This past week I’ve been thinking a lot about International Women’s Day — which was yesterday (Friday 8 March). It seems to me its prominence increases with every year . . . and yet I have mixed feelings about the celebration.
Last year, I convinced myself I didn’t like it at all. It appeared out of nowhere on my radar, and a few days before IWD the company I worked for suddenly decided to “do something” to commemorate the event. With very little time to plan, afternoon teas were provided on some of our (male dominated) sites for female employees. It seemed an empty and meaningless gesture, a celebration for the sake of it — a “politically correct” gesture, if you will.
It irked me. Why should the women be singled out for afternoon tea — in itself an event considered largely the domain of women? In my view, it broadened the rift between women and men, and I found it demeaning. Why did our female employees need an afternoon tea to celebrate their value? (Having said that, I scoffed the delectable cakes — of which there were many — with abandon.)
I projected this negative feeling onto other, more reputable IWD events I heard about. Why did professional women need forums and networking lunches to prove themselves? Surely our modern world now takes it for granted that professional women are the equal of men?
The whole thing left a bitter taste in my mouth.
And then International Women’s Day 2013 rolled around . . . and I cringed as everyone started going on about it and inwardly railed once more against the fact everyone still deemed it necessary to single us out.
And so I asked the question on Facebook of some of my friends: What did they think about IWD?
Their various responses gave me a great deal of food for thought and shifted my thinking.
One pointed out that women are still frequently not paid the equivalent of men. In fact, a quick Google search just now reveals that Australian women are paid 17% less than men for equivalent work. In what universe is this acceptable? How can it still be the case in 2013? It’s so bad, that we have an Equal Pay Day and a Workplace Gender Equality Agency. Holy firetruck!
I guess we should be thankful that we don’t live a generation ago when — as my mother pointed out — female teachers and nurses had to give up their jobs when they got married . . .
Another friend spent International Women’s Day in Kuala Lumpur, where there was evidently a huge gathering of young women of all different nationalities spreading balloons with the message “Stop violence against women”. She said she found it moving and that being in a muslim country on this day reminded her that women worldwide still have a long way to go.
I am grateful to my friends for their input, because it showed me how narrow-minded and naive I was being.
And somewhat contradictory, considering my participation this year in the Australian Women Writers Challenge, which is about raising the profile of women’s writing. (Stay tuned for my first review soon!)
Whether we like it or not, women don’t receive the recognition they deserve, for whatever reason. Nor should we dismiss the hard work of the suffragettes from ages past. And as for the terrible history of male violence against women — those of us who have not experienced it must never forget the plight of those who have.
So if International Women’s Day can help remember the sacrifices of those who fought (and who are still fighting) for women’s rights, and change a culture of violence, and celebrate the achievements of professional women who don’t receive the recognition they deserve — then I’m all for it.
Even if, for the same reason I got all ranty a few weeks ago about the prospect of women adopting male pseudonyms to sell fiction, I despise the fact it’s necessary.
But no more afternoon teas, OK? Let’s celebrate IWD with grace and dignity and use it to empower women, rather than treat it as a political tick-in-the-box.
What are your thoughts about International Women’s Day?