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Happy International Women’s Day? Here’s Why We’re Not Sure

So we get one day to celebrate ourselves. This year, when our rights are being chipped away, it feels extra hollow. Jeannie Edmunds weighs in.

I’ve been leaning toward calling bullshit on International Women’s Day. I mean, it smells—at first whiff—like a Hallmark holiday. Send a card for Grandparents’ Day! Order flowers for your favorite feminist!

I decided to investigate. Has the true meaning been lost? Was there ever a true meaning? Or is it just another day on the calendar for capitalists to fly the female flag and pretend they care, while our rights are slowly being chipped away?

Hugs are free, and hugging yourself is extra free. There. Feel better? I don’t.

And whose idea was this anyway?

When you land on the website, InternationalWomensDay.com, what’s the first image you see? A woman hugging herself. That’s a pretty good place to start. Hug yourself, girl, because as much progress as we’ve made over the centuries, we are still not paid enough, not supported enough, not allowed the freedom to make decisions about our own body, and not represented enough in the rooms where everything happens. 

Hugs are free, and hugging yourself is extra free. There. Feel better? I don’t. And I’m sorry, the idea of embracing yourself as a solution to anything sounds like something invented by a bunch of guys: We do the arm work so they don’t have to tire themselves patting us on the head.

Read More: After 40 Years of Marching, Why We Have to Do It Again

Does International Women’s Day Make a Difference?

I love men; I just don’t love the corporate/government/institutional/perpetual patriarchy.

The older I get, the more I’m driven to support other women in business, and in life. Maybe I’m making up for lost time and missed opportunities in my education. The only feminist book I ever read was Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and, as a junior in high school, it went right over my head. I remember asking my mom if she would ever burn her bra, but she was so busy raising four children while also holding two part-time jobs, she couldn’t be bothered. While Friedan’s message may have struck a chord in her when she read it, she wouldn’t dare to imagine answering that clarion call in the 1960s. And my father was not about to start cooking or doing dishes. “Things are just the way they are,” she told me. 

So could International Women’s Day make a difference in the lives of the current generation of mothers? Women raising children and trying to bring in a second income so they can pay for unaffordable childcare? Talented women looking for a break to write or direct a feature film? Women whose husbands have kicked them to the curb after they’ve passed their “expiration date”?

One version of International Women’s Day supposedly started in Russia in 1917.

Like I said, I really do love men. I just don’t love the fact that the ERA passed both houses of Congress 51 years ago, and we still don’t have an Equal Rights Amendment to the constitution. Even International Women’s Day hasn’t moved that needle in this country. Are we any closer to having a woman president in 2023? Not likely.

According to the United Nations, which recognized International Women’s Day in 1977, it all started in the United States in 1848, when women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton were prevented from speaking at an anti-slavery convention. This led to the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, which led, eventually, to women’s right to vote.

There are several versions of International Women’s Day floating around on the internet. One supposedly started in Russia in 1917. Another iteration reportedly grew out of women protesting garment factory conditions in New York in 1909. Was it actually first celebrated in 1911, or do we start the clock with UN recognition, in 1977? I was in the news business for at least a decade in the ’80s and ’90s, and we never once covered it as a news story. So why is it on everyone’s radar now?

Why Now?

I have my theories. In the consumer culture of the 21st century, International Women’s Day has morphed into an awareness campaign, a mega-charity event, and, unfortunately, a corporate “estrogen-washing” opportunity—a chance for companies to show how much they care by giving us shoutouts in their social media and donating unknown amounts to good causes that genuinely do support women and girls.

Confused? Me too.

The International Women’s Day website has aggregated all of the financial opportunities around this “holiday” into an online marketplace, one-stop shopping for those who want to show their support. This is certainly admirable, and the nonprofits they showcase are legit. The International Women’s Day organization identifies itself as “philanthropic fundraising services.” Does that mean they take a piece of all the donations they generate? If so, that’s probably a good business, even if they only wrangle those donations once a year, as in Giving Tuesday. Nothing wrong with doing well by doing good, so maybe I’m wrong. 

InternationalWomensDay.org appears to be a nonprofit organization based in India, with awards and a live virtual event and—per their website—room for more sponsors. Why India? Does the money go to women in developing countries? I hope so. 

Confused? Me too. But it doesn’t matter. Our 24 hours in the spotlight will be over soon. Highlighting worthy charities for women is a good thing, and I applaud the women who are making that happen. Giving companies, governments, and individuals a pass just because they made a donation or a social media post is counterproductive. If we really want to rouse some rabble, we need the other 364 days to do it.

Read More: How to Celebrate International Female Orgasm Day (Which Promises to Be More Fun Than International Women’s Day)

By Jeannie Edmunds


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