What makes a woman ‘difficult?’ Thanks for asking (finally!)
A message for anyone who thinks we should have had International Mens' Day...
What shall I do to mark International Women's Day? I thought to myself on Sunday.
Actually, this is a lie. I forgot that it was International Women's Day, mainly because I stayed off social media. But as it turned out, I marked it quite well.
I took myself to the cinema to watch Military Wives; a predictable but ultimately uplifting film about how women coming together to deal with difficult situations are infinitely more powerful and magnificent than women trying to deal with the pain and struggles of their lives on their own.
The film shows the daily anguish of women left behind when their husbands head off to a war zone.
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The mother whose son was killed on the last tour. The young newly-wed who arrives at the base lonely and bewildered. The mum whose teenage daughter is far more difficult to handle when her dad is away. The woman in a same-sex relationship, who has to remind everyone that it's not just husbands they are waiting for, but wives as well. And the young mum who sums it all up when she hears her small son say to his father on the night he leaves, 'Daddy? Who will read my bedtime story when you're gone?'
All the women in the film just get on with it. They calmly respond to the daily fear of the telephone. They quietly bring their children inside when the death police arrive on the doorstep of the woman next door.
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They cope alone with whatever life throws at them. But it is better when the load is shared.
The choir the women start is riven with power struggles at first. We see how women can work against each other just as effectively as they can provide mutual support.
This is important because sometimes we women are our own worst enemies, judging each other, thinking, 'It's easy for her to say', when of course we know nothing of what really goes on behind closed doors.
There is also a man in the film who facilitates their efforts to sing at the Royal Albert Hall. He is important too, not because he wants the credit, but because he can see what they are doing by themselves and it makes him feel good to have played even a very small part.
The significant others in the film are all supportive of their wives. This, perhaps, is the one element of the film which isn't common to the experience of all women. Not everyone has a loving partner, as I was reminded when I saw the musical Waitress at the Adelphi Theatre in London on Saturday.
This is the story of a woman trapped in an abusive relationship who finds herself pregnant; but she too, like the Military Wives, finds her strength from kind people; her female friends, and an elderly male customer, who is alert enough to see the life she is living below the surface, who reaches out and helps her find her way.
Both of these cultural experiences, as it turns out, made me feel I had thought about the female experience for Women's Day.
To the men who say, 'What about International Men's Day?' I refer them to the comedian Richard Herring's one-man Twitter battle each year, when he spends the day raising money for Refuge by letting all these men know that, actually, there is one, on November 19. OK?
I also spent International Women's Day cooking tea for the person I love, not because he asked me to, but because I chose to, and I knew he would be hugely grateful and not mention my culinary inadequacies - which are legion - even once!
If you celebrated the day, or don't see the point of it at all, I would say, there is always value in taking time to think about people for whom choice is a luxury, not a right.
The single mother who gives her children a home-cooked meal each evening but gets by on soup.
The widow who sees no future now that the one she planned has been taken away.
The wife who is shouted at and demeaned, daily, but feels she cannot leave because she can't afford to and doesn't want her children to come from a broken home.
The woman who fights serious illness daily, but never takes a day off sick, nor complains when others do for far less.
The girl who is leaving her job because of the inappropriate behaviour of her boss.
The grandmother who hasn't seen her beloved grandchildren in years.
The woman who thought her pension would kick in years ago.
The mother who lives in daily fear that her sick child will die.
The girl who is mocked for her looks on social media and sees only her own 'ugliness' when the ugliness is really elsewhere.
I know women like these.
I know that they are often described as 'difficult' by people who know nothing of what they endure behind the scenes.
You will know them too. Women who sometimes snap but who very rarely reveal what is stretching the coil.
Whether because of International Women's Day, or because you want to think of yourself as a good person, I'd ask that you give all the difficult women you know a break today, tomorrow and every day.
Better still, ask them what's really wrong?. Because, you see, people very rarely do.
But when they do, it can make all the difference in the world.