Today is International Women’s Day, and a lot of people – men and women – will stand up and shout about how women shouldn’t have a whole day dedicated just to them.
To these people I say, you’re right.
In the perfect world, we wouldn’t need a single day dedicated to empowering one gender. We wouldn’t need all female panels, and speaking events and the dozens of other campaigns that are happening around the world to promote women and their achievements.
Because, in a perfect world, men and women would be unequivocally equal. In a perfect world, the implicit power structures that govern our day-to-day lives wouldn’t privilege a single gender, man or woman, and everyone would be able to experience the same opportunities and choices in all areas of life.
But, as we all know, that’s not the case. International Women’s Day is necessary because, for the other 364 days of the year, it’s more like Men’s Day. You can say it ain’t so, but the stats are out there and you can’t deny men are at least a little favoured, consciously or unconsciously.
And while we can all appreciate how we far we in Australia have come compared to women’s rights on an international scale, take a good look at our ‘lucky’ country and you’ll see there’s work yet to be done. We might be getting closer, but we haven’t made it all the way to utopia just yet. Why give up right before the finish line?
March 8 is a symbol for the empowerment of women, for celebrating their achievements, for reflection on how we can progress towards equality and for sparking conversations amongst men and women.
We’re not trying to point fingers or assign blame. These are institutional and embedded issues that have filtered down from societies past, but it doesn’t mean they don’t take their toll. Just take a glance at the women around you to see the effects.
After working overtime on a stressful project or coming down from a hectic double shift, a woman will still be patronised by her male co-workers who ask “are you on your period?” when she lets herself have a moment to express her frustration and fatigue through tears. A young girl who is enjoying herself at a party will still have to be wary of where she has left her drink and for how long it has been uncovered, for fear of what could have been put in it without consent. Women will still walk home at night, gripped with dread each time a new set of footsteps fall in behind them, no matter how innocuous. A girl with a name and a personality and a lifetime worth of memories and experiences will be reduced to being ‘the Mrs’ when her boyfriend is out with his mates.
You might read that and think, ‘but men don’t have perfect lives either!’ And you’re right. You might stamp your feet and argue how the word ‘feminism’ doesn’t make sense- ‘why don’t you just call it equality if that’s what it’s really about?’ You might even claim that International Women’s Day is nothing more than a patronising example of tokenism.
But here’s the thing. Historically, it’s the female voice that has been silenced. It’s the ‘feminine’ traits that men and women are shamed for, and International Women’s Day is about getting on your soapbox and shouting about how we shouldn’t have to put up with this shit. Without empowering the people that have been disenfranchised, we will never reach any form of equality. Of course, we should continue the fight for equality every other day of the year. But claims that female-based campaigns on International Women’s Day are merely acts of tokenism fail to recognise the symbolic importance of these operations and the underlying initiatives and strategies that are constantly attempting to empower women, all year round.
This isn’t about creating an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ war. It’s not about hating on men or tearing down their achievements. It’s about giving a voice to those women who have been silenced, pushed to the sidelines and given the raw end of the deal. And to do this, we need the help of men. Because the simple and obvious truth is, if we’re striving for equality we need everyone to get on board.
So before you jump up and start preaching about how the feminists are out for men’s blood, take a second to think about what International Women’s Day is really about. If you truly believe in the fight for equality, stop creating barriers and start thinking about how you can help to tear them down.