Happy International Women’s Day!
I come from a long line of strong independent women. Growing up my Nan and my Mother were always a source of inspiration to me.
My Nan came from Deal in Kent and, when she finished school, she made the decision to move to London for work.
Her family was not wealthy and could not afford to hop on a train to visit her, there were no telephones and she would not be able to afford to go back to visit them for some months.
At that time the only way she could stay in touch was to write to them – so to her, it felt like moving to the other side of the world.
It was not a decision that she ever regretted. I remember her telling me about this when I was having a major wobble about going on my GAP year to New Zealand.
What had seemed like an exciting adventure when I signed up suddenly felt like a very daunting prospect and the thought of leaving all my friends and family, everyone, and everything that was familiar to me behind, just made me want to cry.
But when I spoke to my Nan and she told me all about moving to London on her own, she spoke about how she had enjoyed her new-found independence.
She explained how great it had felt to be earning her own money, making lots of new friends, and making decisions for herself.
She said that at times it had felt lonely, that she had missed her friends and family, but that whenever she did she just wrote them a letter. And of course, she met my Grandad, who she later married on the first Sunday of peace.
She reminded me that my friends and family would not be going anywhere, that I could still write to her whenever I wanted and that they would all be waiting for me when I came back.
My Mum has always been a constant source of inspiration to me as well.
She has always been a feminist and I was brought up in no doubt that I could do whatever I wanted to do.
As a little girl, I did not conform to gender stereotypes, preferring to help my Dad with the DIY than to help in the kitchen.
My first words were “oily spark plugs”, thanks to the dodgy outboard engine on the little canal boat we had.
My mum showed me what it meant to be a working woman while raising a family.
She juggled her career in education and the school run, working her way up over the years until she finished her career as head of a small independent school.
I know that throughout her working life, particularly in her early years fresh out of university, in a sales role, she faced sexism in the workplace, but she always met it head-on.
She taught me to stand up for myself, and to never let the “boys club” stand in my way.
As well as my immediate family there have been numerous female public figures who have inspired me. Some of these may well be quite surprising to hear.
Becoming a teenager in the late 90s I was inevitably obsessed with the Spice Girls. I love their music (don’t judge me), and I found their message of “Girl Power” really inspiring.
It made me feel that yes, I could do anything I wanted BECAUSE I was a girl, that I could stick together with my girlfriends, get out there in the world and achieve it.
I had huge ambitions as a teenager and really did feel that I had “girl power”. I still do!
Another inspiration for me has to be Beatrix Potter. I was obsessed with Peter Rabbit as a child and indeed all of her stories, and out of the fascination with Peter Rabbit was borne a fascination with the author.
Beatrix Potter was really quite a trail-blazer in many ways and forged a path for herself as an independent woman at a time when really very few women lived independently from the incomes they created.
Not only was she a highly successful published author, but she also pushed and created a lot of the merchandise herself, making Peter Rabbit the world’s oldest licensed literary character, and that is before we even look at her conservation work!
Of course I think I am very lucky to be living in a time where there are a lot of inspirational female figures in the public eye.
If you turn to politics I think that New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern has become an international inspiration for women everywhere.
She has shown us all that is possible to rise to the top in a man’s world and stay there.
She is probably one of the most highly respected heads of state in the world. I cannot think of many of my friends from quite a broad political landscape who would have bad things to say about her. In the world of politics I think that speaks volumes.
I have been, and always will be, a feminist. In this country, certainly, women may be equal in the eyes of the law, but there is still a huge amount of work to be done before we are equal financially, in our careers and domestically.
So often it is commonplace for women to now be working full time, and have primary responsibility for childcare and housework.
Women have become a dab hand at juggling our time and our lives to fit everything in.
There is still a lot of work to be done on stereotypes and attitudes before we can become truly equal members of society, but we are getting there.
We are certainly a lot further on than when women of my Nan’s generation had to give up work because they got married.
Even in my lifetime, I have seen huge cultural shifts. Page three of The Sun, for example, is no longer acceptable, but used to be commonplace for tabloid newspapers.
I remember when I was younger it would have been acceptable for men to wolf-whistle at a pretty young woman walking past, but nowadays it is rare for that behaviour to be tolerated.
Slowly but surely ingrained cultural sexism is being stamped out. But we’re not there yet.
So this International Women’s Day I would like to celebrate working women everywhere. You are all amazing, you are all incredible.
I am proud to call some of you my friends, I am proud to call some of you my relatives, and I hope to know many more of you in the years to come.
Here’s to you.