When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.’
I should have expected it, really. It was, after all, a Silent Eye weekend, and I knew from the previous one I’d attended that the themes and ideas would reveal themselves gradually, and in different ways. Last time, for me at least, it was all about emotion – Joy, Sorrow, Awakening. This time, on a weekend entitled Maiden, Mother, Crone, I thought that the energy I’d feel would be feminine. But it was interesting how this seemed to spill beyond the stones to everyday life, to a larger question that is becoming more relevant in our current society – the role of women.
I am a feminist. Of course I am. To me, feminism is about equality. About women having equal access to the liberties and choices afforded to men. Equal pay, equal rights, access to education, to birth control, to travel, to liberty. To a balance in society where each gender is given the chance to reach their full potential, whatever it may be. For so very long now, women have been relegated. To wife of, daughter of, sister of, mother of, as though our worth were somehow intrinsically bound to the men in our lives. Women go to the same universities, take the same degrees, chase the same qualifications, work at the same companies as men. Yet, somehow, we are lesser. We are expected (regardless of whether we want to or are able to) at some point to give it all up to have children, to ‘just get pregnant and leave’ as though recovery from the rigours of pregnancy and childbirth while caring for a tiny helpless child is some sort of lifestyle choice, the ultimate expression of our womanhood and all we are destined for.
I realise, too, that I speak from a place of privilege. That I do have choice in most things. However, there are many others who do not and so, while such imbalance exists, it is up to us to speak out. Our voices are louder now than they have been for thousands of years and with that, perhaps, comes hope. Hope for change, and for balance, another theme revealed on the weekend which, even though I’d only been in Scotland a few hours, had already begun to work its magic.
When I arrived at my hotel in Inverurie I was very early; far too early, I thought, for my room to be ready. But the cheerful woman at reception was more than happy to help me, bringing me a drink and telling me I could get into my room in about fifteen minutes. Having been up since 4:30am to catch my flight, this was welcome news. I had a small amount of time before I had to meet the group, so thought I’d have some lunch and a rest before heading out.
A sleek grey pamphlet caught my eye. ‘Room Twenty One’ it read. It turned out to be a small spa in the hotel and, when I was informed I got a discount for staying there, I decided to book a short massage to relieve the tension of the flight and, also, let’s be honest, as an indulgence.
The young woman who massaged me was friendly and talkative and, I discovered, the best friend of the woman who had checked me in, who turned out to be the daughter of the family who owned the hotel. She was also a single mother and had been offered the job by her friend, enabling her to work around school hours. (Later I heard them talking, her friend asking if her children were all right to be collected from school, her concern gentle and genuine.) Our conversation soon moved to the larger idea of women in society, and how difficult it was to find meaningful work around school hours and childcare, that businesses were missing an opportunity to give educated committed women a chance to work again, even with reduced hours. She spoke of her sister, who had two degrees but was working in a corner shop while her children grew up. She said she was wasted there, far too intelligent, and that she hoped she would get to write the book she’d always wanted to, now her children were getting older. I said I hoped she would too.
When the treatment ended we both expressed how nice it had been to talk, and she wished me a pleasant stay in Inverurie. I went back to my room, got myself ready, and headed out into the grey afternoon to meet the group. I dressed in wet weather gear, carrying spare boots and an extra jacket. We had been promised ‘an introduction to the weekend’, but beyond that no one, except our guides, knew what to expect.…
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