Happy International Women’s Day – and why it is still okay to give us chocolates

8 Mar

March 08 is international women’s day. Considering all the public discussions on what is sexual harassment and what isn’t (most often by men) and the explanations why women have it so much better than men these days – I followed the Twitter discussion hashtagged #aufschrei, the German variety of #shoutingback, and let’s just say that while there were many intelligent replies from men as well as women, the amount of condescending (from women) and sexualizing (from men) comments was disgusting. Anyway, what I was going to say is that today I am not listening to the radio, for my own sanity.

Only recently I realized that our parents raised me and my three sisters in extremely modern ways. I mean, we were as close as you can get to white trash without wheels on your home. Three daughters, both parents working poorly-paying jobs to make ends meet (which happened more often than not), loud and sometimes violent fights among adults as well as kids. During the first eighteen years of my life I moved house at least eight times, sometimes covering several hundred kilometers between moves. I remember times when we could not pay our electricity bill and I had to take care of the phone calls and official stuff after work because our parents were out working till late at night. I remember days when we did not know in the morning if there would be dinner at night. My father had the miminum required education for a guy his age (six years of primary school, two hours per day of which were religious education). At times he worked as an insurance agent, truck driver, in a slaughterhouse, in a laundry facilty, selling domestic livestock and numerous other jobs I cannot remember. My mother, when she was not home trying to raise us when we were tiny, worked as an interpreter, translator, in gambling halls, bakeries and disocunt clothing stores. I remember that she also had at least one job as a plus-size model. At one point, when I was barely a toddler, they also had what one might call a “nightclub of questionable reputation” in a literarly novel. My sisters and I would skip school and be as mischievous as possible in a day, getting into all kinds of trouble.

You get the idea.

Still – our parents told us to go for the best education we could get, without ever pressuring us. I do not know how they made it all possible – books and school trips must have cost a small fortune. We were taught how to defend ourselves with words as well as with actions, how to change a tire, train dogs at least our own weight, use tools, when to drink (and when not). They made sure we got into good jobs (especially when my older sister decided to leave school and spent several weeks just sleeping till noon and going out at night).

And they told us we could be anything we wanted. Except for the day I told my father I wanted to be a truck driver, like him. “Hard work, not enough money…” – but he never said it was too hard for me as a girl, just that the job sucked. And in retrospective, I believe him.

When visiting friends, I learned how things could be different. My friends were told to be nice, not to run, not to laugh too loud. They were told they had to look good, dress well, find good men to marry and have children. (Mind you, we are talking 90’s here. Not 1890’s. 1990’s!) They were taught to obey – a concept I still struggle with today. They sat at the family table at night and agreed with everything the “head of the household” said, while it was perfectly fine at our place to have lively discussions on every topic during meals or while playing cards together. Once it was legal, we would often sit together at weekends and have a beer or a glass of wine together while talking politics, science or simply plans for the coming week. (Needless to say, many of our friends enjoyed coming over.)

Most of all, I do not remember a single time I was told I could not do something because it was not the right thing to do for a girl. Or because I was too weak.

Maybe our upbringing was unconventional. Maybe a modern pedagogist would have his hair turn white from all the things we did and learned at completely inappropriate ages. But I never realized it was still necessary to fight for women’s rights because in my world I had all the rights I wanted – with the corresponding duties, of course.

Then I went to university and took a job at the dorm janitor’s office. I did the paperwork and small repairs around the dorms. And frequently got asked (most often by my “superiors” (ahem)) whether I really could do it. Repair room locks? No problem. Get the ancient heating system to work? Sure. At the beginning I took the questions in stride, proved I could do it and moved on. Then a Muslim student, who had previously caused trouble with female office workers, had to hand his room and keys over to me when the lease was up. The top boss called me and asked whether I needed help. “It’s just the usual stuff being handed over, right? I can do it.” – “But, uhm, you know…” – “Yeah?” He hesitated a while, wouldn’t come forward with what he really wanted to say (I had eventually figured it out) and finally made me promise to call someone if there was “unexpected trouble”.

There was no trouble. The room was clean, everything was okay and the keys were complete. The student was respectful – after all we were in the same classes – and left as planned.

Things like these repeatedly happened. And slowly I got fed up with it. Being asked whether I was sure I could drive a minivan. (Yes, I was. Give me about anything with an engine and wheels and I will drive it.) Whether I needed help with heavy lifting. Whether I was sure I wanted to take the late class at university when I had to go home in the dark, all alone. Whether I really wanted to translate the technology text instead of the one on fashion. You know what? I am fine, thanks for asking. I know what I am doing (most of the time, anyway). And if I need help, I will find someone.

I also get upset if other women tell me that men have to cheat because it is in their genes. Or that girls are just biologically bad at maths. Or technology. Or that their looks are more important to them than their personality (or knowledge). And I regularly want to explode when I hear women talking bad about other women because of their looks or behavior if those do not conform with society. Or because they want to marry (or not), have children (or not) or a carreer (or not).

And don’t ask about that one time a coworker told me his daughter should not study medicine to become a surgeon because  “it is too hard for a girl”.

Anyway, I am rambling. What I was going to say is: Happy international women’s day.

To all the women out there: Be the best women you can be. Laugh, love and fight. Enjoy being yourself. Don’t let anything hold you back.

And to all the men: Love your women. Enjoy them being strong and fearless. We love you, and we are not afraid to show it.

(We are also not afraid to kick ass.)

 

PS: Of course it is okay to give us chocolates. Not because it is international women’s day, but because we like chocolates. Aways. And if you know a woman who does not like chocolates, feel free to give her flowers. Or a good book. Or new RAM for her computer. Just because. ^^

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2 Responses to “Happy International Women’s Day – and why it is still okay to give us chocolates”

  1. jonquil March 8, 2013 at 11:06 pm #

    Beautiful!

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