International Women’s Day is still important

Sunday, 7th March 2010 at 9:00 UTC 7 comments

Tomorrow will be International Women’s Day, and with it Women’s Week. There’s lots on around Britain, including a full program of events in York. Its something I’ve been thinking about a lot, aided by some blogs and the oafish stupidity of two York Uni students.

For the Church, its about to be Mothering Sunday (aka Mothers Day if you’re a shop selling cards and presents). Its a good idea, though really its about returning to the church where you grew up (your mother church), not returning home to say thanks to Mum. Its also rather disempowering, as it implies women are only valued through childbearing, still one of the most important challenges for International Feminism today.

Many a debate concerning Feminism in the UK today features the argument that Feminism is now redundant, or that women no longer want or need equality. I saw this earlier this week and thought it worth quoting, as one woman’s answer to many other women:

You can make all the self-satisfied comments you want about ‘angry feminists’ and ‘I have all the rights I want – that’s what matters to me’. Actually I can’t let that one go because it is genuinely distressing to think that people feel that way. I know plenty of people do but when we are called to help the last, the least and lost what sort of selfish, insular person lives by that mantra? It’s sickening. Every time I encounter a sniffy comment from an affluent white woman saying ‘feminism is all about choice – and it’s my choice to be anti-feminist’ at the same time as extolling the virtues of her perfect husband/children/house/life/cupcakes every part of me screams ‘YOU HAVE CHOICE. THAT’S THE DIFFERENCE. YOU HAVE THAT CHOICE. How about you change places with a woman who DOESN’T and let’s see how you feel about equality.’

From “Equality and Privileged Women

Feminism is at first about recognition of women, their potential and their value, but this must be followed up with discussion of privilege, something that very often hurts. Privilege isn’t something we necessarily choose to build up; many are born with it, often as class, wealth, race or gender. Most of those in positions of power have actively sought to make it to the top, but here we are talking about Men giving up the privileges society still hands them at birth.

But it also determines that White Women will struggle less as women in a man’s world than Black Women. Wealthy Women have less to gain from Feminism than Poor Women, indeed its possible they will loose out (particular if they have servant girls doing their washing and cleaning).

Its not just the Global South or even the less regarded ends of the Western world that need feminism. As my girlfriend and I set out to drive across the Prairies, we stopped “for Gas”. I headed in to pay whilst she cleaned her car windows – I’d been doing it whilst she was loading the petrol, but it was my turn to pay for something, so she took over. The man behind the counter quipped that “you’ve got her trained well”, and I struggled not to yell at him. Apparently men are still meant to be “in charge” of their partners. Grrrr.

This International Women’s Day, the need for Feminism, for Women’s dignity and an end to Men’s privilege is just as great as it has ever been, and we are no where near that experience as a society.

P.S. If any women want to write guest posts for Women’s Week, feel free to write them and send them my way. If you’re not sure how to get them to me, comment below. Work doesn’t have to be original, but must be yours.


Entry filed under: Development, Gender, Human Rights, Politics, Poverty, Women.

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Dave Magill  |  Sunday, 7th March 2010 at 15:12 UTC

    to say “Its also rather disempowering, as it implies women are only valued through childbearing” about Mother’s Day is as nonsensical as saying:

    Women’s Day is rather disempowering, as it implies people are only valued through having two x chromosomes.

    There is no need for any reference to Mother’s Day in this post.

    • 2. Graham Martin  |  Monday, 8th March 2010 at 3:31 UTC

      Hmmmm, I’m sure I could construct an academic argument around the statement, but yes, the post would have worked as well without that whole paragraph.

      A quote from WATCH might have been worthwhile, or an advert for World Women’s Day of Prayer, but without more than a sound-bite its not very helpful.

  • 3. Emily  |  Monday, 8th March 2010 at 9:46 UTC

    Just a random thought but why, as a man, do you feel the need to blog about and stand up for feminism and women’s rights? Surely by doing that you’re (in part, at least) suggesting that women are unable to stand up for and promote their own rights? Equally, why would a woman need to take a guest space on a blog owned by a man? Does this make what she has to say more interesting or appealing? Surely a more logical way would be for her to blog in her own right and you to link to it?

    I am slightly playing devil’s advocate here, but also I do think that sometimes we can disempower women by assuming that it’s men who have to fly the banner and provide awareness and tell us what is and isn’t disempowering.

