Tomorrow, March 8th, is International Women’s Day (IWD) but what does that actually mean and what’s the point?
Well, IWD is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The first IWD gathering in 1911 was supported by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. Today, IWD belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. It is not country, group or organisation specific. The day marks a call to action for accelerating gender equality which we are still far from achieving.
I watched Miss Representation on Netflix last year and it talked about how the representation of women in the media is harming the West’s ability to move towards gender equality. It was funny (or tragic) because it’s a topic I chose to write about for my sociology A-Level back in 1999 and there I was, watching the same problem play out 18 years later. The documentary starts by explaining that American teenagers spend 10 hours 45 minutes a day consuming various forms of media including the internet, TV, movies, and magazines. It goes on to explain that what the media does, either overtly or covertly, is teaches and reinforces the view that the value of women in society is dependent on their appearance first and foremost.
This marginalising view informs and underwrites our narrative of women and girls in every sphere. Clearly, it’s not the only contributor to gender inequality but it is certainly a massive factor. Now, this concept isn’t groundbreaking. It’s one that is widely accepted as harmful but still remains.
If you’ve read any of my other blogs, you’ll get a feminist undertone, or in the case of This pussy bites back a very fucking loud and clear feminist message but what I want to focus on for a second, is what feminism actually means:
It’s not about demonising men. It’s not about trying to prove that women are better than men. It’s not about emasculating men. It’s not about women hating men. It’s not about women being lesbians. It’s not about women “taking over”. Oh God, I’m laughing with a sad sense of despair as I type because these are all things I’ve heard being said recently by men (and some women) of various ages.
What feminism is about, is equality. That’s it. Pure and simple.
I spoke to two of my female friends in their 20’s and asked them what IWD means to them. They shrugged their shoulders. Clearly, it didn’t mean very much. Great! I thought. Maybe gender inequality doesn’t even factor in their lives. Maybe the new generation has it sussed. “So girls, have you ever faced gender inequality?” This answer came with as much ambivalence as the first and with the same shrug of shoulders.
“Of course we have.”
A tiny part of me died inside. It wasn’t only the answer that was upsetting, it was the resignation. Clearly, we have a long way to go.
What I’ve realised over the years, and maybe this comes with experience, is that I am as much to blame as anyone else for allowing gender inequality to continue. I have been guilty of perpetuating stereotypes, allowing things to be said and done about, and to me and not standing up for myself when I should have. I don’t let that happen now.
So what can women do to take control of moving gender equality forward? This advice from Miss Representation feels pretty apt:
- Measure yourself by your accomplishments, NOT by how you look.
- Reflect on the ways you may contribute to sexism.
- Support media that champions accomplished women and boycott media that objectifies women.
- Teach those around you to look at gender norms critically.
- Don’t be afraid to challenge people if they express derogatory views about women.
- Find healthy role models and become a mentor to others.
- Support each other.
And finally, one piece of advice from a 34-year-old, white, British, feminist to EVERYONE reading this, not just the women.
Don’t give up. When you give up on fighting for equality, you give up on fighting for yourself.