International Women’s Day

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Thanks, Kimberly, for reminding me that March 8 is International Women’s Day.

My three daughters are now in college, and although I have no doubt that they have been offered the same educational opportunites than their male counterparts, I am also aware that they still live in a world divided between males and females in terms of physical freedom.

While the discourse on international women’s day is more centered on careers and salary equality – I fully support that of course – my concern remains on the way girls and women don’t enjoy the exact same freedom as boys and men, only because of their gender.

When I lived in France I had no idea what sexual harassment was, but I knew that I hated it when men (of all ages) whistled when I walked by, commented on my breasts or invited me, usually in a vulgar way, for a drink. I hated it. I also hated myself for not finding a proper answer to their unacceptable behavior. My only response was to lower my eyes and speed away. I blamed myself for not being able to fight back.

When my parents told me that I had to be careful when I was alone, to be accompanied by a large group of girls at night and preferably by boys I trusted, I obeyed. Fear runs through your blood when insidiously instilled. This world was based on the assumption that girls and women are vulnerable, boys and men aggressive and impossible to control.

Of course I still have to meet a boy being told to seek girls’ protection when alone at night. One can only wonder why boys aren’t simply taught another behavior.

It is easier for my daughters, but they still face the occasional sexual remark (to the credit of young men, it is often from older men. So there is serious hope;  we are on the right path.)

So, yes to a day celebrating women’s accomplishements from the right to vote to equal pay, from reproduction rights to the freedom of walking safely anywhere in the world.

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In an interesting twist, I just finished a book (also suggested by Kimberly) that echoes my thoughts on the topic of gender inequality.

My Brilliant Friend is the first volume of four from the cycle The Neapolitan Novels written by Italian author Elena Ferrante.

The cycle tells of a lifelong friendship between Elena and Lina, two girls from a poor neighborhood in Naples.

My Brilliant Friend starts when Elena and Lila have not started school yet. Told from Elena’s perspective it is as much a story about the nature of friendship as it is a story about Naples and Italy in the 1950s.

Although focusing on the development of this friendship, Ferrante offers a vivid and realistic portrait of Italy in the mid 20th century. Since the main characters are two young girls coming of age, we discover this world through their own eyes. Elena and Lina belong to large families where fathers can be at times loving but also violent. Brothers and boys Elena and Lina’s age are also torn between the ancestral way of life and their instinctive affection for their sisters and friends.

The vibrant streets are familiar yet dangerous for the girls. Riding in a car for example is attractive since very few people own one, but to be found alone with a boy in a car will upset fathers and brothers and even other boys from the neighborhood.

Lots of plans are made between the girls and their closest friends in order to hide a new romance or relationship with boys in general and especially when these boys are enemies of the families. Elena has to fight her parents’ opposition to go on with her studies – in an interesting way it is her mother who is more resistant. Lina, the smartest of the two, gives up on her dreams to create shoes and gets married at the age of sixteen to escape a man she detests. Girls and women are caught between their dreams and the old lifestyle, and we can only wish for then to run free.

Several scenes in the novel (although I didn’t grow up in the 1950s and not in Italy) echoe memories of my own adolescence in France in the 1970s.

Ferrante excels at creating characters that literally jump from this page-turner novel and at depicting Naples with its profound social and economical differences, based on family origins and gender. This is a book that won’t leave you indifferent. I swallowed My Brilliant Friend in two nights and already ordered the rest of the sequel.

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International Women’s Day is celebrated in different ways across the globe. In many countries it is similar to Mother’s Day. In others it is a holiday. Here in the USA it doesn’t have the impact of Mother’s Day and it isn’t a holiday.

Now your turn…

Do you think that we need a day to celebrate women’s progress?

Do we need to pause and evaluate the rest of the journey?

If you are a woman do you share some of my experiences?

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P.S. In an old blog post from 2013, I listed a few favorite books of mine on the topic.

Also the photos for this post are from my visits to my kids who are now studying all over California.

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Comments

  1. I really enjoyed your post Evelyne and will look out for the books you mentioned. I do share similar experiences to you from growing up as a teenager in the 1970s. With having 3 daughters I have always worried about their safety and about their progress in the world. I don’t know how different it would have been having a son. I agree with you that it has been easier in some ways for them as they have been educated to a different level on these subjects than we were. I do think we need to celebrate a day for women such as International Women’s Day and I also think we need to pause and take stock for the next part of the journey. I don’t know what the answer is to the rest of the journey but in many ways some things haven’t changed much at all. It is still a very patriarchal society here in Australia in lots of ways but in other ways we have made progress! I hope that makes sense to you, and thanks for making me think.

