Facebook’s “Memories” feature reminds me that I haven’t always taken important things seriously. Sure, I like seeing the daily reminder that a year ago my life was completely different, three years ago it was about the same, I always get sick the same week in November, Christmas never changes much, I was a fool back in high school. It’s been an enjoyable and nostalgic few months since I’ve had that little daily reminder that I’ve wasted roughly 8 years on social media, and haven’t been silent since (ha).
But today, International Women’s Day, was particularly odd. A year ago I “shared” a Unicef photo with the caption: “When girls are allowed to be girls, we all do better.” True enough. Quite nice, really. A year before that . . . nothing. That’s okay. A year before that, at eighteen years old, “So it’s national women’s day. What exactly does one do on national women’s day?” A bit sassy, sure. Definitely smug. But whatevs.
By far, the cringiest moment came four years ago, when I was seventeen and knew everything: “It’s national women’s day. I think I’ll celebrate by breaking the bonds of sexist oppression that constantly take over my comfortable 1st world life in which I have every opportunity I can imagine to do whatever I want with my future. Yet again, I do that EVERY day. Let me know when it’s national men’s day. That might be more interesting! ;)”
Seriously? A winky face? All right, me five years ago. Here’s what’s wrong with your statement (this should be fun).
It’s not factually incorrect, really. I am, indeed, a woman. I do live a comfortable first-world life and can do practically anything I want within my own mental and physical capabilities. Turns out, most skills beyond “writing stuff,” “reading stuff,” and “cooking stuff” are beyond me, but I can admire my youthful enthusiasm.
But what’s this drivel about national men’s day? Really, young me? Like, sure, we could have a national men’s day. That would be . . . fine. But what does that have to do with National Women’s Day? It doesn’t.
Women are different than men. There. I said it! Maybe I didn’t know this at seventeen. There are a lot of things I didn’t know at seventeen. Now I know that this is okay, and it’s okay (even necessary) to talk about it openly.
Our bodies work differently. Sometimes, but not always, our minds work differently. We’re often raised differently, and view ourselves differently. We wear different clothes and are occasionally limited in what we can do because of culturally-perpetrated fears of breaking gender norms. We can be vulnerable in ways men simply aren’t. We might be mistreated in the work force. We can be cruel to each other in ways men usually don’t begin to approach. It’s a joy, really.
So why a whole day just for women?
When I open a history book, even a 100% factually-accurate, completely unbiased, crowd-pleasing history book (doesn’t exist, by the way), there’s a lot of talk about men. Women occasionally show up, which is nice. The truth, though, is that beyond a handful of Boudiccas, Joan of Arcs, Cleopatras, and Margaret Thatchers, women are absent. This is for lots of reasons that certainly include oppression during much of the world’s history, but also because of the pretty self-explanatory, biological roles of women: why would the average woman-of-the-past (noble or not) go out to war, become a noteworthy political figure, influence the modern world, etc. when she’s likely a) a mother to several hungry children, busy keeping our species from dying out or b) dead from childbirth? It’s not a fun subject, but it’s the truth. Women’s roles and rights did change consistently throughout history, sometimes for the better, and more often for the worse. What didn’t change is her role as nurturer, and the stupidly-dangerous task of expelling an infant from her body. This isn’t anti-feminist theory – it’s life before reliable birth control, adequate medical care, and humans in general (mostly peasants, really) having the ability to make choices regarding their lives.
So why Women’s Day? To remember the women who raised the pages and pages of men we learn about in the history books. To think about Alexander the Great’s mother, and William Shakespeare’s mother, Martin Luther King’s Mother, and Gandhi’s mother. They’re super important, and they’re often forgotten.
Reason number two that women need special recognition: When’s the last time you heard of a man being sexually assaulted or domestically abused? I know it happens. It’s not impossible and I know it’s a real problem, but acknowledging that these issues are several times more common in women, and that women and children need the most resources and support in these situations worldwide is not sexist. It’s called “being reasonable.” I was lucky enough to be raised in a household with a loving father who never came close to hurting us. I’ve never felt in danger of a sexual predator. Unfortunately for 17-year-old me, I’m not the only woman on this planet, and these problems are an everyday reality for many. We need to think about them. We need to figure out how to raise the world’s boys to respect women and treat them as humans. We need to teach women that it’s okay to seek help, and that they won’t be blamed for the ways they’ve been hurt. Even more important, we need to stop blaming them for getting hurt!
Women’s day is a chance to think about the 1 in 5 American women who’ve survived sexual assault, and the millions more around the world. It’s a day to empower the 1 in 4 women who have reported experiencing domestic violence in their lifetimes. We’re not forgetting about the 9% of men who’ve been sexually assaulted, or the 15% who’ve experience domestic abuse. I promise. They can and should be included in this conversation, too. In a huge majority of these cases, the abusers are men. Isn’t it nice that instead of a “hate men because some of them are rapists and wife-beaters day,” we have a women’s day to focus on the empowerment side of things?
And all those stats I referenced above? That’s just abuse in America. I haven’t even started on child marriages, assault in impoverished countries, human trafficking, or the heinous sexism and abuse going on in the Islamic State. It’s a huge deal, in and outside of our country. Raising awareness of these issues is pivotal in understanding how to make the world a better place for everyone, not just women. Therefore, YAY WOMEN’S DAY.
