– declared Natasha Walter in The Guardian earlier this week, in her column about the centenary of International Women’s Day. Meanwhile, back in my spiritual home of India, Dr Elizabeth Menon‘s piece in The Hindu reminded us that equality for some is still very elusive.
For me, IWD was all about spending the day at a university, at which I spoke and chaired an event called “Breaking Glass”. I heard about the glass ceiling as it exists within academia and learned, not altogether surprisingly, that the issues faced by female staff at universities (reasonably high numbers at entry level, falling away at a career mid point, subsequent difficulties in progressing to the top tier) mirror almost exactly those faced by their sisters in the corporate world.
I used the centenary of IWD to structure my talk around the way in which the world has changed for women since 1911 and the key events and people who have made those changes come about. My brief had been to “make it light”, so I peppered my slides with a few key quotations – some of which I share now.
“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women …”
– Madeleine Albright, the first female US Secretary of State, 1997 – 2001
“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what a feminist is. I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”
– Rebecca West, writer, 1913
“Well behaved women seldom make history …”
– Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, professor at Harvard University
“I wanted to work there because I wanted to become a writer. I was quickly assured that women didn’t become writers at Newsweek. It would never have crossed my mind to object … It was a given in those days that if you were a woman and you wanted to do certain things, you were going to have to be the exception to the rule.”
– Nora Ephron – writer, novelist, film director [on starting her career in 1962]
My favourite quotation, which I didn’t use because I hadn’t then read the originating article, comes from Mariella Frostrup in The Observer, who, in a blistering and truly excellent piece of journalism, reminded us that the struggle is far from over and that, within the closed world of UK politics:
“… there are more blokes called Dave and Nick in government than there are women MPs. Women continue to hover at a steady 19% in the chamber, put off perhaps by a testosterone-fuelled climate where the last two prime ministers’ wives have given up high- flying careers to support their husbands or simply to satisfy the perceived demands of middle England.”
Check it out – one of the best and most impassioned articles on feminism you may read.