strong women aren’t the women who only look out for themselves, they’re the ones who bring their friends along with them.
I couldn’t write a post about strong women without mentioning my amazing Mum. She kept it together no matter what, stayed strong for everyone else around her. Her laugh lit up the room, and if you were in a room with her you’d hear it about 40 thousand times before you left it. When she spectacularly fell down the steps at my Grandad’s funeral, it wasn’t tears but laughter that followed – as always, breaking the ice, making everyone else feel comfortable (she was great at falling over, my Mum – nobody did it better). She would have done absolutely anything for our family, would have dropped everything for me, I have absolutely no doubt.
Even when she was diagnosed with cancer and our worlds shattered in an instant, it seemed like she was the one comforting us half the time. Of course things got harder and sometimes there wasn’t a single thing to laugh about; my heart breaks in two when I think of her tiny little frame – finally able to wear skinny jeans, even though we would have given absolutely anything to have her back in her size 12s – battling with the mountain of tablets we laid out for her each day. Even when she was feeling so nauseous and weak, she still got up, still went out to whichever garden centre or coffee shop we took her to without complaint (fantastic places for trips with poorly people, garden centres and coffee shops), despite how exhausted she must have been feeling. Even when she was so relentlessly sick from her chemo, she still tried her hardest to eat, and even when she was so tired she could barely keep her eyes open, she would still text me back, regardless of whether it took half an hour and the message made no sense at all.
Just a few days before she died, and having slept through a visit from one of her best friends (as she was sleeping most of the time by that point), Mum woke up in time to say goodbye to her: ‘hopefully I’ll be a bit better next time you come’. And that was Mum through and through: always positive, always hopeful. She was the strongest person I’ll ever know. She stayed strong and positive throughout it all, and I like to hope I’ve inherited just a tiny bit of that from her.
That was a horrifying time in my family’s life, but it was made all the more bearable by the kindness of friends – Mum’s friends from the gym, from work, from my school days – the friends who continue to look out for my Dad, to invite him to their girls’ meals and take him for coffee; the friends back in London who looked after me too, invited me for a glass of wine at 9pm, made me lunch, sent me that all-important text. I’m really not discounting the kindness of all the male friends here either, but this particular post is for those women. The women who thought of someone else first, who dealt with the awkward or the uncomfortable or the downright sad in order to just simply be there.
So regardless of what life throws at us, whether it’s death or illness or a rejection from a silly boy; whether it’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to us or just a bad day – whenever we’re not feeling on top of the world, and whenever we are feeling on top of the world – lets do it together; let’s support each other through the bad times and celebrate together through the good times. Because even if it is going to take another 24 years to reach gender parity (which I of course sincerely hope it won’t), it will be a darn sight easier if we weather the storm together.