Last week when out of one of my 5km loops around the local park, my running playlist brought up ‘I will make a man out of you’ from the Mulan soundtrack. At first, I was pleased to be reliving a bit of Mulan in a nice throwback to my childhood, I had always loved that film (ehem…General Chang). That was until I listened to the lyrics ‘did they send me daughters when I asked for sons’. Hmmm…? As a child growing up in the 90’s, I was exposed to a warped sense of gender, expectations and stereotypes. Suddenly, Lady and the Tramp was more than a pair of loved-up dogs! Cinderella – 4 women, bickering, backstabbing and only out for the hand of the Prince. Princess Jasmine – forced into an arranged marriage. I could go on… I suddenly realised I hadn’t had any female role models growing up. Society had conditioned me by painting pretty pictures of handsome men who would come and save me from whatever mess I currently found myself in. Car problems, DIY, those bags that are SO heavy and the sports games I could never understand. I am always surprised by the look on a man’s face when I politely hold a door open for him – its like I have just questioned his manhood! As a young girl, I had looked up to men. Sure, there had been women I was aware of but nothing that meant I idolised them. I was saddened by this.
My thoughts drifted (as they normally do mid-run) to how much perception has changed in the years since I was growing up. Yet, sadly the mentality still remains. I am not a feminist, I prefer equality. I believe women should be taken seriously and should be given the same opportunities as their male counterparts. A popular view that is quickly catching on and spreading all over the world. Rhonda Rousey is a prime example of this – she has not taken no for an answer – even in a male-dominated profession. Women who break barriers and can stand out and stand proud. I can guarantee – all women at least once in their lives have been victims of sexist behaviour. Put down, questioned or dismissed because they are a woman.
When we look at sports – how is it that an elite women’s cyclocross race is 4 laps long yet the men race – 9? Why is it that the men’s prize pot at the worlds cycling championships in Richmond was €83,331 but the women’s was €25,664? Why are women’s events not televised but the men’s are put on prime time? What message does this send? I didn’t start to think about these things until I was a bit older, maybe I was just blissfully unaware of the strange status quo. I had just assumed this was normal, part of being a woman? It is so funny to think of it like that now, and I am glad that there has been a shift in behaviour and a new understanding of what is equal and fair.
I am so incredibly proud of women who come forward, who stand up and who pave the way for equality.
Last year whilst partaking in the Ride London, I was cycling through a small town, spectators had come out to the side of the road to watch as the cyclists went by. I saw a little girl no older than 6 squeal to her mum – ‘look, mum, its a girl, a girl is cycling!’ as she reached out her hand I was shocked to find she was talking about me! It damn near broke my heart! I gave her a friendly nod and a high 5 and carried on. The fact that that little girl had been so pleased showed me we can all be role models. I don’t see myself as particularly impressive in any way and am far too hard on myself to call myself a ‘role model’ but it does go to show, that by showing up, by encouraging others and by adding your voice to the change perception, we can all set a good example for the younger generation as well as other women who have felt their voices would never be heard.