I see a lot of people and orgs starting their posts with “Happy International women’s day!” (or… that’s the whole post) and, well… what?
The “happy!” imperative unsettles me, because, while we absolutely can and should celebrate women and women’s achievements on this day, that part is a bit of a distraction/not the point, to me. Of course it’s what a lot of people gravitate towards, the happy, shallow, do-nothing part. It’s not taxing to wish someone a Happy Day, and can be pleasant to receive.
But it’s not very helpful.
IWD is a call to action, not a celebratory event, primarily. At least that’s how I see it. We have to acknowledge things that are not happy – inequality, injustice, oppression, violence, stigma and more – and recognise the need to do something about them. Some of that responsibility falls on organisations, and many are set up to do just that, with lots of great people doing what they can day-to-day. But what about everyone else?
Why not make your own commitment to action on this day?
Here are some basic ideas for individuals, as a follow-up to an old IWD post of mine.
Commit to learning more
Importantly, get comfortable with the discomfort that comes from examining inequality and injustice.
Examine your attitudes
Man, woman, other – you have probably grown up with misogyny because we all did.
Pinpoint it: that urge to criticise women (maybe for things you have been criticised for); beauty, clothing, body type, life decisions, achievements, family, personality, preferences. Ask whether you really need to feel negatively about that thing, or is it just because you were taught to? Is it actually contributing to or a manifestation of some self-hatred? Does it impact the way you see other women generally?
For men especially – commit to doing these things regularly, not just once a year, not just paying lip service. Do it for the women you love, and for yourself – to be a force for actual change rather than a silent observer, giving tacit (or worse, active) approval to the misogyny around us. Say something to that dude who’s being sexist; create consequences and cultivate better men in your social circles.
Be a caring, loving father/husband/partner/cousin/uncle/brother/friend who knows that sexism hurts women and girls all the time, and you can help them to be the best, safest, happiest people they can be in an otherwise imperfect world.
We are like other girls. Women are, first and foremost, just people. Treat them as such.
Learn from and support women
Read books by women (fiction or otherwise) – how much of your shelves are dedicated to them? Seek out new perspectives. Listen to women. In your own life, and in public life. Seek out their art and other work and buy it from them.
Learn about feminist history and current activity, feminist philosophy, queer theory, intersectionality. Just a few from the C20th – Patricia Hill Collins, Audre Lorde, Wollstonecraft, Angela Davis, Simone de Beauvoir and more. More recent contributors help to balance them and bring us up to speed, since especially white authors will have had prejudices that shouldn’t be overlooked/absorbed. Mikki Kendall, Judith Butler, Miranda Fricker, Toni Morrison, Clementine Ford, Julia Serano (and so many more of course, feel free to add your favourites below).
Ensure the voices you’re following aren’t all of the same kinds of people – check if they’re all (or mostly) men, white, able-bodied, well-off, straight, cis, etc. People like to throw around the term echo chamber but usually with reference to politics. I think that identity, life history, experience etc., all actually give a wider perspective. If that means you end up tuning out all the far right wingers, well, how unfortunate.
Familiarise with unfamiliar concepts
Learn about social concepts and terms that are new to you (maybe including some of the above!) Any of these you don’t already have a decent grasp of?
Cisnormativity. Nonbinary. Heteronormativity. Misogynoir. Kyriarchy. Natalism, reproductive justice. Internalised misogyny.
They’re not just silly newfangled buzzwords – they have meanings, referring to specific phenomena, which are worth thinking about. Have a read. Make sure that the place you’re learning from is there to educate, not to hate. Check out that article that passes in your feed that maybe you would’ve skipped over before. Keep reading – and notice the kinds of people who dismiss “social justice” (or use SJW as an insult) and what their motives are. Then keep learning.
Question your own gender
Difficult and not something most cis people are ever really asked to do. But why not? Much like straight people can go through life never questioning their sexuality, doing so can be valuable and it doesn’t have to change anything except your outlook (for the better!).
What does your gender look like? What conscious decisions have you made about yours? How has it impacted your life, good and bad? Can you play with it, experiment, or does that make you uncomfortable and if so, why? What does “gender” even mean..? You might not have an answer! But go with that and take the uncertainty, possibilities, and acceptance out into the world.
Policing femininity and womanhood is hurtful to all women and if you’re feeling yourself drawn to a set of beliefs and voices that want to define those things neatly, especially in terms of reproductive organs, body type, stereotypically [un]feminine characteristics etc., be aware – these things inevitably lead to increased misogyny, not protection for women. Trans people are people, women are people – women’s rights and trans rights are human rights.
I’m sure there are lots of other things to say here but I was originally just going to write a facebook post on the whole ‘happy day!’ thing and it got long so now it’s this.
Here’s some more stuff – it’s Women’s History Month too so there’ve been some good pieces around – share some, spread the love, knowledge and progress. I’ll probably add some more links as I come across stuff.
- Not All Men: Dismantling The Pyramid – Max Morgan
- There are no white knights – Dr Eleanor Janega
- Women Used To Dominate The Beer Industry Until The Witch Accusations Started Pouring In – Laken Brooks
- This Thread on supporting women in academia – Leah C Windsor
- The Secret Feminist Cabal; A Cultural History of Science Fiction Feminisms – Helen Merrick
- International Women’s Day – on women, work and sexism
- Confessions of a former misogynist – a friend details his journey away from a simmering hatred of women
- Friendships and Frameworks – on the power of friendships between women & resisting abuse
- Women and Sexism in STEM – how sexism can affect women and girls in science, tech, engineering and maths
- On Gender-Neutral Language – we can help address sexism just by taking more care with our language
- The denial of women’s capacity for knowledge – how we dismiss women’s ideas, feelings, work, etc.
- Don’t Make Everything Political – how opposition to ‘political’ discussion helps to promote prejudice & discrimination
- Let’s dispose of the gender reveal party – assignment of gender to babies is ridiculous and a result of weird social ideas
Edit: a couple of days later, the body of a woman who was missing is found near where I grew up, and it seems likely she was murdered by a policeman. Now comes the outpouring of not just grief and anger, but victim-blaming; women, walking alone! At night! Speaking to a man!
As if any of those things are/should be unusual, or are somehow inherently wrong or dangerous. They are not. That man was. And we never know which men are or aren’t – sometimes you get an idea, but if you call a guy creepy, out come the men to complain about that. Take your chances, and you’re “putting yourself at risk”. The lens never seems to fall on the men.
But it should. Especially from other men. Do better. Raise better sons. Don’t put up with friends being creepy. Call it out, educate, have higher standards. It’ll save lives.