What does it mean to be a woman in 2021? Is it all beauty, feathers, glitter and sparkle? What is women’s work? How do we define work? What do we value and who do we allow into the fold?

A couple of weeks ago, the shining light that is Kitty Maguire shared a story on Instagram. It was a photo of a sign she had spotted on a lamp post. ‘Sex work is work’ it stated and underneath, the words ‘Decriminalize Sex Work’. The image brought back to me the experience of sitting in a theatre in 2015 (in the glory days when we could do such things) for a piece of work called ‘The Game’.

Sex work is work – Photo Credit Kitty Maguire

‘The Game‘, directed by Theatre Club’s Grace Dyas made me about as uncomfortable as it’s possible to be in a theatre. I think that was the intention, to force us to look sex work in the eye, to challenge our own beliefs about it, to ensure a long lasting conversation after the show. For the first time in my life, I felt that sex workers can, by doing their work, protect me. I had never before felt any kind of connection with sex workers. It was a world I knew nothing about and if anything imagined all sex workers as victims. I suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Shame too, that a woman I had previously felt pity for could do a job that puts her life at risk and protects mine.

I felt shame that women I had previously felt pity for might be protecting me

I would have assumed that the men who paid for this service were dark, twisted, sad, lonely men. I had to believe that because I associated sex work with darkness, sadness & exploitation. Now I realise that the spectrum of sex workers is wide, as is that of their clients. Some women are exploited and some of their clients are sad, lonely, cruel. Other women love their work, see it as real work, appreciate the service they’re providing to men who aren’t always sad and fucked up, as we are encouraged to believe.

Chatting with Kitty and others recently got me thinking about women, how we define ourselves, who we include in that definition. As we approach International Women’s Day I wondered how many people there are around the world who identify as women, but feel unseen. Perhaps they feel the work they do goes unseen and undervalued too. Sex workers? Trans women? Women who don’t have kids? Queer women? Women with disabilities? Women who are seeking asylum? Nuns?

My instinct is to open my arms and welcome all who seek a home.

At every turn we are encouraged by cultural norms to compete, to protect what we have and keep it for ourselves. We are taught to see difference as something to avoid and mistrust. I wonder if, rather than try to define what and who women are, we could expand our understanding and try to imagine more ways to identify as a woman. Expand and include rather than define and exclude?

I’d love to hear what you think, particularly if you are one of those women who feel unseen. This Monday, on March 8th I’ll be celebrating all who identify as women. Hopefully one day I’ll get to meet some of you and listen to your story.