And let’s not forget a very important, ever-present female struggle. When has a man ever worried about getting pregnant? I don’t care if we’re talking about consensual pre-marital sex, consensual post-marital sex, or rape. I don’t care. At. All. Of course I have my own views on morality, but I’m not stupid. Stuff happens. Women, if not properly prepared with reliable contraception, can get themselves into trouble men couldn’t dream of. Babies are great, and they’re especially great when they’re wanted. I’m definitely not a “free abortions for everyone! It’ll be fun!” type. In fact, I think abortion should be avoided in almost every possible situation. It’s not a happy thing, and it drives me up the wall when self-proclaimed feminists pretend it’s this big final solution to all of women’s problems. It’s not. What can be a big, helpful, non-destructive solution is birth control access. Better birth control coverage = fewer unwanted babies = fewer abortions = happier everyone, right? Meh, probably not. But a girl can dream, can’t she?
Even apart from the current political conversation regarding birth control (which you may or may not agree with), women should be respected simply because childbearing is terrifying. In the best of situations, a happily-pregnant woman is rather uncomfortable for ten months and gets rewarded with a baby to raise with her husband/boyfriend/partner/whatever for the rest of her life. WHICH IS TOTALLY A MAJOR STRUGGLE AND REALLY, REALLY HARD. In the worst of situations, the naive and ashamed teenage girl gets all the blame in the world while the absentee father remains just that: absent. This is not fair. This is why women are important. This is why it’s 100% okay to isolate women’s issues and have one day devoted for them. THERE IS NO SHAME IN THIS. Not to mention the HUGE double-standard in women vs. men not wanting kids. It might not be something everyone understands, but not everybody wants children. This is not a problem. It is their choice. Really.
Workplace issues are also huge. Maternity leave is important. Women shouldn’t be struck down in meetings, and shouldn’t be victimized IN ANY WAY because of their sex. In third-world countries, women need access to resources because several studies have shown that women return business earnings to their communities at a significantly higher rate than men, who spend a lot of their cash on themselves. This is a fixable problem, friends. Women’s day is a great time to talk about it.
And just to get petty for a minute in front of this giant wall of “big issue” stuff: being a woman is EXPENSIVE. Do you know that I have to work five or six hours just to buy an average-priced, well-fitting bra? With that amount of money, I could by a week’s worth of food, or two tanks of gas. For a necessary clothing item (if I don’t want to become a social outcast, at least). This sucks. Even clothing items literally everyone needs cost significantly more for women, underwear and jeans included, which is really stupid. Also, women go through a lot more toilet paper for what should be obvious reasons, and that adds up. We’re also expected to paint on our faces (at least for special occasions) EVEN THOUGH THEY’RE BEAUTIFUL ON THEIR OWN. We need special hair treatments and devices to keep our locks looking fresh, feminine hygiene/pain management is non-negotiable and definitely not cheap, our eyebrows aren’t really allowed to grow wild, and body hair beyond head/eyebrows/eyelashes is considered gross for some reason (???????????????). Maybe at seventeen I hadn’t been dealing with ~all of this~ long enough to realize what a pain it all is, but at this point I kind of just want to throw in the towel and say “Hey guys, I’m gonna be a hairy, braless monster for the rest of my life, and you can deal with it!!! :))))”
Okay, I’m not actually going to be a hairy, braless monster. But women should cut themselves some slack. The pressure to look amazing at all times is stupid and we need to cut it out. This includes judging other women. Not okay, lady friends. We’re all trying, and judging someone else for what she’s wearing or slapping on her face (or not) is never okay, even though we’ve all had those thoughts. We can always look for self-improvement on our inner beauty.
In the end, I see the appeal in my 17-year-old self’s stoicism. I might have mistaken my cold, smug attitude for empowerment. “I’m no different than a man! Women are not treated unequally! We’re not special! We shouldn’t victimize ourselves! I don’t get paid less than a man! Not my problem!” are all things I’ve thought in the past. I took pride in those ideas, regardless of their truth.
But that’s not helping anyone. We shouldn’t have to pretend to be “just-as” anything compared to men to find success in our lives. I, for one, love cooking, sewing, reading poetry, playing music, and thinking about my future children. I love this about myself. None of these things are manly, per se. If I did happen to like hockey, wood-chopping, and monster trucks, that’d be okay, too. It’s all about being unashamed in what we like, and realizing that our hobbies, desires, and even struggles are not shameful or necessarily connected to gender. If they are connected to gender, that does not discount them in any way. They’re what make you, you.
So, dear younger-me, take a look at the world around you. It needs a women’s day, and it needs to talk about women’s issues! Loudly! Celebrating and raising awareness of women should not make good men angry. It should not make you feel victimized. It should make you proud to be a woman, and excited to help other, less-fortunate women in any way you know how. I’ve only touched on a few important points here, but I could (and several thousand people already have) write a book on why it’s important to be educated on women’s issues. Research, read, act. Do what you can with the ultimate goal of ministering unto fellow women. Get men in on the conversation. Drop that shame. BE A BOSS. Have a freaking fabulous International Women’s Day, my friends.