International Women’s Day: Equally Celebrated?

There will be many articles and vociferous comments today, on the 100th anniversary of the first ever International Women’s Day, about whether women have indeed achieved true equality, all over the world. I  do not plan to add to those articles (my thoughts on the subject would probably burst out of their blog corset and rearrange themselves into a book, if they could).  Instead, I would like to explore how Womens’ Day is celebrated around the world.

I had no taste for so-called Communist rituals while living in Romania in the 1980’s.  Military parades, Young Pioneers, Labour Day demos were events they would try and force us pupils to attend and that we would try to avoid at all costs.  Women’s Day seemed to my uninformed adolescent mind to be just such a Soviet invention, made worse by the fact that we had to pay homage to the Mother of the Nation, that ’eminent scientist, politician, wife and mother’ Elena Ceausescu.  My parents would make me buy flowers for the female teachers and that was that.

Perhaps it’s a sign of old age.  Although I am not exactly growing nostalgic about International Women’s Day, I am considerably more concerned about it now than in my (more visibly feminist) youth.  And of course, now I am aware that it wasn’t a Communist invention in the first place!

First of all, I think it’s a shame that Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day gets such prominence in the Western Society, while Women’s  Day goes largely unnoticed.  Are we implying that women only add value in their roles as mothers and lovers/spouses, that they can only be defined through others?

Secondly, however hateful and hypocritical the public cult of Elena Ceausescu was, I think it’s significant that, unlike the spouses of political leaders in much of the Western world, she was celebrated not just as a wife and mother, but also as a politican and scientist in her own right.  She was equally applauded for her career and her contribution to society (fake though those claims were, obviously).  While Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Obama, Mrs. Sarkozy and Mrs. Brown had to at least temporarily suspend their careers so that they can more fully support their husbands, that kind of rhetoric was never present in Romania.  Sexist society, where women get wolf-whistled daily and then go home to do all the cooking and housework?  You bet!  But more equality in the job market and career expectations at least.

Thirdly, looking at the official International Women’s Day website, which is designed to bring together information and listings for events around the globe, I notice a huge number of events listed for UK, US, Canada and Australia, which almost seems to contradict my first point.  But if we look closely at the type of events, many of them are quite small initiatives and have been uploaded conscientously by their organisers.  In other countries only 1-2 events are listed (usually organised by the English-speaking community), so I am  not sure this list fully captures the range of global events and thoughts on the topic.

Fourth and final observation, I notice art and music seems to be one of the preferred ways of celebrating this day.  I can’t help pondering if that is because women prefer to express themselves that day (or are perceived to prefer it), or because it is a less controversial way of approaching the subject.  What do you think?

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