    • 4. Graham Martin  |  Monday, 8th March 2010 at 15:08 UTC

      Going through this comment backwards, I don’t think its men who have to “fly the banner” for feminism, and I’m not as loud about feminism as many of my female friends outside of St Mikes. Several of my non-St Mikes Christian friends are active in bringing about gender justice inside their respective churches. International Women’s Day and World Women’s Day of Prayer are bigger in every circle I move in beyond the church’s walls, and I’ve leant a hand at events when I’ve been asked by women on organising committees. About half my twitter feed is IWD related today, and every event mentioned is women’s day themed event. My contribution is as a follower not a leader.

      This post was meant to echo the thoughts of women; I’d really recommend making “We Mixed Our Drinks” a regular read – a 25yo Christian married woman speaking a lot of wisdom. For many of my readers, this post probably isn’t the most outspokenly feminist viewpoint they’ve encountered this weekend. Besides, when I was in Bradford I would be going to see the annual Vagina Monologues production, and taking as many friends as I could to see a performance by and about women. Sometimes that involved having a discussion in which I would stand up for women/feminism; it wouldn’t make sense to suddenly say “I’m not going to answer that”.

      I firmly believe that women can and should speak up for themselves. The original reason for offering guest columns was that I wanted to support women’s issues without doing the talking myself and because I wanted to see more of my female friends blogging. Of those who’ve written guest posts, one started blogging around the same time (so I was promoting her blog) and another decided they didn’t like blogging.

      Also, my current favourite definition of Feminism is “Women’s rights and nothing less, Men’s rights and nothing more” – good feminism is about transforming the whole of society. I want the Fawcett Society badge that says “Real Men Are Feminists” as I think it sums things up well.

      You make a valid point, and one I have heard before, but I hear as many women insisting that men engage with feminism, so I realise its not a clear cut discussion, and one that needs working through.

    • 5. Lois  |  Monday, 8th March 2010 at 15:09 UTC

      I disagree. Why shouldn’t men campaign for women’s rights? Would you also say that white people couldn’t campaign for racial equality? If you or I see a group of people who are underpriviledged or disadvantaged, isn’t it our duty to help (in a non-patronising way)?
      Although leadership of such campaigns is I suspect a different issue.

  • 6. Lois  |  Monday, 8th March 2010 at 12:07 UTC

    Mother’s day/ mothering Sunday celebrates mothers who do a difficult (often thankless) job caring for kids (father’s day does the same). What’s wrong with celebrating that? As a non-mother, I don’t feel it implies women are only valued for that, it’s like celebrating people who do a particular job or who took part in a particular event. I see it as separate from the issue of feminism.

    The church I grew up in used to give every woman a posy of flowers on mothering sunday, not just the mothers (even teenage me!)

    But you’re right to draw attention to the fact that some people just don’t care about women’s rights and choice. There are examples of casual sexism- even by women- in society that people don’t notice because it’s so usual, like the experience you cite. And I get it every day on the phone at work from clients.

  • 7. Helen  |  Saturday, 13th March 2010 at 11:35 UTC

    The man behind the counter quipped that “you’ve got her trained well”, and I struggled not to yell at him

    In all honesty, this surprised me, because I usually hear the phrase the other way around, ie. when a man does a domestic thing, and has a female partner, a woman will remark “You’ve got him well-trained” or similar. It does sort of imply on both counts that the person is some sort of pet that can do a trick. (I do actually wonder if, had the situation been reversed, he would have remarked the same thing to your girlfriend).

    I’ve been thinking about this recently because I realise I, and a lot of women, tolerate and even indulge in some “reverse sexism” (ie being sexist towards men in the way society tends to be sexist towards women). In some respects I think this is just tipping the balance (for example, I don’t think it hurts having a few more films that don’t pass that anti-Bechdel test, to counter the vast number that don’t pass the Bechdel test, particularly if they’re decent films).

    But in other respects (like the above “well-trained” example), I think we’d do well to watch our language. I’m not advocating being paranoid about every word we speak to everyone around us, but I do think it’s good to occasionally reflect about what we say and think of better ways of saying it. I know of a few heterosexual couples where the man is more domestic than the woman (and a few the other way around), and I really feel the most important thing we can do for liberating any group is to acknowledge individuality. Some individuals like to tidy and clean, and some of these happen to be men, and some of these happen to be women. Neither of these need to be “trained” by their partner to do this.

    But with regards to “International Women’s Day” also I think it’s very important to at least be thinking of the oppression women suffer in other countries. Not really sure what to add to that, except that despite thinking we’ve still got a lot of work to do in this country, I’d still rather be here than a lot of other places. Thank you feminists for the right to vote and all sorts of other lovely things.


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