March 8th is International Women’s Day. Its origins date back to a 1909 Women’s Day in New York City, followed by similar events in Denmark (1910), Germany (1911), Russia (1917), and China (1922) before becoming widely recognized in the 1960s.
Hang on. Checks calendar.
Here we are, over 100 years after the birth of the movement, still fighting for equality, recognition and representation, parity in the workplace, access to healthcare, and more.
This is a pressure-release valve for my frustration over the media circus around the election, well-meaning but ultimately useless declarations of support on social media, and continued angst towards the many ways I’ve been made to feel “less than” by men. So to be clear…yes. I’m aware, not all men and thanks for stopping by if that’s where you want to go with this.
But let’s get real about what it would take to actually support womxn — cis, trans, non-binary, and anything in between — in a way that makes a difference. This goes for all people, not just men (because if the world were truly equal, that disclaimer wouldn’t be necessary to ensure we don’t ruffle the feathers of those in a privileged position of power above us).
Note: I identify as a cis-het, white-passing, financially secure, educated, able-bodied woman. I disclose my identities and acknowledge how they shape and limit my perspective. I use “womxn” in an effort to be as inclusive as possible.
A Pretty Post Doesn’t Lead to Change Without Action
If I had a dollar for every time I saw a post on social media from a smiling man in a photo with his mom/wife/daughter/co-worker/grandma/all of the above with a caption proclaiming how he loves them/is proud of them/is thankful for them…well, maybe I’d make up that pay gap eventually.
To be quite honest, that type of performative display of pseudo-support means next to nothing if said man isn’t actively advocating for equality offline.
So while it’s cute and endearing and all the rest, it’s just lip service. An egotistical pat on the back. What happens when the womxn in these men’s lives face the injustices of inequality in education, in the workplace, in political spheres, in medical settings? Are they setting a higher standard or serving as an example for other men to put their money where their mouth is? If social media didn’t exist, how would the world know they consider and care about the consequences for the people they hold dear?
And this isn’t just for men, so hold on.
I have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that some of us can lift each other up and celebrate individual women, yet still vote in support of policies detrimental to womxn and families. Why are we still fighting so hard for the bare basics of what womxn need to keep up with men in this world?
We’re seeing it play out in real-time with the 2020 election, and it’s a poignant reminder we still have a long, long way to go. The harsh reality is that womxn themselves harbor a lot of internalized misogyny and sexism, making it even more difficult to bring everyone to equal footing. Early waves of feminism mostly focused on the struggles of white, educated, middle-class women. That wasn’t enough back then. That’s not enough now.
So While We’re At It, Women Can Stop Gnawing At Each Other, Too
Recently, I tweeted about my annoyance when I was traveling across the state for a work event. I stopped to eat lunch at a restaurant and it was busy. It took longer than expected and I was anxious to get back on the road. After finally catching the server’s eye and handing him my card to run my payment, he turned and walked over to the register.
As he was approaching the bar, the man seated at the table next to mine calls out to him, waves him back, and insisted that the server also collect his card to pay at the same time. This delayed me by only a few minutes at most, but it was just another subtle flex indicating this man felt his time was more important than mine.
I sarcastically asked Twitter what the word for that is and someone immediately piped in with, “Narcissism.” We shared a virtual chuckle and moved on, but another follower wanted to know why it was posited as a gender issue.
“What if he was late for a job interview?” she wanted to know. “Rushing back to a sick relative? Just got called about a work emergency?”
She thought I was being indignant; perhaps I was. But, as I pointed out to her, what if any of those scenarios applied to me?
What makes people automatically side with someone other than the woman they’re speaking directly with? Why is the burden of proof on us to defend and validate our perceived slights, as subtle or insignificant as they may be?
This is the same person who later confused the body acceptance movement with vanity, so she’s a little off-target across the board.