    • I really appreciate your thoughtful comment, Debbie. Like you I want to believe that we are progressing. I have an eighteen-year-old son and he is so different from the boys I knew back then. Although I must say that many of my school friends and university friends were great boys. Yet the world around me and my girlfriends was very masculine. We were judged upon our looks and easily made fun of. I enjoyed the benefits of women’s previous fights but still felt part of a world where girls and women had to accept the fact that it was okay for men to say anything they wanted. I’ve never been to Australia but France is still a machist country where it is okay to comment on girls’ appearance and expect them to laugh about it. Again, nothing against men. I love them. I just wish for a world where none would whistle or look up and down when they see a girl or a woman passing by. Thank you so much, Debbie, for your frank and meaningful comment.

      • It was my pleasure. thank you for the opportunity to think of these issues and write down my thoughts on them. I think the world is quite similar in many ways.

  2. I really enjoyed this post Evelyne. I am the father of a grown (30) daughter but I still worry about her in many ways. I worry when she travels/runs/bikes alone. I worry that she won’t always be accepted/treated/paid as well as male coworkers. I also worry that, although she is quite articulate, she can’t speak out on these issues without being judged. That’s why I am glad you wrote this.

    I’m glad we have this day, but only if it represents the first step toward a time when such days are unnecessary.

    • Thank you so much, Dan. I’m sure that many men and fathers think the way you do. And this is because of such men that the world can only become a safe and equal world. Ilove your last sentence that echoes my hope. See you.

      • eh oui, chère Evelyne, on est sur la même fréquence et la même longueur d’ondes en ce qui concerne nos kids, même s’ils sont “old babies”… 🙂
        * * *
        un autre post super-intéressant, comme d’hab’… 🙂 my very best, good luck in all your endeavours and have an inspiring week! amicales pensées, Mélanie

  3. Well done Evelyne.
    Yes… During my life I have experienced practically every “category” of gender inequality. I know the gap in “equal pay for equal work” has gotten a bit smaller, but it’s still big. Government jobs present themselves as solving that problem with set pay grades, but all the higher pay grades have many more men than women. And all the very low grades are nearly 100% women.
    >All of the issues are, unfortunately, still alive and well. I see them every day, in every business transaction, and in most social situations too.
    >I’ve witnessed a few women say “I’ve never had that kind of problem!”… Yet i’ve seen with my own eyes when they actually have either encountered it directly and chosen to be blind to it. And when it happens behind their back (if they are the manager) but they refuse to believe it.
    It hasn’t been fixed yet, and it can’t be until everyone is willing to see it — society, governments, religions, men, and women too.
    Huge hugs for this post. 🙂

    • Thank you, Teagan, for your comment since it highlights an aspect I chose to not cover. My professional experience here in the States has been different from yours, so I haven’t been exposed to such contrasts. Working moslty from home has shielded me from what you are describing. But I feel for you and your female coworkers. It’s even more difficult when women don’t want to see the issue, isn’t it? I’m glad you appreciated this post and if you get a chance read My Brilliant Friend and the other books in the series. Excellent writing!
      See you soon Teagan.

  4. cardamone5 says:

    What a thoughtful post.

    My experience is similar to yours. As a girl, I hated it when men/boys whistled or noticed me at all, but then I would also get upset if I didn’t get noticed, and behave in ways I thought would get their attention, which was usually provocative and inappropriate. Then, when attention was on me, I became frightened, and backed off.

    I read a lot growing up, mostly romance novels, so my ideal man was unattainable. I believed a good looking man would also be a nice person. Add to that fact that I was raised by a gay man and his friends, and you have a girl who suspects every man is gay/has little contact with straight men, and feels like it is a special occasion when a straight man is around. It made me confuse attention that was sexual in nature with genuine interest.

    I wanted a successful career, but I also felt the pull to be a fifties style full-time wife/mother, envisioning it would fulfill me. It turned out motherhood was the Pandora’s box that opened all of my unresolved emotion from childhood, which was good and bad. In breaking, I had to grow up and face my feelings, which led to my memoir about this experience. Now, I am growing into my life, both struggling and soaring. I finally believe in what i have: a loving marriage and three beautiful kids. The other stuff is just that, stuff.

    I still like the occasional romance novel for entertainment, not for life instructions.

    Love,
    E

    • I knew you could only leave such a meaningful comment. Our childhood and adolescence experiences as girls are so intense that they last a lifelong. Yours are certainly unique and worth a memoir. I’m glad that you have shared some of my experiences, because sometimes the problem for women is to believe that we are alone to feel that way. I wish for more equality, while keeping our uniqueness. Men are a huge part of our lives and I don’t want a world divided between them and us. I just want to feel as free as they are. I don’t know if I will see it in my lifetime. But I certainly hope for my daughters and their children if they choose to have some. See you Elizabeth.

    • cardamone5 says:

      I nominated you for the Work-In-Progress Blog Hop because I think you are such a wonderful and inspiring friend.. I know Sherri (the person who nominated me) recently nominated you for another memoir-related effort, so feel free to pass on this nod if you want. I have not published yet. Will wait to hear from you. And, thanks as always for your friendship.

