As a woman in a senior position working through a global disaster, I had to hide how hard it was

Growing up in a fairly affluent, predominantly white suburb of north London I never fully grasped what it meant to live in a patriarchy. I understood the theory and knew there was a difference between men and women, of course I did. I work in an industry that is predominantly led by men and I have eyes that can see the many inequalities that exist, but I never fully experienced just how much society was designed for and benefiting men. That is until I lived through a global pandemic.

Let me start by saying that I am a 38 year old woman with a gender balanced home life who has made a successful career in perhaps one of the few companies that in many situations values women more than it does men. This is something that I do not take for granted and I’m aware that perhaps my perspective is rose tinted compared to many, which makes things far far worse. But the fire in my belly that I currently feel in July 2021 will not be ignored, climbing out of my throat in a hot vomit that needs to find a page to land on so it doesn’t smother the next person I see. So here it goes.

Rage; this is your page.

At the start of the pandemic, when myself and the board I work with were running around blindfolded with our arms tied behind our backs trying to make decisions about the survival of our company, I was 6 weeks pregnant and vomiting multiple times a day. My 3-year-old son was locked down at home and climbing the walls, his big brown innocent eyes needing the world from me. I could barely lift my head up long enough to kiss him on his.

I would chair important global calls about how we would navigate our global business through the many cuts we needed to make to survive while lying in a fetal position on my bed, hearing my son shouting ‘where’s mummy’ a thousand times to my frazzled husband who was bearing the brunt of every single thing that needed doing apart from keeping my business and our unborn baby alive.

To say that was the hardest time of my life may seem extreme, particularly as we had just been through two back to back rounds of IVF to conceive and the toll that had placed on my body was unimaginable at the time, but nothing compared to those 12-15 weeks of lock-down.

You see, as a woman in a senior position working through a global disaster, I felt like I needed to hide all of this away. Not through lack of compassion from my incredibly understanding colleagues, but through my own deep-rooted conditioning. Because let’s be honest. In this society men are cooed at for bringing their kids on screen and celebrated as amazing dads for spending an afternoon making cookies, whereas women are expected to crack on and prove we can keep it together. We are expected to perform unflinching while our maternal instinct screams bloody murder from inside our guts. Women who fail at all times to achieve the right balance, are seen as having ‘changed’ or ‘not who they once were’ and boy do we have to fight hard to prove that’s not us. Do men never change when they become fathers? Do their paternal pulls never interrupt the flow of their careers? It doesn’t seem so does it.

Fast forward to the birth of my second son, October 2020, as talks of a winter lock-down loomed over the country. His entry into the world was far from straight forward and we were in hospital for a week, the majority of which was spent without any support at all. Recovering from a difficult c-section, I tried to process this trauma as my hormones raged. I wept endlessly, hobbling around the floors of the hospital alone day and night between post-natal care and the NICU where my new-born son still was. I filled up own my water jug when it ran empty (literally and figuratively) and twisted myself awkwardly to plug in my charger. I was prolonging my recovery one wince at a time but with the nurses clearly stretched and my husband not allowed with me, I simply had no choice.

When my baby eventually came out of special care, we were put on a ward for babies transitioning out of the NICU, which meant everyone in there had a story. Behind the curtains of each cubical were women and babies who had been through some kind of trauma and were alone. The sounds of heartache and exhaustion from the mothers bounced around the ward so loudly that they drowned out our babies’ cries. We were left to manage; feeding, changing, dressing our babies and ourselves while our eyes flowed rivers of tears and our bodies flowed rivers of blood.

In the days following a difficult birth (or any birth I’m sure) you are ripped open to the core, sometimes literally but always emotionally. You are an open wound that needs to be wrapped in blankets of love while you focus on the all-important task of keeping your baby alive. But that was not to be for us. We were left alone in that ward and discarded while men in power talked to the country about what mattered most, and we didn’t feature at all.

How can it have come to this? The answer is as simple as it is devastating. We have become so disconnected from the life givers of this world that we have forgotten them, and by doing so we have cracked the very soil that sustains us on this earth.

We eventually got home into the warm arms of our family, but it wasn’t long before the most brutal lockdown of them all was upon us. Winter came and my oldest was off school for almost three months while I looked after our 8-week-old baby and attempted to be both mother and teacher. Having lived through the horror of lock down one I was actually grateful. Being on maternity leave, I didn’t have the pressures of work to anywhere near the same extent and I could focus on my kids, but I know I was one of the lucky few. For most, the burden of childcare was put unquestionably on women who in many cases had to sacrifice jobs they love but that didn’t pay the bills. I watched friends make an impossible choice to stay home and try as best as they could to cling onto their careers through stinging eyes and aching limbs at the end of every day, once their kids were asleep.

When my son went back to school in March things finally looked brighter. I could enjoy focusing on my baby and taking walks in the park while I still had some maternity leave left – a luxury in the world we’d come to know. But then in July, three weeks before the end of term, there was a case of the virus in my son’s year and despite him and many others testing negative, he was home again for two weeks and I was back in the home-school mayhem. Two weeks sounds like no time at all, only this time I was working again and impossibly splitting myself into pieces that all needed the whole version of me. It was hard. My eyes stung and my limbs ached. But more than anything it highlighted yet again the infuriating gender imbalance in our society.

Euro 2021 was in full swing and Wembley stadium was full of sweaty drunk men hugging and screaming all over each other while many women were back home-schooling and trying yet again to keep their careers on track. The education of our children deemed less important than our men’s right to watch other men play football. You see I don’t begrudge the game itself or those that play it, but it did make one thing patently clear. A woman’s sport – played by and mainly watched by women – has never and would never be prioritised and celebrated to such an extent, and the fact that this doesn’t shock us to our very core is exactly what this rage inside my throat is trying to show me. And now I see it. I feel it all. The twisted archaic patriarchal system that might be dumbed down now women have more of a standing but that is not only still alive today, but thriving.

Now, not only are we expected to hold it all together as mothers and as caregivers, but we have the pressures of work on our shoulders too. We fight our way into roles that require 100% of us when in many industries we’re still faced with a gender pay gap; a term we’ve sort of come to accept because the data shows it’s improving, as if that’s even remotely enough.

They say progress doesn’t come in a straight line so let’s hope that’s right. Because from this extremely deep ditch we find ourselves in we need to fight tooth and nail within every system to claw ourselves back up again, knowing the men holding power in this country sure as hell aren’t going to hold out a hand to pull us up.

Our women – the mothers, daughters, sisters, and empaths of this world – deserve better than this.

Our children, girls AND boys, the future of our earth, deserve more than this.


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