When I was 12, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. It was always one of two careers, writing or being in the Navy.
Ideally, if I could combine the two, I thought I would be ready for life.
My career choices were just that – mine. I have not been influenced or pushed into any particular avenue or endeavor by anyone. Well, I thought or was led to believe.
In retrospect, I had been brought up at a time when female career choices weren’t really choices but rather selection chosen by patriarchal society wrapped in a box, tied with a bow. As young girls embarking on womanhood, we had to choose from the contents of the box given to us and the card usually said “Girls can do anything”. What he should have said was “Girls can do anything – inside the fences”.
International Women’s Day is celebrated around the world in many countries in different ways. It is a public holiday in Eastern Europe, Asia and some African countries. In Western countries, Britain and North America, this is not the case. I do not know why.
The day has been recognized since the early 1900s and was officially marked by the United Nations in 1975. The theme for 2022 is #Break the Bias.
“It is a global day to recognize and celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and girls. This is also a time to share progress towards gender equality and the work that remains to be done,” says the Government of Canada’s Women and Gender Equality website.
Ahhhh… equality – a word with so much power. During my formative years in the 1980s and 1990s, I was brought up on the adage that women were equal. I never questioned it. My parents told me that. My teachers at my girls’ school told me. My girlfriends have all experienced and believed this. We were going to live a life of female emancipation.
But in 1987, I learned that I had been deceived by a message that was not complete. One that looked like a diseased tree trunk requiring a decision to be cut down or to be healed and cared for to regain health. The results could go either way.
When I joined the navy at 17, there were two girls in the regional admission tests and interviews. Me and another in a room of maybe 12 men also vying for positions in the nautical forces. I can’t remember the other girl’s name now, so I’ll just call her Kaha. It is the Maori word for strength and perseverance.
We spent lunch hours and breaks during the few preliminary admission days together. I told him that I was applying for a position in the communications division. She told me she was applying for a job as a hydrographer.
My eyes widened and I pointed out to her that this was a position aboard the ship, did she really want to be in the navy? She smiled at me. She already knew what I was saying because she had been turned down before. She was convinced that was what she was going to do, so she tried again.
At that time, women were not allowed to serve on ships. I was so determined to be a “career woman” that I chose a career path within the parameters of what I was told as a girl that I was “allowed” to choose from. I never thought of applying for anything outside of the box. I chose from this box, I had been “gifted” as a “privilege”.
Kaha chose to step out of that box, ignore patriarchal parameters and assert herself as a true equal. She wanted to show that women could do anything, even outside the fences.
I lost contact with her after those first sessions, but her message influenced my life.
I met her a few years later when I was studying media at university, pushing my daughter’s stroller. Kaha was on shore leave visiting family. I was so proud to learn that she was one of the first women in New Zealand to be accepted into her ‘chosen’ career field and ‘allowed’ to serve aboard a ship. We joked about how something as simple and natural as women’s hygiene sent a stilted male institution into a frenzy.
She pushed that traditional boundary and paved the way for women’s equality in a male-dominated industry. She understood, better than me at the time, that women really could do anything. My eyes were opened to the fact that even in western society, up until the early 1990s, when women were told they could do anything, they were really told they could do anything. anything in the “choices” offered to them by society.
Fortunately, ideals and values regarding women’s abilities and contributions have strengthened and grown to become the foundations of our society. Fences are falling, prejudices are being shattered, many parameters have been removed, and those bow boxes have been gutted so that young women truly have a choice and are equal.
This is what International Women’s Day means to me.