I conceded it may not have been a man vs. woman power play, but it certainly wasn’t the kind of thing a considerate, decent human would do if they regarded the other person as being their equal. Social status, race, age, perceived gender, etc. all play encounters like that one each and every day.
It’s just one minuscule example of womxn failing to show up for other womxn. It speaks nothing to the bigger ways we tear each other down and compete amongst ourselves. We so deeply fear our own demise at the hands of the patriarchal standards of our society that we grasp at any opportunity to maintain our grip on any precarious foothold we find ourselves on. Siding with the norm is how some of us stay safe.
It’s sad. It’s infuriating. And I can’t fault anyone who does side with the norm because I’m starting to better understand how privilege works.
But that doesn’t mean I wish it were different and strive to practice what I preach. I’ve been complicit and I’ve been ignorant of these issues. I have a lot left to unlearn because I was born into the type of privilege that shielded me from what many women in America face.
Maybe that’s why I feel so much more emboldened to bring this up on International Women’s Day 2020. The past version of myself was still unpacking what it meant to put words into action beyond a self-serving social media post.
Empowering Others Is Not A Zero-Sum Game
In any hierarchy of power, those in positions of power stand to lose the most if it is redistributed among those on lower rungs of the ladder.
I hate to break it to anyone who isn’t aware, but this isn’t how equality works. And this isn’t what womxn or feminists are asking for, either.
While it would stand to make sense that a redistribution of power would harm some (thus, validating their fears of an uprising from an oppressed group), we don’t actually see that. No one is taking 21 cents from every dollar a man earns and giving it to women, or asking for 11.5 cents to split the difference. Womxn aren’t demanding they be granted the ability to make autonomous decisions about their bodies at the cost of removing that ability for men.
Ever heard the cliche “A rising tide lifts all ships”? Yeah, it’s the all-is-love Sunday school type crap that makes me roll my eyes, but it’s also true.
When communities rally around and support womxn in meaningful ways, the impact is not only immediate but ongoing. The ripple effect passes through her family, her workplace, her community, and onto future generations.
I get this is a little hard to grasp. Need a tangible example?
My perspective peers through the lens of diet culture. As a dietitian and advocate for intuitive eating, I see how privilege plays out when one body type is uplifted as the standard of beauty. Anyone who doesn’t fit that mold is relegated to a lower status, and an entire industry began to boom when our society realized women would earnestly devour any quick-fix fad or diet in the hopes of achieving that standard. $60+ billion per year later, and we’re no closer to achieving unrealistic beauty standards.
Feminist author Naomi Wolf wrote:
A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience.
Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.
Imagine how our time, energy, and other resources could be diverted and poured into the causes and projects we feel passionate about if we weren’t distracted by the pursuit of physical perfection? What if our beauty standard wasn’t shaped by the male gaze, perpetuated by the genetically gifted who capitalize on it, and force-fed to us by the media around every turn?
If you need further proof, I recommend checking out “Anti-Diet” by Christy Harrison (affiliate link). It will help you begin to understand how the roots of diet culture are based on racist, classist, sexist, euro-centric values, and how privilege plays a role in creating complex intersections of identity and inequity.
Diet culture is just one oppressive system holding womxn back from stepping into their place next to men. Until we readily acknowledge all the others and make the necessary steps to remedy inequity and inequality when we see it, we likely won’t see International Women’s Day become the celebration of women’s empowerment it was intended to be.
Oppression exists in many forms, so on this International Women’s Day and beyond, consider how you support all womxn. And I don’t just mean on social media with a pretty picture. How do you show up for womxn in the real world?
Womxn of color. LBGTQIA womxn. Old womxn. Poor womxn. Single womxn. Fat womxn. Disabled womxn. Immigrant womxn. Childless womxn. Womxn you don’t find sexually attractive. Womxn you don’t like. Overlap any intersectional identity of your choosing, and ask yourself if you still support those womxn.
If not, maybe it’s time to get uncomfortable, check your privilege, and ask yourself what scares you about a world in which those womxn are considered your equal.