By Holly Richardson

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Yesterday, March 8th, was International Women’s Day. It began in 1909 in New York, with a protest against poor working conditions in a garment factory, went international in 1911, and by 1913, the date of March 8th was set. It’s been there ever since.

international women's day origin challenge
New York protest in 1909

This year, although no one can tell me why, there are two themes. The first, from the United Nations, is about leadership. Their website says that the theme for International Women’s Day is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world,” and “celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and highlights the gaps that remain.”

The other theme, promoted by “International Women’s Day” is #ChooseToChallenge. Their website, which also notes that International Women’s Day does not belong to “any one organization,” chose their theme as “A challenged world is an alert world. Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day.” Further, they say “We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.”

You can challenge all sorts of things – you can challenge inequities, challenge bias, challenge assumptions, challenge stereotypes, challenge the status quo, challenge the gender pay gap, and challenge sexism, both hostile and benevolent. You can even challenge yourself. 

At this point, are you asking yourself why that matters to you? Are you busy changing diapers and cutting sandwiches into triangles and have no time for activism? 

I hear you – and – I would also like to suggest that being a mom and raising babies IS an act of activism. I read a new-to-me quote recently that keeps running around in my head. I like it. I think I might have someone on Etsy make it beautiful for me. Wilma Heide, born 100 years ago last week said this: “The hand that rocks the cradle should also rock the boat.” 

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What does that look like when you’re a mom? It can look like advocating for your kids at the doctor’s, at parent-teacher conferences, and at church. It can look like becoming the PTA president, doing reading time at your local library, or writing letters to the editor. It can look like making sure the books in your home reflect diversity – diversity of skin tone and hair texture and of thought. It can look like conversations with your kids about issues in the news. Why do “Black Lives Matter”? Who is George Floyd or Breonna Taylor? What does it mean to “Back the Blue?” How can we be good stewards of our environment? It can also look like running for elected office. That’s a “good trouble” kind of challenge that is scary and stretching and worth it. 🙂 

I want to invite you to challenge yourself – this week, this month, this year. 

  • First, challenge your own silence. Begin using your voice. Speak out against inequities that you see or experience, or that people around you are experiencing. Speak up for issues and people you care about. Remember Elsa in the Disney movie “Frozen 2”? As her muse, her mom sings to her “Step into your power…You are the one you’ve been waiting for.” 
  • Second, challenge your doubts. If you are telling yourself that you “should not” speak up or that you are somehow not qualified, challenge those (faulty) assumptions. Do you have life experience? You are qualified. Do you have an opinion or a perspective? You’re qualified. Please speak up! We need you, even if you find it scary.
  • That brings me to my third challenge. Challenge the idea that courage means the absence of fear. It’s not true. One of the most common roadblocks I hear that keeps people – and especially women – from speaking up is fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of pushback. Fear of offending someone. Fear that no one will listen. Fear that no one will take you seriously. Fear of being vulnerable. 

And you know what? You’re right. It IS scary to speak up, especially on things that matter deeply. Do it anyway. Brené Brown notes that “You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.” Be courageous. Be vulnerable. It’s ok to do things scared. Eleanor Roosevelt counseled us to “Do one thing every day that scares you.” 

  • Fourth, I want to challenge you to become a lifelong learner. Learn about parenting. Learn about writing. Learn about flower arranging, gardening, and food preservation. Learn about organization, time management, or self-care (yes, please). Learn about mindfulness, meditation, and gratitude. Take a class, online or off. Get a(nother) degree. Remember that saying “Yard by yard, it’s hard but inch by inch, it’s a cinch?” You don’t have to get a Ph.D. (unless you want to – I am!) but there is so much we can learn to keep our brains active and young. 

Letting our children see us stretch and challenge ourselves is the best kind of example you can set. How will you #ChooseToChallenge yourself today? Share in the comments below!

Find more REAL TALK W/HOLLY RICHARDSON.

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