The first time I consciously remember realising there was a difference between boys and girls (apart from the obvious differences in appearance and body parts) was when as child I questioned why girls’ bikes were shaped differently to boys’. I was curious to understand why the cross bar was slanted on a girls’ bike, but horizontal on a boys’. I don’t recall the exact response, but it was something to do with the contrasting ways girls and boys supposedly mounted and dismounted bikes. Boys were to swing their legs round the back wheel, whereas girls could hitch their leg across the front of the seat, which was apparently easier.
Growing up in a sporty family with three younger brothers, physically I did most things my brothers did. We all ran, swam, played backyard cricket, jumped on the trampoline and went on bushwalks. Undoubtedly my brothers were more skilled at swinging a cricket bat, while doing flips on the trampoline was more my gig. But in the realm of athleticism, I didn’t see that I was too different to my brothers. I didn’t see that I needed to get on my bike in a different way than them either, so I resolved to always mount my bike the ‘boy’s’ way.
This experience and others all fed into my development of a ‘girls can do anything’ kind of attitude. I went on to excel at competitive sport and academic pursuits, to travel the world (including undertaking several solo adventures), to work in male dominated sectors, often using my feminine prowess to succeed (like the time I sweet talked a stubborn farmer to allow us to access his land to take stream water samples; many other consultants had been trying to get access to his land for months. He even gave us a lift in his four wheel drive!). It’s only been in recent years that I’ve started to embrace some of my more feminine qualities that I’d kept hidden before and to harness them more fully in my life.
Along the way, there have been many influential women and men who have supported me, offering insights, ideas, strategies, suggestions. As a woman interacting in predominantly male dominated arenas, there have been challenges. For example, dealing with having my period during a remote mountain bike race, where the field was composed mostly of men. Or at work when I successfully recruited a less experienced male to work under me, who then proceeded to negotiate with management, a salary which exceeded my own by quite some measure. Reflecting on these moments after the recent International Women’s Day makes me realise that there are so many seemingly minute occurrences in women’s lives which gradually accumulate to inequality.
Rather than dwelling on the unfairness of it all: I have lived and continue to live a life full of opportunities that many other women don’t have access to, I’d like to suggest a broader pathway. I wholeheartedly believe that we need to continue to support and empower women and girls to realise their dreams and to remove the structural, cultural and social barriers stopping this from happening.
In parallel, it is imperative that we acknowledge all the amazing men, the grandfathers, uncles, brothers, sons, fathers, friends and colleagues, who already honour, respect and support women in their lives. Because I believe that to achieve better equality, we need not to simply elevate the status of women, we also need male role models who live with integrity, who can show our young men how to be decent humans. Men who are sensitive, empathetic and respectful of women.
Let’s celebrate everyone who embraces equality in a way that supports others to flourish, regardless of their gender. Much gratitude to all the women and men who’ve been part of my journey so far and have left imprints small or large.