Sunday, March 8, 2015

Not There: On International Women's Day

Maybe I'd been living under a rock, but I'm pretty certain that the first time I heard about International Women's Day in my 30s, I thought it was an Australian thing.

No one had ever celebrated International Women's Day in my house when I was growing up, nor did anyone mention it in school.  Sure, we had Women's History Month, during which there was some discussion of Florence Nightengale and Marie Curie and Louisa May Alcott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (eventually Sally Ride made it into the top 10, too, and we had Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks for "color" when someone finally realized that our version of Women's History Month wasn't exactly inclusive).

Even now, despite the social media campaign, it doesn't seem to me that we celebrate International Women's Day in the U.S. in as public a way as some other countries do.  Which is really too bad, considering what a mess of a holiday Mother's Day has become.  Socialist origins aside, IWD is an important opportunity to remember that we still have a lot of work to do, at home and abroad.

Like: for all of our demands to #BringBackOurGirls, there are still 230 missing.  If we really felt that they were "ours," why has our outrage or willingness to act subsided?  Like: the recently banned documentary about sexual violence in India, which is now available, thanks to the BBC.  If we don't live that experience, what do we do with information like that, beyond being voyeurs, safe behind computer screens?  Like: a recent U.N. report found that 70% of the poor are women, that one in three women is a victim of sexual or physical violence and the majority of rapes are either never reported or under-punished and that statistics are even worse for women of color, who are disproportionally victims of sexual violence, more often at the hand of white males.  What are we doing about this?  Even the U.S., seen internationally as a leader in gender equality, ranks 17th in the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Report, and in many states, our reproductive rights are under attack.

Want to celebrate Interational Women's Day?  Here are a few suggestions:
  • Be a local activist.  Are there women in your community who are abused, who don't have enough to eat?  Find a women's shelter.  A women's support network.  Don't just write a check.  Listen to the stories of a diverse group of women.  Understand that inequality and abuse are not a third world problem.
  • Speak up for women you see being harassed.  Microaggressions happen everywhere.
  • Mentor another woman. Do you have a talent to share?  A network?  Are you an entrepreneur?  Help another woman to start a business, get a (better) job, get a (better) education.
  • Celebrate women who call out injustices.
  • Be an activist on a broader scale, domestically or internationally.  Write to your policymakers about "women's issues," and help them to realize that women's issues are everyone's issues. Beyond the personal effects of trauma, violence against women, lack of adequate child care, poor health care for women, and other issues traditionally seen as "women's issues" have a huge impact on international economies.
  • Celebrate the diversity of women's experiences.  Know that not all women are mothers.  Realize that well-intentioned and brave as it was, Patricia Arquette's Oscar acceptance comments about women fell short.  Recognize and own privilege, and realize when the dominant narrative is merely that: dominant, not all-inclusive.  See out other perspectives.  Support other ways of being woman in the world.
  • And celebrate the women in your life who have helped you to become the person you are.
  • Follow the 31 day action calendar at to find one thing you can do each day in March.  Create a habit of gender mindfulness.
What did you do for International Women's Day?
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  1. I had no idea this existed. And what great activities you've suggested. Thanks for alerting me and I will most certainly find ways to participate.

  2. I don't think I knew about International Women's Day until I was an adult. My former company used to hold women-only gatherings at head office on IWD (only women at a certain job level got invited; I guess you can't include everyone, but (since I was below the cutoff) that always ticked me off...) & make donations to women's shelters & such.

  3. truthfully, IWD hasn't been on my radar. But I like your ideas.

  4. It was barely on my radar. I guess I was working. Sometimes as a woman engineer it feels like every day consists of these things. Proving myself, ignoring micro aggressions, sometimes calling them out depending on how much energy I have that day. *sigh* it feels like an uphill battle.


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