Belfast Telegraph

The sexism, misogyny and inequality that prove we need Women's Day

By Claire Harrison

International Women's Day - what's the point? Do we really need an annual event to ask where society would be without women? Because the obvious answer is that society, of course, would be non-existent without the child-bearers of the species.

Yet we do have to keep asking that question, and frustratingly we do need an International Women's Day to remind the menfolk, and ourselves, that we're still here, still demanding nothing more than equality. International Women's Day, held on March 8 every year, started back in the early 1900s when women were starting to get rowdy about their second-class position in society.

They would perhaps look at their sisters of 2015 and think their fight was won. They might envy our high-flying careers, wrap-around childcare and understanding husbands, not to mention the right to vote, sexual freedom, driver's licences, equality laws, ability to own property and land, free fashion choices, dishwashers and washing machines.

And they would be right to see all that as progress. But scratch the surface and it's clear there's still some way to go in the 21st Century. Do I need to point out that the international worlds of politics and business are almost entirely ruled by men? How many world leaders are women? Very few and those who make it, suffer for it.

Point at a high-profile, successful woman and you point at the victim of sexism and misogyny because those who have made it through a glass ceiling have to take the flack for such temerity.

Take former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, who suffered "really violent ugly sexism" during her time in office. Her hair, dress sense and the fact she had no children were constantly raised as if relevant. She was ridiculed for having "small breasts and large thighs" in one particularly cruel joke. Have you ever heard the size of, say, David Cameron's manhood being ridiculed? Take former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who have held two of the most powerful positions in the world - yet they have both suffered sexist abuse, with Clinton being told by one critic to "iron my shirt".

Take the world of celebrity where high-profile women run the gamut of media commentary on cellulite, post-baby flab and grey roots before they get to talk about their latest work. Take the red carpet at the Oscars where Scarlett Johansson had to tolerate being pawed by John Travolta.

Take Reese Witherspoon - Academy Award winning actress/shrewd businesswoman - begging interviewers there to see her as "more than a dress". In an industry where just 15% of leading roles go to women, Hollywood has a lot to learn.

Take Northern Ireland, where women are vastly under-represented in politics and business (although I have to give kudos to the Belfast Telegraph for this week appointing Gail Walker as the first female editor in its history).

We live in a country where women don't have full control over choices we make with our own bodies, because the male politicians are in charge of that debate. We still live in a society where golf clubs get away with refusing lady members management positions.

We've come a long way in a century - but not far enough.

So, yes, we do need International Women's Day until the balance tips further in the right direction. When that finally happens we can offer the fellas a token International Men's Day to let them reminisce about how they used to rule the world.

Full details of International Women's Day events being held in Northern Ireland this weekend can be found at http://tinyurl.com/oug2nh6

He boldly went to surprising places

It’s often the case that the death of someone famous uncovers a startling fact about them you never knew.

Leonard Nimoy, who died last week at the age of 83, spent his career either playing Spock in Star Trek, trying to escape his association with the sci-fi series or realising he couldn’t escape Spock and therefore embracing it. Of course, he had worked as an actor, director, photographer, singer and songwriter, but like most other people I couldn’t namecheck any of it. So I was stunned to hear he was the director of the 1987 movie Three Men and a Baby — only one of the best movies of the Eighties!

I’m still sweet on no-chocolate diet

I write from exactly halfway through the Great Chocolate Starvation of 2015.

I’m six weeks through a 12-week programme to raise cash for charity by losing weight and I think I thoroughly deserve a pat on the back for sticking (most of the time) to the programme. In something of a miracle, I have only eaten two chocolate bars in the last six weeks.

To put that in context, I previously would have thought nothing of polishing off two in a day. And having lost half a stone so far, I’ve reached a stage where I’m not even missing it anymore. I swear. I really, really swear. How many days until Easter now?

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