On Monday, we told women to dream big, speak out, take up space, go where no woman has gone before.
On Tuesday, we told women to shut up, stay quiet, we don’t believe you when you speak out.
On Wednesday, we told women it was their responsibility to stay home if they wanted to stay alive.
Apologies society, if we’re confused by your mixed messaging.
Let’s start with Monday.
When we marked International Women’s Day last Monday, the theme was #ChoosetoChallenge. Here are some of the stories people, men and women, shared with me on Monday.
A friend who is an employee in a progressive London-based company said her Monday morning Zoom call got interrupted. The women had just been asked how they were going to challenge the status quo today. A colleague butted in: “Why aren’t we including men in this too?”
I guess many of us still think that those marginalised by a system are the ones responsible for changing it.
Another friend, who works in Ireland, chose Monday to reveal abuse she was subjected to in a job she loved and was superb at. She doesn’t work there anymore. The place was populated by bystanders.
Another friend, a man, who works for a large multinational finance company in Ireland, explained how his International Women’s Day went down on Zoom.
“They said there is an 80/20 gender split in the company, can you believe that, 80% male, 20% female?”
But that’s the status quo.
Women’s voices make up just 28% of all voices heard talking about news and current affairs on Irish radio. When it came to Covid-19 coverage internationally, just 19% of people quoted were women. And when you look at the make-up of Dáil Éireann, 22.5% of TDs are women, 77.5% are men. That 80:20 ratio appears to be a bit of a pattern.
And as we all tweeted away about #ChoosetoChallenge there was the on-going public conversation about our first-ever minister to give birth in office, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, and will she, won’t she, get maternity leave.
Then news comes in of a political resignation – Green Party councillor, Clare O’Byrne, who recently had her first child, resigned her seat on Monday because of a lack of maternity leave.
By Thursday, we’ve heard though that Minister McEntee will get her leave, and have her job covered for her.
Then again, maternity leave and its affect on your career is not something men have ever had to worry about.
On to Tuesday now.
Just in case society thought women were getting ahead of themselves for speaking out against the status quo, we were lucky enough to hear everyone’s twopence worth about Meghan Markle’s words to Oprah Winfrey come Tuesday morning. It aired on Monday night on ITV and RTÉ One.
Meghan Markle clearly laid out how she feared she would take her own life because of the relentless barrage of abuse from the tabloid press. Her husband, Prince Harry, said how he would come home to find his wife crying while breastfeeding their baby son.
But the problem was with Meghan. Some of us were having none of it. Didn’t believe a word.
Because, yes, who willingly, publicly but falsely claims the mantel of being suicidal? No one.
But the rhetoric, the narrative, was once again one of not believing a woman.
One headline read “what has she done?”
She? She did not make racist remarks about the colour of an about-to-be-born baby’s skin. She did not ignore someone’s cry for medical help.
But the narrative was about Meghan’s failings.
And then comes Wednesday.
For the days leading up to Wednesday, well-known people living in London shared images of this missing woman, how she’d been wearing leggings and runners and was on her way home. There was something eerie about it, a feeling that it wasn’t going to end well.
And then on Wednesday evening, news breaks of a body being discovered in a woodland, the remains of 33-year-old woman Sarah Everard.
The suspect — a police officer, “a wonderful father” apparently. Everyone gets given a narrative.
One of the ones given to Sarah was about her walking home alone. “Women need to be careful”. Perhaps violent men need to not kill.
And then to top it all off, #notallmen begins trending on Twitter.
For those of you who are too busy with real life to be on Twitter and embroiled in the latest culture war, that hashtag referred to how not all men are violent murderers.
Perhaps instead of defending yourself against an imagined personal attack, you could put yourself in a woman’s shoes or a trans woman’s shoes, as they walk alone at anytime of day or night.
What woman hasn’t done a quick and discreet backwards glance as she enters a tunnel in broad daylight? Discreet, in case we offend the innocent, non-violent man walking behind us. We’re even accommodating in the expression of our fear.
I was listening to the Irish comedian and writer Aisling Bea speaking on the iWeigh podcast this week. She was saying how a friend of hers believes the biggest job the patriarchy ever did on anyone was men.
But feeling isn’t female, feeling is human and it’s the very thing that has kept us as the top species on this planet all these years. Emotions are our species’ navigation system. Ignoring feelings isn’t strong, it’s actually stupid.
Our myths and biases harm everyone.
But in this case, this week, a woman was murdered in an act of gender-based violence.
Sarah Everard was her name. She was “strong”. She was “intelligent”. She was “incredibly kind.” She was.
None of this acceptable anymore. None of it. We all need to challenge it. Not just women, not just men. All women. All men.