I have a slight problem with the 8th of March.
There’s a classic Slovenian expression of asking someone to explain their troubles, which can be translated into “Where does your shoe chafe?” (Kje pa vas čevelj žuli?). Well, my shoe is chafing every 8th of March, on the International women’s day, which always brings out mixed feelings for me.
The International women’s day started in 1909, becoming an annual event in the U.S. in 1910 and spreading to Russia in 1913. It was predominantly celebrated by the socialist and communist women’s movements to highlight the issue of women’s rights in terms of voting and employment. Years later, in 1975, it was adopted by the United Nations as a commemoration of the Suffragette movement and other notable struggles for women’s rights through the course of history. It is widely celebrated in the Western countries and politely ignored in many other countries around the world.
So, why does my shoe chafe so much at the mere mention of women’s day? In my opinion, women do not require a special day to remind the world of what should have been inherent rights. For example, the concept of democracy has existed since the Ancient Greece, while women had first obtained legal voting rights in 1893 in New Zealand, having to wait until the 1920s in the U.S., UK, Scandinavia etc., and until 2011 in Saudi Arabia, with the issue being far from resolved in certain places until today. In most Western countries we have indeed been granted equal rights on paper, but the practical execution of it leaves much to be desired.
However, at least in Western countries, to which this post applies, we have been granted a women’s day, which has evolved into a lukewarm celebration of womanhood, where we receive flowers and congratulations simply because we are female. Although the extra kindness is nice and usually well-meant, that is not what women’s day should be about. For the record, I believe we should have special days reserved for acknowledging each other, such as a child’s day, men’s day, father’s day, mother’s day, neighbour’s day, best friend’s day, lover’s day, teacher’s day…, as we rarely take the time to consider the importance of all these people in our lives, but until that happens, women’s day in its present form will continue to chafe and as long as it exists, we will never truly be viewed as equals.
Currently, the International women’s day allows the world to collectively pat itself on the back for fulfilling the moral obligation of acknowledging women as actual members of society and then forget about the issue for the next 364 days. I suppose this attitude is the reason why we still need to have such a designated day to educate the world about the issues regarding women’s rights. I believe all of us, regardless of gender, should do more to highlight and mitigate these (and other human rights) issues everyday, as after all, we all want and deserve equality every single day of the year, not just on the 8th of March.
I don’t believe in grand feminist gestures, in fact I believe some of them do more harm than good, but in leading by example and supporting each other without guilt trips and judgement, whether we choose to be engineers or housewives. I chose to become a mechanical engineer, because I enjoy it, not to prove that I could do it, although I’ve frequently had to do just that and have to continuously overcome obstacles that were never placed in front of my male colleagues. While that has often left me with a bitter aftertaste, I’ve decided to embrace it as a challenge and actively refuse to be defined by my gender alone or resent or devalue my male peers. I choose to be a woman, who can competently debate car engines and just as confidently make her partner a sandwich.
I’ll admit, it is not always easy or doable, but to me this represents the way to true equality, where we can all mutually respect each other and truly internalise the belief that our rights are in fact inalienable rights, not just shallow social conventions. Although I do acknowledge that human rights are a purely human societal invention, I strongly, albeit idealistically, believe every single individual should have the right of personal dignity and choice. On a similar note, I believe that anyone who purposely violates another’s rights forsakes their own to all but the most basic degree, but I digress.
While I hope we may grow beyond the need for a special women’s day one day and achieve true equal rights worldwide without trying to erase or compensate for our differences, I am still aware of the sacrifices of the women who came before me and believe their struggles should be honoured and remembered, all the more since these struggles are still ongoing. For me, women’s day should thus really be about the commemoration of the history of the women’s rights movement as originally intended, but never practised, not about the basic fact of being a woman.
In conclusion, to my fellow women: never let anyone’s opinion stop you from achieving what you want, but also don’t do anything just to prove something to someone; live your life on your own terms as much as you can, but always remember: true respect is earned, not forced. We can force people to notice the issues, but we cannot force a true change in their minds without mutual understanding and acceptance. We can however, choose to support and encourage each other, radiate competence and capability and refuse to back down or engage in petty competitions and squabbles. If we can manage that, I honestly believe the rest will come.