Get with the program, North America
Since the early 1900s, International Women’s Day (IWD) has been an opportunity for millions of people, regardless of gender, to campaign for women’s rights and equality. Those observing the holiday celebrate intelligence, courage, strength, beauty, and solidarity. In the spirit of third-wave feminism, the idea is to do so without marginalizing each other for our cultural, religious, national, economic, or political differences. It is no surprise then, that in 2010 the United Nations gave IWD the theme “Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All.”
But if it is really so global and exciting, why don’t we hear more about it? It just so happens that the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom are all missing from the list countries where IWD is considered an official public holiday.
Events are organized every year by various small women’s organizations, and while cities like New York and London have huge marches across their monumental bridges every March 8, the day doesn’t always get a lot of buzz. What happens to women living anywhere else in those countries?
If China, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam can all celebrate IWD, its time for North America to jump on that bandwagon, too.
Women united can never be defeated
It was March 8, on a year like any other. As it was the year before, the country was embroiled in war, for reasons only dimly understood. The patriotic fever that had gripped the nation only a few years before had all but subsided, and the reality of the situation became more and more apparent. The country’s economy, which had been bearing the load with the strength of desperation, was on the verge of collapse. Frustrated by the world contriving against them, and emboldened by the auspicious day, women across the city left their factories and marched through the streets. It was a small spark, but it inflamed a city, a country, and the world. So began the Russian revolution.
International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8 and has been since its inception in 1909. Since then, it has lost much of its original significance. It began as a day of recognition for the working women, first of the United States (initiated by the Socialist Party), then spreading to the rest of the world by way of the international socialist movement. The connection between class struggle and gender struggle was then as clear as can be. Now their entanglement has become mystified and obscured, and the international nature of both movements dissolved.
It is time for a change. It is time to recognize that the struggle of the woman against oppressive patriarchy in Iran is the same as the struggle of the peasant in Colombia, and the industrial worker in Canada. It is the same struggle as the student who confronts a hostile world in waiting. Let us not forget that ours is the same struggle. International Women’s Day is not merely a token of respect for the women of the world, it is a day of solidarity for a people whose cause is the same.
The good feminist
I was born on International Women’s Day. Notwithstanding this fact, I have always had a highly ambivalent attitude towards feminism. In earlier years, I begrudgingly acknowledged that inequalities still existed that women needed to overcome. However, I silently resented my tacit cooption by this cause due simply to an accident of birth. I agreed with what Anne Sexton once wrote: “I am tired of talking about gender.” There were so many things I wanted to fight for in my life; fighting for my gender was not one of them. I was a true child of the third wave.
In retrospect, I was extremely privileged to have been able to disavow feminism’s relevance to my immediate lived experience for so long. My attitude has been changing, however, since I have come to realize that a disproportionate number of the most intelligent, driven, and high-achieving women in my life suffer from eating disorders. The numbers are frightening. These are not superficial women. These individuals are the vanguard of what the future of feminism ought to be. Why, then, have so many of them been afflicted by diseases that are intellectually and emotionally, not to mention physically, crippling?
Eating disorders are seen as a “poor little rich girl” problem. Few people understand that vanity due to privilege is a symptom, not a cause. The cause is something much deeper.
Our mothers’ generation of feminists was of the era of “no compromise.” The mantra of liberated women was that they could have it all: family, career, sex appeal, financial and sexual emancipation. It was simply a matter of finding the right balance. Thus the Superwoman Complex was born. When the reality of what was feasible failed to live up to the promises of the ideal, it was a blow to many of them.
Now we are left with an ideal that we know is hollow on some level. But the thought of downgrading the aspirations of the feminist dream to the level of the mundane seems unthinkable to those of us socialized to believe that it’s within our grasp. Rationally, perhaps, we understand that the Superwoman is a figment of our collective imaginations. Yet to fully internalize this belief is – for many of us – an admission of failure.
So we struggle on against the lessons of experience but with an entire society at our backs, cheering us on. If we dreamed perfection, why shouldn’t we live it – at any price? The obligation of privilege compels us to embody the Superwoman because, though she may be a myth, no equally alluring alternative paradigm has emerged to replace her.