It’s not only International Women’s Day, but today actually marks the centenary of International Women’s Day. That’s right, for 100 years the world has been celebrating the achievements of women and acknowledging their contribution towards all that is good on the earth, while highlighting the need for actual gender equality.
Despite this however, most people I know are today more excited about pancakes. Not that pancakes are not worthy of celebration. Speaking from an atheists point of view, once you remove the religious connotations from various saints days and major events in various religious calendars, the year is awash with days upon which to gorge your face, and I’m all for that. Valentine’s is a good slap up meal and chocs, Shrove Tuesday is a good slap up meal wrapped in a pancake and more pancakes for pud, Christmas is a good slap up meal, followed by a week of good slap up meals. Hurrah to that indeed.
But while I love a good pancake, and am all for people getting themselves over-excited over very little indeed, the fact that most people I know are not even aware of International Women’s Day is a genuinelys big deal in itself.
Originally called International Working Women’s Day, each year on 8th March there is a major day of global celebration of women. The gospel according to St Wiki states “in different regions the focus of the celebrations ranges from general celebration of respect, appreciation and love towards women to a celebration for women’s economic, political and social achievements.” Yet in the UK, one of the more developed countries supposedly involved in International Women’s Day, who the hell cares?
Well here are a few random examples of who does care: The Guardian today have several interesting articles covering the topic; various feminist writers such as Nicholas Kristoff (co-author of Half The Sky, turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide) have tweeted about the day and the Pankhurst Centre in Manchester is holding a day long celebration including pampering, dance and craft. Now I’m not turning my nose up at these celebratory attempts, but it is very much like the promotion of healthy eating and exercise, nine times out of ten it gets preached to the converted.
Now International Women’s Day is international, but just to localise the issue, here are a few examples of exactly why it is needed, even in a so called developed country like the UK. Within my own social circle, I know women who do not have financial independence within their relationship. Many would be better off, and have more legal rights, as members of staff rather than wives or partners. They accept, or rather have no choice over the fact that they do not know exactly what their partner earns, and are given an allowance out of a household pot that they have to ask permission to spend from, even though they contribute towards it. I know several men who will often and easily make the “get in your place/go make my tea woman” type ‘joke’, usually when losing an argument in a public setting (how easily demasculinised they are that they must reassert their control, even at a friendly, relaxed get-together).
I know women who, following an abusive relationship, have attempted to ‘reown’ their sexuality and their body by revealing even more of it (I am not at all against women expressing themselves sexually, but I believe that it is almost impossible for women, under the gender biased climate in which we are raised, to ever fully know if we are expressing our own sexuality, or merely submitting to what is expected of it, by men). I know women who happily and freely submit their name, and with it their identity, to adopt a man’s upon marriage, whilst he entirely retains his, from birth till death, totally unchanged. They will give birth to children, whose only knowledge of their mother’s former identity will be as a password reminder on a future online banking account. I know hoards of women, including myself, who are regularly harassed in the street, from a random “hey darling, you look good” to a slapping of the arse.
These may seem paltry features of everyday life, unimportant on the grand scale of female issues across the globe. An attempt to maintain tradition, or to manage household finances (as women are obviously incapable of doing) or a harmless joke or letchy comment is a world away from the systematic raping of women in warfare as seen in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is emphasised on the ihollaback.org website, the site set up to eradicate street harassment, that street harassment is it nothing to do with sex and everything to do with power – a statement that has everything to do with the raping of women in warfare too.
Released today, to coincide with International Women’s Day, is a short two minute film directed by Sam Taylor-Wood, starring Daniel Craig with a voice over by Judi Dench. The use of Daniel Craig, who we know as James Bond, highlights how “As a man you are less likely to be judged for promiscuous behaviour, which is just as well, frankly … There would be virtually no risk to your career if you chose to become a parent … or became one accidentally.” Ultimately “It is 2011 and a man is still likely to earn more money than a woman, even one doing the same job. You have a far better chance of entering political office or becoming a company director.” Craig then walks off screen only to return dressed in women’s clothing wearing a wig. Initial humour over with, Judi Dench goes on to talk about a range of issues that affect women internationally and nationally, such as “Every year 70 million girls are deprived of even a basic education and a staggering 60 million are sexually assaulted on the way to school” and “Every week, two women in the UK are killed by a current or former partner”.
As thought provoking as this film is, who exactly will see it? Most of the people I mentioned, even though I, the converted, have posted it on their Facebook walls and tweeted all about it and even written about it here, think this issue does not affect them at all. So why is that? Because most women, believe it or not, are actually so conditioned by their sexist upbringing that they do not even consider the issue. They are doing far better than many women across the globe, so such material does not relate to them.
Until the question “Are we equal?” is confidently and truthfully answered with a “Yes”, we need to keep addressing the issue. If this is nothing to do with sex, and everything to do with power, and, whether of the household finances or the country, the majority of people in power are male, we need to keep addressing the issue. Not by preaching to the converted, but by getting the converted to raise the issue with the millions of women who think there isn’t one – in conversation, social gatherings, family decisions. In the invisible parts of our lives that contribute towards the way an entire gender think, aspire and achieve. Let’s hope in another hundred years there will be no International Women’s Day. Only then will we know we actually have equality.
Today i’ve been reading all sorts of interesting stuff on the following websites: www.ihollaback.org, www.weareequals.org, www.internationalwomensday.com
Today i’ve been listening to: Asleep In The Back by Elbow, Collapse Into Now by R.E.M.
I love it when a shop arrives. The cupboards (once I eventually bother to put it away) are full of goodies, loads of lovely stuff to cook and make meals from. I do like to make a meal of it (hehe)