22 – The Female of the species

Girls, ladies, mesdames! Today we celebrate ourselves. I’m afraid that it actually may be just us to celebrate ourselves, but it doesn’t really matter, does it? It’s a start. Those of us who have been privileged enough to be born in those parts of the world that equal both sexes (at least on paper) are very much aware that we cannot expect much from the supposedly stronger sex, aren’t we? Least of all to celebrate us. But I’ve already ranted about mistaking chivalry for sexism elsewhere on this blog and I don’t see the point in going down that way again. No point whatsoever.

Red carnation on black-red

I’ve never paid much attention to the International Women’s Day, mainly because in the Czech Republic it has kind of a negative political connotation. It was a Soviet-imposed “holiday”, or more precisely, an extra occasion for the comrades to get smashed. Besides that, when I was younger I was convinced there was no need for a special day to celebrate women. I thought that in my part of the world, gender equality was a given. Why celebrate something that is obvious? To me then, even allowing the discussion to take place meant giving the issue more space than it deserved. I still feel that way. I don’t see the point in quotas, or God forbid positive discrimination, I just shut up and work, if that’s what needs to be done to prove myself. I want to gain things in my life because I deserve them, not because I belong to some category. I thought – I still do –  only idiots would treat me differently because I am a woman, and trying to reason with an idiot is a massive waste of time. Turned out the world is full of idiots. But that’s another issue.

Of course, you’d get some professors at Uni (I studied chemical engineering) who would make you notice that in their opinion women were not fit to work in scientific research apart from washing dirty glassware in the lab, but they were rather rare. In mid 2000s, the ratio of male and female students (and professors, to be honest) on my faculty was approximately half and half, and sexist remarks were disregarded as last survivors of something that belonged to prehistory. More often the faculty’s male staff would just stare at my chest (but by that time I was used to men being unable to locate the eyes on my face, so I wouldn’t dwell on it much), but no one has ever questioned my brain capacity.

In the same period, all sorts of groups campaigning gender equality started gaining more space in the media. Surprisingly their biggest concern seemed to be the gender equality in the Czech language (although I have seen the same in Italy and in the UK, too). First the battle for abolishing the female form of our surnames, a prime example of ignorant linguistic feminism (*check the note below if you are interested to know more), then the never-ending debate about correctness of female forms of certain professions. You cannot deny characteristics specific to a language and try to make it look like a fight for women’s rights. I don’t actually care if they call me engineer or engineeress, doctor or doctoress, astronaut or astronautess, minister or ministress, as long as I can become one, and more importantly, as long as I am paid the same money as if I was a man.

What we (the women of the western world) have to realize, and what ultimately is the reason to celebrate our achievements, is how far we’ve come. Many things we take for granted now, and quite frankly, we should really be taking for granted, are still being fought for elsewhere in the world, first of all the right to vote and to run for public offices. We have access to education. Any level and sort of education. We can become anything we like. We can exercise any profession, true – in some the female presence will be stronger than in others, but that is just natural. Yes, there are still double standards. In many professions a woman has to be better, more educated, more qualified than any possible male competition to reach the same position and the same prestige. And if the female of the species decides to adopt the same sexual behaviour as the male, she’ll be labelled a slut if she’s lucky. That is a sad fact, and a vicious circle to a certain extent, because it’s forcing us to work harder, to study more, to be better, and thus appear scarier to the boys. But they will get used to it, eventually. Our generation may not live to see it, but I am confident it will happen one day. 

Which brings me to the choice of the title of this post. I was uncertain if quoting someone as misogynist as Kipling was a good idea on this occasion, but I am not doing so without irony. This poem is not a “study in natural history”, it’s not a celebration of female tenacity, determination or even intellect; it’s just a scared man’s disguised rant against the universal suffrage. Yes, for a long time, a woman was first and foremost a mother. But then many a men of the universe decided to hit each other with stones and sticks (twice within 30 years) and we were left home to run things ourselves, and guess what, we didn’t really like the idea to hand the affairs back to those who managed to make it back home. I mean, it is a bit pointless to describe a woman as a mother anyway. Same as you would not describe a man primarily as a father. We cannot create life on our own. We cannot fertilize ourselves (thank God, can you imagine the boredom?). It takes two, and both are equally important. This is what we all should realize.

This day, this celebration of women, is about liberty of choice. Our choice. And our right not to be criticized for our choices. If a woman choses to become a mother, it’s her sacred right, same as if she doesn’t. I mean, I don’t see anyone preaching about men who don’t go around inseminating anything that lets them. We don’t want to become men. At least, I bloody don’t (well, I’d be curious to try it for a day and find out what all the fuss about blow jobs is, but that’s a different story).  We don’t want to deny the laws of nature. We just want to have the possibility to freely choose how we want to live our lives and we don’t want our womanhood to be considered as something that should be an obstacle to achieve our dreams. And it shouldn’t be just our fight either. It should be any intelligent human being’s concern. If you are a father to a daughter, what kind of a world would you like her to grow up?

One last thing: it would almost seem that nothing worth mentioning has happened in the world lately, except for Emma Watson’s boobs affair. Get it in your heads that being a feminist does not mean not wanting to appear beautiful. We all want to feel beautiful. For ourselves more often than for the other sex, but that’s not the point. Seriously, in an age where men plug their eyebrows, dye their hair, wear make-up and handbags, someone dares pointing out that an attractive young woman is not feminist enough if she decides to pose for a very tasteful photograph and partially expose her naked breasts? So bloody what? We should be able to wear (or not) whatever we want. I am with Emma on this one. This, too we celebrate today. Our beauty.

Happy International Women’s Day, ladies (and gentlemen)!

Le Violon D’Ingres 2014

*) In most languages, surnames are adjectives, and Czech is no exception. The female form of a surname is created by adding a feminine suffix, most commonly –ová, or –á, to the masculine form. Note the “long” vowel. This means that the female surname remains an attributive adjective, plainly stating a description, exactly as we’d use feminine forms of any other adjective when talking about a woman: short, tall, blond, brunette, ugly, pretty, or part of a particular family (which is why we have surnames in the first place). It isn’t a possessive adjective. It would be, if the a in the –ova was short. But it isn’t, therefore, even raising this “issue” is a sign of utter ignorance.

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