Growing up in Ireland in the 1970s, 80s and 90s I was very aware of how frustrated and disappointed my mum felt to have been unable to realise her own ambitions, her own dreams and to fully explore her own talents. At the time, I didn’t fully understand what had stopped her.
Like many women in Ireland, my mum had to give up her civil service job when she got married in accordance with the 1933 “Employment of Married Women Act”. The ‘Marriage Bar’, as it was known, was initially introduced during a time of high unemployment but the bar remained right through to 1973 when it was eventually repealed. A year later, another act which made it only possible for fathers to collect a couple’s ‘Children’s Allowance’, was also repealed.
At an age when young women today are only starting out in their careers, my mum’s career was cut short by a chauvinistic state. Married women largely couldn’t earn an income, could not collect their own children’s allowance, could not sit on a jury and could not buy contraceptives.
It’s hardly any wonder that the message my mother impressed upon me throughout my childhood was one of ‘independence’. While she stayed at home, cared for our family and eventually set up her own play-school business, the consistent message she gave to me was to work hard, embrace every opportunity, fight limitations and always be financially independent.
It has influenced almost every decision I have ever made. I was encouraged from a very young age to be industrious, take on part-time jobs where-ever I could, which started with me clipping holly from trees and selling them in bags to the neighbours at about 10 years of age! Both my parents were keen for me to understand the value of money and the importance of making your own. I never once considered my gender and how that would or could influence my ambitions. I wasn’t a ‘girly’ girl (whatever that is), I wasn’t treated like a ‘princess’ (nor did I want to be). I climbed the highest trees with my brothers (higher in fact!), delivered the paper round and had legs that were constantly laced with cuts, bruises and nettle stings. I loved adventure.
Of course as I have navigated through the adult and working world I have sadly seen the fall-out of years of female repression in Ireland and the gender stereotyping that surrounds it. Thankfully I have never let it hold me back and I credit my determination, work ethic and passion to the values that my parents instilled in me since I was a young child. I am now a Marketing Director and mum to two beautiful children who warm my heart every day.
But as a parent, I have always known that the power to challenge and change gender stereotypes and prejudices lie within us and our children. My husband and I have raised our two children to follow their passions and talents and to be who they want to be. This approach has nurtured a curiosity in both of them and I am proud and amused to hear my nine year old daughter challenge stereotypes every day. Most recently she cornered an attendant in a clothes apparel store on the logic of ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Minecraft’ T-shirts being only stocked in the ‘boys’ section. And why all the ‘girls’ clothes are mostly pink, glittery and princessy? My six year old son on the other hand, has rejected sport and immersed himself in a world of art and imagination. That’s his ‘thing’. Neither of my children ‘fit’ the societal mould and expectations for what ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ ‘should’ be or are ‘meant’ to be. My hope and dream for both of them is that #yesSHEcan and #yesHEcan be and do whatever and wherever their hearts take them without judgement.
It is fear, judgement, isolation and intolerance what will hold us back as people and societies. We need to focus on nurturing and developing beautiful minds, building empathy, tolerance and creating a world where people can flourish for their talents and their dreams no matter who or what they are. My mum’s eyes have filled with pride as she has seen me grow into the independent women she could not be, and it is this pride and my hope for a better future, that drives me on in everything I do. #yesSHEcan #yesHEcan