Less judgement and more celebration of women’s achievements should be the order of the day, argues Dani Martin.

Former WA Attorney General Cheryl Edwardes speaks at an IWD event on 8 March. Photo: Dani Martin.

I started the day on 8 March feeling quite disappointed, as I lost myself down a social media rabbit hole.

First, I read about how we shouldn’t have cupcakes on International Women’s Day because cupcakes are a symbol of the ‘fetishization of domesticity’ and ‘an attempt to reclaim a femininity associated with petite prettiness and subservience’. Then I read a Twitter thread started by Lisa Prior with people commenting that business breakfasts celebrating International Women’s Day were inappropriate for women, because they didn’t take into account childcare arrangements.

At a moment in time when we should be celebrating women’s achievements, instead I was reading articles telling women how they should be celebrating, and that cupcake-loving, non-mother women (like me!) were ruining it for everyone else with our sweet treats and fitting activities around work commitments. Are there any food restrictions on men’s celebrations? And does having a morning event in close proximity to public transport mean that those of us who find the morning more suitable as it does not impact our working hours, are elitist, out of touch, and non-diverse? Again, would men be judged for the timing of a professional networking/development/mentoring event? Or would it just be assumed that those who can attend do so, and those who have other commitments don’t. It was really disappointing to start the day with judgements on who and what and how International Women’s Day should be celebrated. Not to mention Van Badham’s depressing quiz on equality. It’s enough to send you back to bed!

But I did eventually put the phone down, and I did attend a really good event at the WA Institute of Architects’ office courtyard. The setting was really lovely, and we heard from Cheryl Edwardes, former Liberal MP and Western Australia’s first female Attorney General. I didn’t know much about Cheryl before this event, and a quick internet search doesn’t reveal much more, unfortunately… Her personal story of juggling parenthood and parliament was fascinating, and her anecdotes provided a lot of lessons for us in the audience. Cheryl spent a lot of time away from her family due to the rigours of the job, but still ensured her family was her priority and were taken on the journey of her career. I liked that no matter what, she made time for family dinner, knowing you can’t get that precious time back. And that her children grew up meeting politicians and discussing relevant current affairs on a regular basis. What an incredible experience, utilising your professional experience to enrich your children’s evolution. I believe these issues – of juggling family time and engaging with all the sticky elements that make up the collective lives of a family – are something we can all relate to.

Cheryl handed on some lessons from her experience in politics, business and her personal life, including being open and honest and not fearing communicating contentious information. She called upon us all to push past our comfort zones, and to realise that sometimes confidence comes after taking the first step. It was interesting she also focused on appreciating our unique differences as women – everybody brings something different to the table and it’s essential to embrace that.

I am really glad I attended this event to hear from an extraordinary speaker who was approachable and charted a successful career from seeming humble beginnings, unlike many of her legal and political peers. It was truly inspirational.

But, as you often see at these events, the event audience was very much female-centric. Which was a shame, as it was a really good talk on leadership, business, family, management and industry. I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t have got something out of it, and I think many men would have really appreciated the discussions around quotas and changing policy and self-reflection about our unconscious biases and beliefs. I was talking to my partner about why so few men chose to attend and he said if he saw an event advertised as an ‘International Women’s Day’ event, he would think it was for women only. So, it seems there is a marketing issue with events like this, and I wish I could figure out how to change that implication that a IWD event is not inclusive of all genders. In this instance, it was merely a celebration of a remarkable leader in our society, and her journey of achievement.

I would love to see both men and women appreciate this day as a chance to reflect on the great things that can be achieved by both genders working together. There is still a way to go – we are represented in parliament by a woefully unbalanced ratio of women politicians, female sportspeople get paid significantly less than male sportspeople, females are at substantially higher risk of violence and sexual assault, and stereotypes still abound about what we can all achieve. This is why we push for recognition of this day, to celebrate how far we’ve come, but also to raise discussions and critique of how far we still have to go.

As always, I was asked this week ‘but when is International Men’s Day?’ Besides the fact there is actually a day for this (November 19 this year), my hope for the future is that IWD becomes obsolete as we work towards true equality, and we won’t need either day. We won’t need a day where we have to convince people women are still struggling in our society, when globally girl students are enrolled in school just as much as boy students, and when career and family choices are equal for both sexes. Well, a girl can dream!

Dani Martin is Associate Director at Perth-based EIW Architects. She is interested in learning space design, environmental responsibility and the promotion of our profession. This article was originally published on the author’s blog Happy Work Life Balance.