It’s International Women’s Day on March 8th, but 2018 has already been dubbed the ‘Year of the Woman’.
January saw the row about the BBC gender pay gap explode back into the news with the resignation of high-profile reporter Carrie Gracie, in protest at being paid significantly less than her male colleagues for the same job.
On February 6th, we marked the 100th anniversary of women being granted the vote in the UK – or at least, women who were over 30 and owned property; it took another ten years for the vote to be given to all women over the age of 21, on equal terms with men.
And of course, the #MeToo, #TimesUp and latterly #AskMoreofHim campaigns have meant a continued international focus on empowering women to speak out about sexual assault, and encouraging men to be part of that sea-change.
Roller derby has not been immune from this focus. While our world is seen by many, from within and outwith, as a safe space for women, as forward thinking and inclusive, the #MeToo spotlight has now shone on the roller derby world too, as revelations of sexual assault and harassment come to the fore and governing bodies scramble to create statements and new policies.
On one hand, this level of action, awareness and change is encouraging. On the other hand, it’s overwhelmingly grim that there is still this level of gender disparity, that there is still such a fight to be fought – particularly in a space that was predominantly built by women and gender non-conforming people.
So really, what difference can one day in March make?
Having just one day means the focus on that day is about worldwide collective action – and that is a powerful force. Gloria Steinem said, “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”
The Representation of the People Act 2018 was passed after the collective efforts of the women who fought and died for the vote. The BBC are now reviewing their gender pay disparities because of collective efforts. #MeToo has gathered incredible pace because of the deafening volume of the collective voice. There are just three of the many, many collective efforts that have been part of the ongoing fight for gender equality.
And with #MeToo, this collective effort has been because of the power of the hashtag. Social media is often dismissed as a tool for the selfie-obsessed millennial, but it is much more than that. It was reported that post-Weinstein revelations, 4.7 million people around the world engaged in the #MeToo conversation. While it’s important to acknowledge the privilege that goes with regular access to technology and social media, there is no doubt that it is a changing force in the world today, particularly when it comes to activism and identity politics.
And so, with a collective effort combined with social media, International Women’s Day (IWD) can be a stepping stone to real change. And real change doesn’t need to be huge change. Steps can be small, and change can be slow; but it can be progress nonetheless.
The theme for this year’s IWD is #PressForProgress. So much progress has been made in the last hundred years, the last ten years, the last five months… but still there is gender inequality. It can be overwhelming trying to unpack this, so IWD suggest pressing for progress in one or more specific areas within your own sphere of influence:
· maintain a gender parity mindset
· challenge stereotype and bias
· forge positive visibility of women
· influence others’ beliefs and actions
· celebrate women’s achievements
As individuals we might feel we’re already actively working on these, we might choose just one to focus on, or we might choose two or more. We might each interpret them a little differently. But if each of us takes a breath and challenges a stereotypical view of women, for example, then more people will hear that it’s not okay. There’s a powerful five word phrase: what you permit, you promote. If we allow gender disparity or discrimination in any form, however innocuous it may seem, to go by unchecked, the more it is seen by others as acceptable, as the norm. But it is not acceptable, and it is up to us to challenge it.
The conversation around gender, and around equality generally, is an evolving one and as a league, Auld Reekie Roller Girls (ARRG) strives to be open to learning, changing and growing. This is particularly pertinent now, in light of the Scottish Government’s recent consultation on improving the Gender Recognition Act 2004.
ARRG is a women’s roller derby league; we welcome all those who identify as women, trans women, intersex women and/or gender-expansive to train and compete as skaters of ARRG if women’s flat track roller derby is the version and composition of roller derby with which they most closely identify. All genders are welcome to train as skating and non-skating officials, and join as non-skating members in other capacities.
As a league we are explicit in our commitment to equality and positive action, and in our aim to maintain a safe and inclusive environment for all. An important part of this is calling out ourselves and each other; acknowledging when we make mistakes and working on fixing them, learning from them and doing better next time.
We aim to create and maintain a space in which all our members can strive to be the best they can be. We know that for many, being part of the roller derby world has empowered them, given them the confidence and the voice to speak out and to speak up.
As a roller derby league we are part of a positive, unique and revolutionary movement. Every single day we are proud to forge positive visibility of women and gender-expansive folk, and to celebrate our amazing achievements.
And on 8th March, we feel privileged to join the collective efforts of people around the world, and to say that we will continue to #PressForProgress.
(PS. Sometimes, around this time of year, people ask why there isn’t an International Men’s Day. There is.)