When I was little I had joke book that was dog-eared (and just a little bit sticky) from repeated reads. I would ambush whoever was in my path ? the babysitter, my sister, the cat ? and regale them with as many 'knock-knock' jokes as I could muster before they made a cunning escape. The book eventually disappeared. I suspect my mum.
While I was pondering the meaning of Women's Day, an old riddle popped into my head. Yes, I know you've probably heard it before, but indulge me. Please?
A man is driving his son to school when they are in a horrific car accident. The man dies, but his son is rushed to hospital. When he arrives at the emergency room the surgeon looks shocked and says, "I can't operate on this boy, he's my son!" Who is the doctor?
Ah, gender stereotyping. Sneaky. The doctor is, of course, the boy's mother. And while sexism might not be quite as entrenched as it was in the early eighties ('ER' and 'Grey's Anatomy' have taught us that women can indeed be surgeons), there are still certain professions where women are, well, unexpected.
This Women's Day we chat to three exceptional women who have excelled in fields that are typically (or perceived to be) dominated by men ? Lauren Beukes, a science fiction writer; Margot Janse, an award-winning executive chef; and Marsha Marescia, the South African Women's Hockey captain.
A self-described 'recovering journalist', Beukes has spent her fair share of time around homeless sex workers, electricity thieves, nuclear physicists and wannabe teen vampires from Camps Bay. Along the way she also picked up a couple of useful skills ? skydiving and pole dancing among them ? that stood her in good stead to write about the whacky futuristic South Africa that fills the pages of her debut novel 'Moxyland'.
"To assume that women are only going to produce chic lit is as ludicrously blinkered as assuming guys will only write action thrillers," she says about the commonly-held belief that sci-fi is a male genre.
"I never set out to write in a particular genre. I wrote a story I was interested in, that just happened to be set in a near future. I guess I'm more interested in where we are going then where we've been (although the past will always inform the present and damn the future, those are the tangled roots that go deep, that can still trip us up.)"
Although 'Moxyland' is Beukes' first novel, she is also the author of non-fiction work which was nominated for the Sunday Times 2006 Alan Paton non-fiction award ? 'Maverick: Extraordinary Women from South Africa's Past'. When she is not writing books, she makes a living working as the head writer at Clockwork Zoo Animation.
The terrifying dystopia in her novel 'Moxyland' offers not only a warning of what we might become, but also an exploration of where we are now.
"To avoid a Moxyland, we'd need to acknowledge the mistakes of our past, including sculpting the future national race policies on race rather than merit, curtail corporate interference in our government, guarantee responsibility from our leaders, entrench human rights, and dodge that worst of human sins, apathy through convenience."
South Africa, along with the rest of the world, also has a long way to go before gender equality becomes a reality Beukes reckons.
"The violence and violations against women that happen every day kill me. I feel quite bleak about it, really," she says. "I get totally enraged about women being attacked for wearing a mini-skirt, rape, baby rape, domestic violence and human trafficking.
"And on a lesser scale, the way our society sexualises little girls into dumbed-down Britney and Paris clones, marketing saucy g-strings and high-heels and makeovers and pole-dancing lessons to kids under 10 and how young women are expected to be sexy but not sexual."
For Beukes, it's all about freedom of choice.
"The choice of what to have on your sandwich, to choose a car or a career or a lover, to have a kid or not, to wear a bikini or a burkha or get a boob job. If women don't have that fundamental choice, to control their own lives, it's not a free society."
Words of wisdom: "Fight for your freedom of choice to do whatever it is that fulfils you and makes you happy."
Dutch-born Margot Janse didn't plan on becoming a chef. In fact, she had dreams of becoming an actress. Luckily that dream was quashed when she didn't make it into the Amsterdam theatre school. The rejection spurred her on to travel to deepest darkest Africa with her political journalist boyfriend, where she worked as a photographer. After a few years she found her way to South Africa, where she went on to become one of the country's top chefs.
However, her journey, like her delicious creations, was anything but orthodox. Instead of enrolling in the standard three-year cooking course, Janse began her career as a waitress. After a while she began working in the kitchen, where Chef Ciro Molinaro took her under his wing. He taught her the art of running an efficient kitchen and gave her room to experiment and develop her own personal flair.
Three years later she was appointed the executive chef at Le Quartier Francais in Franschhoek and she has been there ever since, living out her passion and garnering a fine collection of awards and international praise along the way.
Among those accolades are being voted South Africa's Top Chef last year by both Wine and Eat Out magazines, receiving Relais and Chateaux's Rising Chef Trophy and having Le Quartier Francais bag a spot as one of the top 50 restaurants in the world.
"It's an amazing honour to be chosen amongst all those amazing restaurants, unbelievable really. It obviously comes with expectations and pressure to perform, but we've never cooked to get recognition, so when it comes, it is a big bonus. It also means that we push ourselves every day ? to improve, to create, to do better than yesterday. Not because we have a certain title, but for ourselves and for what we believe in."
Janse admits that while many kitchens are filled with very good female chefs, there are more males at the top.
"You certainly have to have balls ? if you don't mind me saying so. It is not for the faint-hearted; endurance is a must. But I believe that if you want to make it and become successful in any chosen career, you have to work hard, believe in what you're doing, and most importantly have a passion for it. No matter if you are male or female."
Words of wisdom:"Success is a combination of passion, determination and bloody hard work. Never underestimate the power of your intuition ? the good old 'gut-feel'."
Marsha Marescia is a rare athlete ? although she is the captain of the South African Women's Hockey team, she has a fulltime job which doesn't involve sticks or balls or Astroturf. Because the sport is not afforded the same media coverage or public interest as rugby, soccer or cricket, 'professional' hockey players in South Africa are stuck in an amateur sport.
Marescia, who has been playing for the women's team for the past seven years (earning more than 162 caps) and competed in the Olympics in Athens in 2004, hopes that her team will finish in the top 10 at the Beijing Olympics.
"I hope that every performance is better than the previous one and that the team returns home having no regrets."
And hopefully they will return home to greater public support, because the sacrifices made by these women to represent their country are remarkable.
"I think women generally stop playing as they get older because of other interests in their lives," says Marescia. "Women start thinking about their careers and families, and because it's an amateur sport I guess more women find it easier to sacrifice hockey for these other aspects of life. There are a great number of women, however, who are prepared to make those sacrifices to play the game as well."
Words of wisdom: "Follow your dreams, be prepared to work hard and enjoy and love every minute of it. Appreciate each lesson in life and make the most of every opportunity."