I’m a bit late to the party, but I still want to contribute my piece. Yesterday marked International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate and honour what it is to be a woman and look back on some of the greatest achievements of womankind. It’s also a day to appreciate women just doin their thang in a world so dominated by men.
I want to talk a bit about what International Women’s Day means to me…
Since I was a child I’ve seen a rhetoric emerge that I think is particularly toxic. This is the rhetoric that puts women in binary opposition with each other and condemns one kind of woman and her choices and lifts the other one up. For example; the woman who chooses to stay at home and devote herself to motherhood is often criticized for playing into the age old stereotype of the ‘housewife’, whilst the woman who chooses to advance her career instead of starting a family is praised for ‘paving the way for women’. Pitting women against each other and praising one for her choices while condemning the other is not celebrating women and it is not working towards equality of the sexes.
If we cast our minds back to America, Britain and Australian in the early to mid 20th Century we uncover the expectations that were placed on women to stay at home, or if they felt particularly rebellious and decided to join the workforce and earn a pay-check considerably less than their male counterpart they were pressured to resign once their first baby arrived. Sylvia Plath wrote of the struggle facing adolescent girls in mid 20th Century America in her novel The Bell Jar: “I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
Plath is able to beautifully underscore the notion that women were not able to be multi-faceted beings. Her protagonist Esther feels an immense pressure to choose just one path for her future; career or marriage, travel or babies, Olympian or philosopher, as her society tells her it is impossible to pursue all of these. So, when I sit here on March 8th and watch as the world tears women down for choosing to stay at home with their children, or work in a female dominated profession or shamelessly enjoy her vanilla soy latte with crème de menthe I feel outraged. Equality is the ability to choose without the notion of gender holding you back, so when these women choose for themselves to do what they are passionate about we should celebrate that and recognise that ‘choice’ hasn’t always been something afforded to women, in fact ‘choice’ has been almost solely the luxury of being a man throughout history.
My vision of an equal future for men and women is for society to accept and celebrate different and the ability to make autonomous choices as well as to lift the restraints of gender so that we can all choose a path for our lives that brings us joy and fulfillment.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?