International Women’s Day
Should we celebrate “Man’s Day,” too?
March 8, 2012 marked the celebration of International Women’s Day, where women across the globe are appreciated with gifts of flowers, chocolates, poems and, in some cultures, a reprieve from household responsibilities. In India, women marched in solidarity and women-led organizations marked their legacy in newspapers and television reports. In Russia, the day is actually a public holiday. In our very own Claremont, some women affirmed with enthusiasm the validation of this day. Claremont McKenna’s Gender Equality Task Force celebrated all week by organizing speakers on women’s issues, a petition for reproductive rights, a clothing drive, and other activities.
Still, this century-long celebration remains a topic of debate. Should the world only set aside one day to appreciate women? An even more pressing question involves the “male role” in International Women’s Day. Some are critical of the celebration, arguing that it isolates men. This criticism raises questions about how to bridge the genders in issues of inequality. Those who support International Women’s Day are now looking for ways to foster understanding and support from men on that day and also for Women’s Studies in general.
As a discipline that grapples with questions of justice, inclusion, and belonging, International Women’s Day is an important event for Women’s Studies. In an interview with the Port Side, Claremont McKenna History and Women’s Studies Professor Diana Selig explained that “International Women’s Day inspires us to learn about women’s experiences around the world and to advocate for women’s empowerment. Since the first International Women’s Day over a hundred years ago, women’s rights have made great strides around the globe, and those advancements are worth celebration.” Though the day serves as a reminder of women’s history and a marker of achievement, it is also important to investigate how the day continues to shape Women’s Studies and gender equality movements.
Contemporary critics of International Women’s Day question the microscopic focus on women because it alienates men. Audrey Bilger, CMC Professor of Literature and Co-Chair of the Gender Studies Program, countered that although “there are definite amounts of inequality with men as there are with women, women are a focal focus on this day because they are a more disenfranchised group than men in a multivariable system. It is imperative to investigate the interlocking systems of oppressions.” It is fundamental to contextualize the issue of inequality between both genders based on social and cultural interwoven webs. Therefore, though this day focuses on women’s issues, there is no assertion that women’s issues are more important than men’s issues.
It is also necessary to incorporate men into International Women’s Day and therefore minimize negative views that stem from alienation. Bilger explained, “Men should care about women too. We are used to putting men’s accomplishments as a universal ideal. We should also put women’s perspectives as universal and not only as a ‘women’s’ perspective.”
Both women and men would benefit from universal gender equality. In looking at the U.S. alone, it is clear that many systems are coded with gender and privilege hyper-masculinity. This not only impairs women but men as well. Men hold the majority of Senate seats, women still earn only 77 cents on the male dollar, and the media continues to subjugate women for their sexuality. On the other hand, men who do not conform to ideals of hyper-masculinity, such as fathers who prefer to stay home and raise their children, are ridiculed and emasculated. One step towards altering this oppressive system can be taken in International Women’s Day, a day that in some cultures valorizes those who perform domestic work. Reducing the stigma of “staying at home” for both genders is a strong move towards equality. In trying to correct system of imbalances, Bilger is confident that “we can overcome our physical being and gender divide.”
But perhaps International Women’s Day is not necessarily the best way to reduce the gender divide. Caitlin Highland CMC ‘14, an International Relations major, believes that it is more important to focus on domestic women’s issues than international ones. Highland asserts that education is key in alerting both women and men to the great inequalities in our own country. However, she also noted that “transforming national attention to women [would] affect change in the international hemisphere.”
As an advocate for equal opportunities, Highland believes that International Women’s Day is part of a larger scheme of gender equity involving men advocating for the rights of women. She strongly believes that “there is a place for men in women’s issues.” Highland explained that similar concerns affect both genders. For example, “if a woman is given maternity leave to take care of her newborn, so should a man in order for him to be with his family at that important time.” Lastly, Highland argued that we can bridge women’s studies and men’s issues by “defining a common guide towards a common goal.” International Women’s Day is an excellent place to establish mutual respect for both women and men.
Despite such leaps in female empowerment worldwide, there is still much to be done to accomplish gender equality. According to Professor Selig, International Women’s Day is integral in drawing attention issues like “illiteracy, poverty, disenfranchisement, violence, and lack of access to education and health care, which deny women full rights and limit their freedoms and opportunities.” Awareness is one element but action is another, and Selig firmly believes that the day “can serve as an effective call to action.” But, she continued, “it is essential to remember that this action cannot be confined to one single day. Advancing equality and freedom for all people will take continued effort and vigilance throughout the year.”
Though originally celebrated to appreciate women in the domestic realm, International Women’s Day has grown into a global activist movement by women and men for women and men. The day should not be used to isolate the genders but unite them in countering similar plights and vanquishing inequalities. In striving for equality between men and women, International Women’s Day develops unique intellectual frameworks and teaches students how power, privilege, and difference shape our individual identities and society as a whole.