A woman's world
Written by Katie Armour, Li-Ann Chin, Ralitsa Bobcheva, Maria Julia Pieracioni
5 March 2021
In 1910 Clara Zetkin attended a conference for working women in Copenhagen. Clara was a feminist, a universal suffrage campaigner and “the grandmother of German communism”. There were 100 women in attendance at the gathering from 17 different countries, and they unanimously agreed with her suggestion for a day to mark women’s achievements. And so, the celebration we now know as International Women’s Day was born.
Clara didn’t pick 8 March – that was inspired by a mid-war women’s strike in Russia – but she did spread an idea that has touched every corner of the globe.
For the week ahead, all of our content at Charlotte Street Partners will have a female focus and we’ll explore this year’s theme – choose to challenge – and how we should all look to apply it.
In this collection of articles, we want to shine a light on the talent and perspective and difference of female writers.
We’re also lucky our inhouse team hails from across the world and here’s a taster of their experiences of this very special day in different places.
Maria Julia Pieraccioni, Italy
I grew up in Rome. On International Women’s Day the women in my family and I would collect bright yellow mimosa flowers in the morning, then proceed to fork down a creamy, decadent mimosa cake at lunchtime. Mix twenty plus eggs, many glasses of full-fat milk, some flour, sugar, and a secret ingredient, and you get the patisserie version of the ‘Festa Della Donna’.
I am reminded of my great-grandmother, who worked her entire life to support her family after my great-grandfather was killed while flying over Benghazi in 1936. And of my great-great-grandmother, who was one of the first university-graduated women in the deep Italian south at the turn of the century. She would later go on to work in senior management positions at a post office, and, coincidentally, was the first to receive the telegraph ending Italian participation in the First World War.
Because, truthfully, that is how we celebrate International Women’s Day in Italy: remembering the stories of the courageous, strong, incredible women that preceded us. After all, it’s the secret ingredient in our mimosa cakes.
Li-Ann Chin, Malaysia
Most south-east Asian societies are predominantly patriarchal in nature. For decades, it wasn’t something anyone really challenged. It was accepted as fact. After all, it’s hard to identify certain norms as oppressive when you’re mired in it.
There has been a recent emergence, however, of female activists and women’s rights advocacy groups seeking to confront issues of gender inequality and campaign for separate policy agendas. In conjunction with International Women’s Day 2020, three hundred protestors gathered for the first time in Kuala Lumpur, demanding for lawmakers to change existing legislation to ban child marriage and protect child brides – a wildly contentious topic in Malaysia. Assembling without a permit is considered illegal. For a culture that prefers women subservient and obedient, it was a powerful act of rebellion.
Ralitsa Bobcheva, Bulgaria
Back home, International Women’s Day, (“8-ми март”) is no average celebration. Rather, it has always carried the spirit of revolution: streets full of flowers; kids reciting poems that they learned especially for the occasion; girls, daughters, mothers, colleagues, and friends buried in flower bouquets, postcards, chocolate bars, frying pans…
Now, having said that, I am also painfully aware that to this day, patriarchal structures remain deeply embedded in Bulgarian society, and these make sustained progress towards gender equality difficult. And, while statistics show that at least 19 Bulgarian women were killed by a violent partner last year, my home country still has no legal measures in place to counteract domestic violence.
This calls for a real revolution, and what better way to start one than with asking the right questions? Hopefully, this week’s reading list will serve precisely that purpose…
1. Where are iconic COVID-19 images?
So many momentous moments in our recent history are defined by the images that accompany them but, in this article, Helen Lewis suggests the Covid-19 pandemic has been strangely bereft of iconic photographs. The steady degradation of our day-to-day lives simply does not lend itself to the same ‘moment in time’ visuals, but this in itself may be helping to fuel misinformation about the virus. If this global tragedy does truly lack a visual language, there is a very real risk our recollections of its everyday horrors could quickly blur in years to come.
Read in The Atlantic.