      Love,
      E

      PS: I don’t know if this link will work since it is not published yet, but here is the post draft: https://cardamonefive.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=4489&action=edit

  5. Très bel article, Evelyne. Concernant tes souvenirs de ces hommes qui t’importunaient dans la rue ou ailleurs, et la peur que ça génère, rien n’a changé…Ma fille me dit que c’est ce qui l’a le plus marqué au Québec : on lui fichait la paix et elle pouvait sortir sereine, et sourire sans que ce soit pris pour une invite…Son retour à Lyon : “Je te confirme, Maman, que je sais bien que je suis revenue en France…”
    Bises confraternelles ! 🙂

    • Merci, Simone. C’est dommage par contre d’entendre que la France ne change pas en ce qui concerne la liberté des femmes. Comme je comprend ta fille! Aux Etats Unis en dépit des agressions sexuelles qui malheureusement arrivent encore bien trop souvent, le comportement des hommes dans la rue est 100% different de ce qu’il est en France. Quand je rentre dans ce pays que j’aime pourtant énormément, cela me choque aussi. Mitterand disait qu’il faut laisser du temps au temps et j’espère de tout coeur que les hommes finiront par changer avec le temps. Cela passe aussi par leurs mères et l’école. Merci encore pour ta visite.
      P.S. Je vois que tu me lis très bien en anglais!

  6. I think it’s great that we have a day to celebrate women’s progress! I didn’t even know about it until last week though because I think I live under a rock 🙂 I will say that I’ve had a lot of experiences where guys were douchebags to me because I was a woman, but I don’t really think about it much because guys get it too.

    At any rate, it was great to hear your thoughts!

    • I totally get it if you are under a rock or in a cocoon! It’s interesting to hear that for you boys and men share their challenges too, in respect of harrassment. I agree and yet I feel that is is however a minority and probably more from other boys and men than from girls and women. Don’t you agree? I really believe that things are improving in the right direction, especially when I see my son and his friends.
      Also I just found out that there is an International Day for Men. It’s on November 19. I won’t forget since it’s also my birthday.
      Take good care of you, Katie!

  7. Behind the Story says:

    Coincidentally, I also have three daughters. They’re older than your children, settled with families and jobs. Thanks to my husband, they grew up with what I consider an unusual degree of self-confidence. As far as I know, they never had any problems with their personal safety. They chose careers that I wouldn’t have considered possible. One is an actuary, another is a deputy prosecutor, and the third is a structural engineer. In the early sixties, when I was considering a career, most young women I knew became teachers, nurses, secretaries, or flight attendants.

    It’s sad that women are still unsafe walking alone, especially at night. There are so many things we’ve taught ourselves not to do, and we’re so used to being unsafe alone that we don’t even notice that we’re declining to do something we would otherwise have enjoyed doing.

    • I always enjoy reading your comments, Nicki, because you have great experiences to share. It’s great to read that you raised strong women who chose careers that you wouldn’t have considered. I agree that even nowdays these professions, particularly structural engineer, are more common for men than women. Things, however, change a lot and in the right direction in terms of studies and jobs. When my daughter graduated in biology from UC Berkeley two years ago the majority of students were girls. This field used to be much more masculine. I think that girls and women are now completely equal in terms of studies and professional opportunities. Like you I find sad to live in a world where it is normal for a girl or woman to stay away from places if alone. Not saying that the world is completely safe for boys and men either. I really hope that all boys will be some day taught that being a man doesn’t mean to be agressive. Mothers and school play crucial roles, I think. And too many boys don’t grow up in nurturing homes and schools where they can grow confident but not violent. Looking forward to reading you soon, Nicki.

  8. International Women’s Day is barely mentioned here in the UK Evelyne. I only knew about it through blogging! Funnily enough, another blogging friend and I were just sharing how different things were for us when we were young women in the 1970s growing up in the UK. She with her driving instructor and me with the postmen where I worked at the Post Office. Today, their kind of behaviour would be considered sexual harrassment but then, we just brushed it off, feeling uncomfortable, yes, but also telling them off, in a sort of jokey way, not knowing how to be firmer and feeling embarrassed. I do believe that young men are better than that today. I know my boys wouldn’t do that, that’s for sure! For me though, I suppose it seemed minor compared to my earlier experiences after my parents divorced but that is something I will write about in my book. And even as a child, I heard so often when family friends spoke of my younger brother as ‘that boy will go far’ but of me, ‘isn’t she pretty, like a doll’. My Briliant Friend sounds like a great read and I love your photos of a place that lives in my heart and always will. Wonderful, thought-provoking and beautifully written post as always my friend, thank you.

    • Thank you so much, Sherri, for another thoughtful comment. Yes, I agree that young men act in such a different way. I also share your impressions about the necessity for a girl to be pretty while a boy had to be brave and clever. This is now, at least where we both live, totally outdated. My grandfather who wasn’t a bad man opened a bottle of champagne when one of my cousins (a girl) got her son. He was the first male after my dad. No champagne for my sister, my three cousins and me when we were born. Shocking, isn’t it? See you soon! 😊

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