Today is the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. 60 years on the throne, in three years she’ll be the longest reigning monarch – after Queen Victoria. Two women to be admired for their dedication, commitment and level of responsibility, yet they say that there aren’t enough women in the boardroom because they just don’t operate in business like the men. It makes me wonder sometimes if that is just a bit of a lame excuse.
My niece is six years old and has Cystic Fibrosis. Not everyone knows about the illness, but it’s life limiting and she often has spells in hospital. She’s an example to women everywhere and a smart cookie. I was at the hospital visiting a couple of weeks ago and watched with pride as she used her physio sessions as a bargaining tool with my sister- her Mum – so she could do something she wanted that evening. She is going to be a very strong women when she grows up.
With that, amongst other things, I’ve been reflecting recently on the women (and girls) in my life and the impact, direction and influence they have or have had on me and my life. I wanted to call out the most important ones – here it goes:
1. My Grandmothers
Sorry, it’s going to be a long one. When my Nan died last summer, I wrote a funny poem for her funeral and did a reading in the service. Then, not long ago, I read this great article in Red Magazine by the author Adriana Trigani about her Italian Grandmothers and how they’d shaped who she was and it got me thinking about mine.
Writing the poem helped me to identify with who my Nan was on the outside, but I started to think about who she was on the inside. She got bad press at times my Nan, she pretended she wasn’t that clever and she wasn’t so good at showing her emotions. But I think it was all a big act; I get it, if you act stupid then people won’t go around telling you are, will they? Self preservation. Good call, I’ve used it myself in the past.
But deep down she was solid. She’d come through some hard times and lived the last ten or so years, before she got ill with dementia, on her own – in her not too small house – gardening everyday. She was even stubborn about that, refusing to move out her house when things were getting too difficult. She was tough: she loved to tell us about the time she pushed a girl down the stairs on night watch (apparently with a bag over her head) for saying my Grandad had walked her home (he probably did ;)). But sometimes she let her guard down and you could see how pain had got to her in life.
When Nan died, I started to think more about my Nana who’d died a long time before. I was much closer to my Nan than my Nana when they were alive. My Nana got a lot of bad press, some might say she was just plain mean! I thought that for a long time, even after she’d died.
Her Mum was run over by a bus when she was young and she was brought up by her sister. She had to fight; they had nothing and worked for everything they did have. This stayed with her through her life. She could be really cutting, cruel even and was always complaining.
Reflection led me to a totally different opinion: she was built for survival. Beyond her hard exterior, she was an amazing singer, with a softness and vulnerability not seen in many other ways. Deep down she was sensitive; disguising it by complaining about everything and everybody and developing illnesses left, right and centre. I can see myself in her. She may not always have gone about life in the right way, but she’s definitely with me now as I try to be the best I can be. I can learn a lot from her mistakes and wish I’d seen the things in her life that I’ve seen after her death. But I know she forgives me.
2. My Sisters
Where do I start? Love, spirit, courage and sometimes misguided determination.
As my middle sister reminded us on her wedding day : we are five sisters. She shared the words from the poem Three Sisters, by Francis I Gillespie which sums it up well.
Words can’t easily describe, so more on this story I’m sure, another day.
3. My Friends
Granted, I don’t have that many – my choice. But the ones I have, have all come good.
They’ve battled in the face of adversity, dealt with and accepted love, loss and difficult – often life changing – choices. They’ve pulled through the hard times with dignity and by valuing what really matters.
All would say they’re not so strong. That’s the strongest thing about them, they don’t even realise it. That’s how they achieve great things (though they also won’t think they achieve anything) and why they are my closest friends, who I love and admire.
4. My Dad
Yes, obviously he’s not a woman. But this isn’t really about him at all, it’s about his job. He is a football coach for a top women’s team.
I went to see a game recently and I was amazed at these women’s dedication, commitment and sheer determination. I don’t claim to be a football expert – I’m not even a great fan, but I really enjoyed that game.
Since then, I learnt more about ‘the women’s game’ and what amazes me even more is their achievements when this must be the only sport in the UK where there is such a stark difference in focus and investment between the men and women’s games.
Many of them have to work full time and play outside of work and even though they’re affiliated with top clubs, they don’t play at the men’s grounds. This is very different to the rest of Europe where the club is the club, regardless of the age of gender of the team.
Some of the team play for England, yet earn in a year probably half as much as a male England player earns in a week. Yet they keep going, because they love what they do. Because they know why they are doing it and because they believe in themselves and want to change things.
OK, I can’t change the world of football, but maybe some of these women can. Football fan or not, they demonstrate our strength and grit, as they walk past the Bentleys and Range Rover Sports on their way to a game 20 miles away from their namesake and their fans, week after week. To make a difference.
I probably sound like a raging feminist. I’m not at all – I just believe men and women should have equal opportunities and it’s their choice if they take them or not. I think it is equally strong to stay at home and look after your house (kids or no kids) as it is to be a female CEO.
So please take this how it’s meant: an ode to strong women everywhere, as my inspiration and inner strength. I’m lucky to be surrounded by strong women and I’m a true believe that women influence women more than anyone else,whether through appreciation, admiration, competition, jealousy 😦 or love.
So ladies, let’s be strong together and keep making a small difference in a big world.