The campaign theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #BeBoldForChange. Boldness in women is a characteristic that is not always appreciated; women are often told to be meek, humble, gentle in spirit but very rarely are they encouraged to be bold. It got me thinking about what it means to be bold? And am I bold enough to stand stronger than ever for what I believe in? Or am I getting worn out fighting a battle for respect and equal rights for women because sometimes I find myself alone on the field?
The word “bold” was used quite often to describe me when I was growing up (along with other not so very nice adjectives like “stubborn”, “headstrong” and so on). As I mentioned in my post last year, I started lobbying for equal rights and equal opportunities very early in life. People were convinced that I would mellow with age and forget all these “silly ideas of feminism and equality” that I had when I got married and settled down. As I was told often enough “girls just don’t do this, that or the other”.
But I had a mother who encouraged the independent spirit that I had, my non-traditional thinking, who brought me up to believe that there was more to life
than “getting married to a good boy and having a family” (like most of the girls around me were being told). But I also argued and fought with her when I thought she was not allowing me to do something that in her eyes was not “for girls”. In hindsight, I was definitely not an easy daughter to have and she must have had sleepless nights because I was different, stubborn and headstrong in my ways. She also had more than her share of people accusing her of encouraging me and my “wild spirit”, telling her that at this rate I would never be able to marry a “good catch” because “good boys” did not like bold, stubborn girls like me. But that did not stop her from continuing to encourage me and in the end letting me go far away to a country where she hoped I would have a better life.
So at the age of 23, I left the country of my birth and came to Europe with the dream of living a life where women had the same opportunities as men, where women were not discriminated on the basis of gender (or race and colour). But what I experienced was that discrimination against women was very much existent in the country I had moved to too, the colours and hues of it were just a bit different. That is when I started making promises to the daughter I had hoped to have one day, promises to continue the fight for equal opportunities and respect, in the hope that she and her friends would not have to face the discrimination that I and many other women like me were and are still facing. Over the years, this list of promises has grown, been tweaked, adapted, given more substance and I have tried to put them into concrete actions. This post is about some of the promises I made to that daughter.
I promised my daughter that I would fight for a world where being called “pretty” was not worth striving for, that not fulfilling the “standards of beauty of the world” was not a reason to fall into despair or even become bulimic. I promised her that I would try to compliment girls/women for their inner qualities first and not for their looks, that I would use the word “beautiful” instead of pretty because true beauty comes from within. I promised her that I would try to explain to people that complimenting a girl/woman by calling her “hot” or “sexy” is degrading, objectifying and misogynistic. A girl/woman is not baked goods that needs to be consumed when “hot” or “fresh”. Being called “sexy” is objectifying and implies the girl/woman is an object of sensual pleasure, which might be a compliment coming from her partner but not from strangers, relatives or even casual friends. I knew then that my daughter would most likely inherit my asian looks and would hence look different than the average European. I promised my daughter that I would explain to people who complimented me and called me “exotic” that I thought they were color biased when they said that. I did not want her growing up in a world that thought being “exotic” or having a tanned skin tone was a great compliment, a reason to stare, gape and lust after her. There are so many other words that one can use to compliment someone on their looks, if that is what one wants to do, words that give dignity and show respect.
I promised my daughter that I would not smile or keep silent at misogynistic jokes, I would raise my voice against “locker room talk” that was degrading to women and I would not excuse disrespectful behaviour towards women by saying “boys will be boys”!
I promised my daughter that I would stand up for women in abusive relationships, that I would do all that I could to support them and help them to break free. I promised my daughter that I would not remain neutral in the face of abuse, because being neutral means taking the side of the oppressor and not the oppressed. I promised my daughter that I would never ever say or even think that the abused victim “deserved” or “asked for” the abuse; nothing a woman does, says, wears or even drinks can justify her being abused. I wanted my daughter to live in a world that encourages and supports women to report abuse, leave abusive relationships, get help and find healing for the scars and wounds caused by abuse.
I promised my daughter that I would continue the fight for equal opportunities and rights for women. I promised her that I would fight for fair pay and decent working hours for women in the working world and help find solutions to help working or single mothers. I wanted her and her girl/woman friends to be able to choose whether they wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, a working mom, a single mom or even not to have any children and that they would not be made to feel less for having chosen one of the options.
I promised my daughter that I would fight against the stereotyping of women, be it because of their hair or skin color, size, age, weight, clothes, behaviour, choice of career or lifestyle….whatever! I wanted my daughter to grow up in a world where breaking stereotypes is seen as normal and not judged negatively. I wanted my daughter to have the freedom to be what she wanted to be and to dream big.
I promised my daughter that I would stand up and raise my voice against “cultural traditions” that are misogynistic, oppress women, rob them of their freedom or treat them as sex symbols – be it female genital mutilation, the dowry system or even painting a street with signs that say “Zur Bixenmacherei” when a girl child is born in that street (a tradition which is prevalent in Bavaria since a girl is referred to as a “Bixen” which is a box with a slit and is slang for the vagina of a woman, reducing a woman to a sexual object).
I promised my daughter that I would leave a church that told women in abusive marriages to remain in the marriage and to pray for their husbands to change, where pastors or elders glorified mothers more than those who had no biological children, where women were not allowed to lead in any way even though they were more qualified or competent, or where women who were attractive were told to cover up or be less colourful in their clothing so that they didn’t distract the men. I wanted my daughter to be appreciated and encouraged to be the woman God wanted her to be, use her God-given talents even in the church and learn to have healthy boundaries in her relationships.
I did not want my daughter to grow up in a world where women think that they are the better or stronger creation, where they think they have to be the better men. I wanted my daughter to grow up in a world where women and men are aware of and appreciate their differences; where both are treated as equals, with respect, dignity and love.
A lot has changed for the positive over the years – in some countries more than others. And over the years I realised that my dream of having a biological daughter was not to be. But the promises I made to her still stand and I will continue my fight to keep them. Today they are the promises I make to the women I have known, know and will get to know in the future – to my mother, aunts, sisters, friends, spiritual daughters and their girl/women friends, colleagues, acquaintances and the stranger in the street. And I will be even bolder in keeping my promises and raising my voice against exploitation, discrimination and abuse of women (and men for that matter). I will never give up hope that there will be a change for the better.