2. Dancers on leaping into motherhood
The effects of pregnancy and motherhood on a woman’s body are recognised and undeniable. But what happens when you rely on that beautiful, strong, capable body as your means of income?
Lyndsey Winship speaks with dancers, choreographers and directors in her exploration of the unique challenges of becoming a parent in the world of dance. We may have moved on since the days when a dancer would be told “you’re pregnant darling, goodbye!”, but with a reported 70% of performing arts workers considering leaving the sector due to the Covid pandemic, how can the industry ensure it empowers female leaders to take it forward?
Read in The Guardian.
3. Victims of Libyan anarchy
Louise Callaghan is the Sunday Times’ brilliant Middle East correspondent who has kept us up to date on the troubles in Iran, Turkey and Syria throughout the pandemic. She tells tough stories of the hardships of life in conflict zones and always pays attention to the people at the centre of the story. This week’s long read on warlords outside Tripoli looks at the Haroudas family, how their lives have been decimated by Libya’s civil war and how the search for justice has been long and wracked with problems.
Read in The Times.
4. Women on the frontline
Flouting gender stereotypes in a deeply patriarchal society, hundreds of thousands of women have stood at the forefront of Myanmar’s protest movement, sending a powerful rebuke to generals who have ousted a female civilian leader. Three young women have since Wednesday been singled out and shot for civil disobedience. They are now memorialised as heroes.
“Young women are now leading the protests because we have a maternal nature and we can’t let the next generation be destroyed,” said Dr. Yin Yin Hnoung, a 28-year-old medical doctor who has dodged bullets in Mandalay. “We don’t care about our lives. We care about our future generations.”
Read in New York Times.
5. Women and the pandemic
Speaking with working mothers that have filed lawsuits for wrongful termination, Elian Dockterman has used data and statistics alongside anecdotal evidence to unearth the extent to which the pandemic has disproportionately affected working mothers. It is estimated that more than 2.3 million mothers have dropped out of the US labour force since February 2020, a figure that could cost the American economy more than $64.5 billion.
With women comprising an average 41% of breadwinners worldwide, why are the challenges, loneliness, and desperation that affect working mothers still not a collective problem?
Read in Time Magazine.
6. What about all those other women?
Stories of disaster and personal tragedy were at the heart of what kept gossip magazines and tabloid talk shows an all-too-powerful machine in the 1990s and early 2000s. Their victims were often young women who then lacked the means to talk to their fans directly other than through the same media that concocted – and benefited from – those stories. Written by New York Times editor-at-large Jessica Bennett, this fascinating piece explores the rise, fall, and sometimes rise again of all those women who were pointed at and shamed before terms such as accountability, consent, fat-shaming, and mental health became part of the pop lexicon. A useful re-examination that reminds us how far we’ve come, despite the long road still ahead of us.
Read in New York Times.
7. These are the panic years
Many women in their twenties and thirties will know that feeling of pressure and change, of constantly being haunted by the same painfully familiar question: should you have a baby? And if yes, when, how, with whom? In this article, Nell Frizzell not only gives a voice to all women going through this overwhelming and often overlooked experience, but also gives them a common language to describe it. Because “an experience without language is just an experience”, but if we have the name for it, we can trace it, question it, challenge it and suddenly, one day “we have a phenomenon on our hands.”
Read in Tortoise.
And finally… If a woman succeeds, she must be taken down
This from Alice Thomson is a hard read. It’s evidence of the ways in which we systemically contain and berate, abuse and humiliate women in the public eye. We hold them to impossible standards, blame them for the mistakes of men, and mock them when they get it wrong. From Britney to Meghan, Princess Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum to Monica Lewinsky, Amy Winehouse to Diana Princess of Wales; regardless of intelligence or emotion, we want to watch them to fail – or at least we buy into a system that does. On a positive note, the new generation is refusing to play. Of course, it’s a shame that they have to demand a level of respect that they should be entitled to – or, indeed, would be entitled to if they were men – and that is something that will have to change. Progress is slow but it will come. We can all hope.
Read in The Times.