Today is International Women’s Day. I’d never heard of this day until recently, and from what I understand, it is meant to “inspire women and celebrate achievements.” I wanted to write about someone famous and inspiring, but I’m not really qualified. So I decided to write about the women I know.
My sister Lori sent me a quote by George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), that I found relevant to my thoughts for today.
“There are few prophets in the world; few sublimely beautiful women; few heroes. I can’t afford to give all my love and reverence to such rarities: I want a great deal of those feelings for my every day fellow-[wo]men, especially for the few in the foreground of the great multitude, whose faces I know, whose hands I touch.”
I’m excited to teach my kids, particularly Miriam, about remarkable women from history. I want her to be inspired by Joan of Arc, Marie Curie and Amelia Earhart. But I also want Miriam to know that she doesn’t have to change the world to be a remarkable woman. She is surrounded by inspiring women, whose stories and examples are worth celebrating today, and every day.
I asked five women, all from different countries and now embracing life in London, all mothers I’ve met at my kids’ school,
“What difficulties have you overcome in your life, professionally, socially, or personally, so that you could accomplish your goals and make a good life for yourself?”
“I’ve overcome a personal difficulty by making the decision to move from my home in Ireland, to London with my family.
The main difficulty I had was the fear of change and what it would bring, not having a support network and starting from scratch was a scary thought. I can now say that I am happy I made the decision.
My partner is secure in his job, my daughter is happy in school and I have recently gone back to study myself.
Overall I feel it was the best decision and I’m glad I overcame my fear of change.”
“One of my hobbies is reading and some of my friends will argue that I am addicted to books. However, it wasn’t always that way. As a child I encountered considerable difficulties learning to read. I left primary school unable to read. As a child I felt like nobody at primary school cared about me because I was too stupid and was an illiterate migrant child. Ironically it was my maths teacher in secondary school that taught me how to read. I have always been good in maths but was struggling with my word problems. She met me twice a week for a year after school. She was so great! Not only she taught me how to read but also empowered me. I was 14 when I read Vipère au Poing, my first book. I had a great sense of achievement not only in finishing the book but in being about to connect with the hero. Because Miss Turpin was in my school to cover maternity leave, she left after a year. Before leaving she offered me box full of books. Miss Turpin was such a great person! I owe her so much. She was always patient with me and always took the time to listen to me. Much more than teaching me to read, she taught me that I was capable of great achievements with hard work and lots of dedication. She helped me build my confidence in tackling any challenges in every area of my life. I met Miss Turpin almost 20 years ago and ever since then I believed in myself. I never saw Miss Turpin again but I have always kept her in my memories and my heart.”
“In southeast Asia, it is a massive vibrant community who thrive on getting together to eat and drink. Any time out of work involves hanging out with friends. With Singapore being so small, there is always an element of six degrees of separation where everyone kind of knew each other. When we moved to London in 2007 from southeast Asia, it was difficult to adapt as we had no family and few friends here. I found it a struggle to understand why you had organise to meet up with friends sometimes 6 weeks in advance and not on a whim, which is what I was used to. It took some time to fathom and adjust my mindset. Once I started meeting people, i managed to develop friendships in different circles with people who were like minded. This not only helped with the loneliness I initially faced when we moved here but broadened our circle of friends such that there’s always someone to catch up with or talk to – and for that I am very grateful.”
“In my previous career I was able to accomplish all that I intended too, although not without a struggle. As a Legal Account Manager it took me to prove myself as a woman in a male dominant environment and not only that, a young black woman. I worked in a position surrounded by young white men. I would often be judged and had to prove myself by not only meeting targets but exceeding them. In my first few years I would see people with less experience go up the ladder at a much faster rate and they would get the best clients. I managed to turn things round by taking the least liked client and making them into one of the most profitable. I am proud of the achievements that I made in my career. When I left my position to have my baby, I was the highest earning Account Manager, managing the largest team in my company. This was achieved by not allowing those people who judged me as a young black woman to influence me, instead I chose to prove what I was able to achieve and gain respect from my peers in doing so.
Being successful in my career was always so important to me but now after having my son, the drive I once had had dimmed slightly. I now use that drive I used to have for work in other areas of my life. Having a child gives you so much perspective. It changes you so much and all of a sudden what used to be so important is now hardly thought about.”
“I never define clear goals, it is more aspirational- it has to do with a tendency I feel to move forward. I always want to know more, and to do better the things I do. That is why I am here.
I wanted to do research on museums. I started my PhD in Romania, but social sciences are not so developed there. My husband and I started our degrees together, but we decided to do it at two separate universities. The power relations in the family, in every family, conflict with the work relations. It is always good to have independence. I see work as a kind of freedom.
Kids. Every time I have had a child, money and prosperity came to me. It is not an easy thing to do to have kids and work. I must confess I have moments where I can not cope. But kids give you wisdom. For me it has been okay to have kids and to do my PhD at the same time. I don’t think it is fair for women to be obliged to stay home if the family can not afford to pay for childcare. I think we are living in a world with too much pressure and too much competition. I think we should all work less, earn less, and spend less.”
It didn’t seem fair to ask women to open their hearts if I wasn’t willing to do the same.
“I’ve realized in my life that many of the difficulties I face and overcome, are my own insecurities. They perpetually get in the way of my confidence, my willingness to try new things, my ability to make friends and my courage to be myself. I look too young. I have too many children. I’m not intelligent enough. I have too much. I have too little. I’m too religious. I’m narrow minded.
Moving to London has given me the opportunity to sink or swim. Daily I make a choice to stay isolated and protect myself from the [perceived] judgement of the world, or to live honestly and openly and allow myself to see, and really be seen.”
I believe that in sharing our stories we find that our ability to relate to each other spans cities, continents and cultures. We are all women. We have more in common than we think. We have so much to offer, to the world and to each other.
I’m grateful for inspiring women in my life, those I know up close and those I know from a distance. I’m grateful to the brave women who were willing to share their experiences for this post, it takes courage and vulnerability. Like Evans – let’s not reserve our reverence for the women who changed the world only, but let’s give our love freely to those whose faces we know.