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​An open letter to my son about International Women’s Day

​An open  letter to my son about International Women’s Day

The other day I told you that it was soon going to be International Women’s Day. I should not have been surprised that your immediate response to this information was to ask when it was going to be International Kids Day, to which I hastily replied, ‘that would be every day.’

Pretty sure I saw you eye roll me.

I marvel how at nearly eight years of age, there is so much you know about the world. Your love of learning is a pleasure to witness and your curiosity makes my heart sing. You are captivated by science and space, animals and nature. We shield you from the news, but you know of bushfires and earthquakes and at school you have learnt the story of Daniel Morcombe and why his legacy is imperative. You own a face mask, and you understand social distancing and the need to use hand sanitiser. You know what a pandemic is.

Once you saw a picture of Donald Trump and asked me who he was, I told you he was nobody because I was not ready for that kind of conversation.

But there is so much that you don’t yet know and fully understand about the world because when I told you about International Women’s Day, you were sceptical of the concept and questioned why such a day was necessary. Because you are growing up in a home where both of your parents advocate for equality and inclusivity and you see the roles and responsibilities we have at home are not better, just different. What you don’t yet understand though is that outside the safe haven and security of your home and upbringing, there is a world that is still not quite right. Although the day may just be symbolic, it represents the need for us to keep talking, to keep shining a bright light on the issues you know not yet about. I can only hope that it will be your generation that will transcend the limitations and restrictions around gender stereotypes and inequality.

We live in hope.

Though International Women’s Day is a celebration of women and girls and our achievements, what it is also, crucially, is recognition that we are still living in a world where for many, there is nothing to celebrate about being a woman. Because what you don’t know is that there are women and girls who live in fear because of their gender, who don’t have the rights to an education or access to health services. Women and girls who don’t have agency. Women and girls who don’t have a choice and barely have a voice. Women who don’t have equality in the workplace that manifests in ways such as pay gaps, limiting beliefs, lost opportunities and the inexcusable behaviours of others towards them.

Many years ago, I wrote about my thoughts of wanting to raise you as a feminist when around you the T Shirt says, ‘The future is female.’ I am still conflicted by this because whilst the T shirt is empowering for women, it should not throw shade over the decent men, and if I wish for nothing else, it is that I want you to grow up to be one of those. Kind and decent. I want you to treat women with respect, I want you to treat everyone with respect. I want you to open doors for women not because of the patriarchy but because it is the courteous thing to do.

I want you to open doors for all.

But you see, it isn’t enough for me to want all of this for you, but what I hope is that you want to be that person.

You and I had an interesting experience just last week that prompted a discussion in regards to consent. It was one of those parenting moments that, blink and you miss it, because I very nearly did so as not to ‘make a thing’ out of it. When grocery shopping a man came over to me and said, “your tag is sticking out" and he proceeded to tuck it in on my dress. It was a summer dress, so my back was exposed, which meant by tucking in my tag, he had to touch my bare back. Caught in this unguarded moment I was taken by surprise. Unable to comprehend the idea of a wayward tag I could see your confusion and then realised 'Oh, this is one of those parenting moments' so we had a conversation about this man touching me when I didn’t ask him to do so. We talked about how he may have just wanted to be polite, but I explained to you that even if this was the case, what was important was that I didn’t feel comfortable and in this situation, how I felt was more important than this man’s need to fix my tag.

This reminded me of another time, maybe a year ago, when we were playing hide and seek, excited by finding me so quickly, you gave me a hug and without being able to fully comprehend the implications of what you were doing you snapped my bra strap. You thought it was funny and I thought back to high school. I gently and cautiously told you not to do that, to me or to anyone.

You see, I don’t want you to be the teenager in high school snapping the girl’s bra straps.

It is mine and your dad’s job to teach you and show you the way. We want you to grow up without any sense of entitlement and we want you to be one of the good boys. Recognise that good doesn’t mean perfect, that is an impossible standard and good does not mean to be passive. We hope you will stand up for what you believe in and that you stand up for others. We hope that it is true that good boys become good men. We want you to build a tribe of friends who, although they may respectfully challenge your views and your opinions, will ultimately share the same core values as you. A friendship group that grounds you and gives you permission to be yourself and to show your vulnerabilities. There is truth in vulnerability, and this will help you when your days go a bit dark, because inevitably they will. Having difficult conversations is important because when you let things get personal is how we make things get better.

If you choose to be a father one day, I hope it comes at a time when being involved and taking your child to the park or to a play date won’t come with a round of applause because you are being a ‘hands on’ dad.

Someone once said, ‘the standard you walk past is the standard you set’ and the idea of this should act as a guiding principle that I hope you pay attention to. Don’t buy into the ‘boys will be boys’ narrative.

Every day you will have the opportunity to speak up, but equally as important is to take the opportunity to listen. Listen without judgement and as your dad says to you every one morning before you leave for school, “Find someone who needs help and help them.”

Trust me when I tell you that you will benefit from the fact that International Women’s Day exists. There is so much more work to be done and I hope that you will one day play a part in this because it will take a collective effort in doing so.

Happy International Women’s Day my son.

This article also appears on Tracey Montgomery's blog 'Champagne Days.'

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