What do women want? Millions of men across space and time have pondered the question, Mel Gibson’s had a stab at working it out, and the Spice Girls offered up a questionable answer (turns out they really really really want a zig-a-zag-ahhh). But the question still stands: what do we want, do we really really want?
When a friend sent me a link to the survey What Women Want 2.0 last week, I found myself doing a bit of soul-searching. In 1996, the survey posed the question to 10,000 women: what do you want? 10,000 women expressed their views on how they would like to see their society, and, two decades on, this second survey seeks to see if the same key themes recur: childcare support, media portrayal, equality. The 2.0 survey is sparse: other than gathering some demographic detail, it does just simply ask: what do you want?
What a question! In an unusual turn of events, I found myself lost for words. I want a lot of things. I want free sanitary product provision for women and girls in need. I want more representation for women across employment sectors, boards, parliaments. I want a voice. I want my sons and daughters to live in a society where their gender is an irrelevant detail. But most of all, I realised, I want to be taken seriously.
Again, this was an unusual turn of events. Sanya and I spend a lot of our time trying to make you laugh in order to draw you in to our campaigns (for example, just earlier today, San poured a load of pads on top of me during count-up and filmed a Boomerang as I threw them at my head like a seal in a ballpit). I regularly make a loveable* fool of myself on our social media, in the classroom, amongst my peers. (*Check with friends.) And that’s great: God knows this world needs some laughs, some fun, some levity. But, sometimes, what I really, really want, is to be taken seriously for who I am and what I do.
In our recent interview on BBC 3CR (33.40 onwards), Yasmeen Khan called me and Sanya ‘very formidable young women’. That epithet stuck with me. That adjective, ‘formidable’, tends to have quite negative connotations when associated with women. One pictures a bosomy matron booming across a boarding house; one pictures Margaret Thatcher shouting down backbenchers; one pictures Miss Trunchball swinging a little girl round the playground by her pigtails. But I felt proud to be recognised by a near stranger as a ‘formidable’ woman, if by definition ‘formidable’ does not just mean a bossy, scary, mannish spinster, but instead means ‘inspiring fear or respect through being impressively large, powerful, intense, or capable.’ So in answer to the question what do I want, that is what I want: I don’t want to be underestimated because of my youth or my gender. I want society, my elders, my peers, my MPs, the media to take me seriously.
And this is not just something that affects me. As a gender, we have, for centuries, been wholly underestimated, belittled, and ignored. We have been hysterical, sexually frustrated, PMSing, bleeding, babybrained – the list of convenient excuses for not taking a woman seriously goes on. It is no surprise that only 35% of domestic violence cases are reported to the police when women are unsure whether they’ll be believed, whether their version of events will be accepted. It is no surprise that it can take decades for victims of sexual abuse and assault at the hands of celebrities to report the crimes committed against them, when ill-informed people who do not know them or their suffering will be quick to call them liars or fame-whores before taking their claims seriously, as encapsulated earlier this week by Paris Hilton’s apology for her claims about Donald Trump’s accusers. It is no surprise that the gender pay gap still remains, 47 years after the Equal Pay Act in the UK, when a woman’s work, especially part-time, especially when juggling family care, is completely undervalued.
So it comes as no surprise to me that period poverty is not being taken seriously either. It has been joked that if men had periods, there would be no taboo, but instead pride, competition, every available ease. Period poverty comes at a very uncomfortable cross-section for our society: that between women’s bloody vaginas and their lack of money.
MSP Monica Lennon is spearheading a fantastic campaign to make sanitary products free for girls in schools in Scotland. It seems like a no-brainer, right? Period poverty should be something we can eliminate. Girls can’t afford pads and thus missing school? Then give the girls and the schools the pads for free. But for the h8rs and the doubters, period poverty is another myth created by the left-wing feminist agenda. ‘Is this really a thing?’ they cry. ‘We’ve never spoken to a woman who can’t afford this luxury-taxed monthly expense!’ But stigma and taboo are ingrained, and this is not an issue that, until recently, people have dared to bring to the fore.
Thankfully, with voices like Lennon’s, the tide is turning. Period poverty is trending. The media is no longer afraid to ride the red wave, and period poverty is making a regular appearance in newspapers and even film (see last year’s I, Daniel Blake). This week, The Last Leg: Correspondents featured an excellent short with Cariad Lloyd, petition-writer Amika George, and our fellow period pugilist, Gabby Edlin from Bloody Good Period, explaining exactly what period poverty is and how we can fight it. But the doubting Thomases still rose, as you can see in this exchange between our partner organisation Freda, politican David Vance and everybody’s favourite anti-feminist Julia Hartley-Brewer. ‘I know the facts,’ tweeted Hartley-Brewer, ‘and I still think it’s nonsense.’ Here are some of the facts H-B deems ‘nonsense’:
Period poverty is not nonsense. Gender inequality is not nonsense. What women want is not nonsense. Start taking us seriously. Until then: I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want:
Until next month,