In case you haven’t noticed, today is International Women’s Day. Honestly, the whole thing makes me feel uncomfortable because I have only ever considered gender one part of my identity, and the way this day makes gender sound like the most important thing in the world just winds me up. But instead of allowing the feminists to have this day and to themselves to talk about how awful life is for women (#NotInMyName), I thought I’d pay tribute to three women who did not buy in to that, and have had a great influence on me.
1) My Mummy Bear.
From below the poverty line cleaning houses when I was a kid, to a senior NHS manager now, mum changed her life and mine through sheer determination and hard work. Her values around taking responsibility, working hard and being optimistic for the future are mine too, and are what make me a Conservative (I’ve written about this before: Why I am a Conservative).
Note, mum has an intense hatred of feminism, which she finds disempowering and patronising. Ask her when you see her, and expect swearing in her answer (she also taught me how creative swearing can be).
2) Granny Lynda.
Granny had her first child aged 17 and then went on to have two more (incl my mum). She trained as a nursery nurse at night school, and by the time I knew her she had risen from nursery nurse to nursery manager to being the manager of a national chain of nurseries – and designing qualifications which were the foundation of the NVQs used today. My Granny had an incredible way of making every child feel special and loved, and I always felt so lucky that she was My Granny.
I had always thought I was the first Conservative in my family, but recently learned that in 1979 my granny took a chance. She didn’t vote her usual way (Liberal) but put her faith in another great lady. I am told that not many people knew at the time or since, because it wasn’t a welcome choice in 1970s Maltby, the mining town she was from.
My granny died of brain cancer when I was 9, but I learned three things from her first:
- ‘Kill them with kindness, Emily’ (this does indeed work)
- The importance of striking out on your own path, and while always loving your family, not being a slave to them
- Don’t ever take yourself too seriously (especially when dancing to the Mr Blobby song…).
3) Great Grandma Trudy (proper name Gertrude, aka Dirty Gerty).
Grandma kept her sense of humour despite having one of the hardest lives of anyone I have known. Two dead husbands (the first in WW2 when her twin babies were just six months old), a divorce when it wasn’t overly fashionable, three children who died before her, and an epic struggle with depression.
She taught me to bake. She taught me that even the over 80s can have a cheeky sense of humour. And most of all she taught me about sheer strength and force of will to survive, which she never lost, not even at the end of her life when she defied all expectations in living for 2 weeks after she stopped drinking anything.
These are the three women who raised me.
And I have never seen or heard any excuses, any kind of victim mentality, or anything less than bloody hard work from any of them. They inspire me to do more and do better every single day.
When I was growing up they all said to me “you can do it”, “I am proud of you” and “reach for the stars”. And my hope for #IWD2018 is that every child can hear these words, including girls, and that we can replace the toxic feminism that tells girls they are fragile and need protecting from the dangerous world with words of strength, power and belief in them as individuals.