Op-Ed: What Is International Women’s Day, Anyway?

By ERIKA K. DAVIS

Today marks the 100th anniversary of a universal holiday that has traditionally been hardly acknowledged in the United States, let alone celebrated: International Women’s Day.

Since its inception in the early 1900s in Europe and the late 1970s in the US, International Women’s Day has taken a back seat to larger, more popular holidays. But it’s taken a back seat to even the most inane ones, too. How do we know the anniversary of Pacman and Thomas Edison’s Birthday without knowing about Women’s Day? One word: Google.

Google changes their logo for almost anything, but in the past few years, March 8 has come and gone without so much as a nod from The Google. This is not to slam Google, it is my understanding that because today marks the holiday’s 100th anniversary, they do plan on changing their header. What does it say, though, that we need a Google header to realize it’s Women’s Day? Surely I should have learned this in my all-girls Catholic high school.

It is common to give gifts and flowers to women on March 8th around the world and in certain countries, Women’s Day is a national holiday that entitles women to a day off of work. But in the United States, while other newer holidays like Earth Day are woven into the academic school year and publicized in advertisements on subways, buses, and media, Women’s Day has remained largely unnoticed.

I polled some of my friends and a few strangers for an unscientific look at what Women’s Day means to some people. The answers were varied: “Never heard of it” and “Why do we need days like Black History, LGBTQ, Women’s days when we should all be appreciated and honored every day for who and what we are” and “I wish I could say that it meant more, but it doesn’t.”

It’s not hard to understand the lack of celebration around Women’s Day in the United States when we consider the ongoing assault on women’s rights as a whole in our country. You cannot open up the newspaper, turn on the news or open your Facebook feed without hearing of continued political attempts to revoke, amend, and regulate our rights. We’re being assaulted in government as well as in our schools and on the streets. From the now removed billboard attack on African American women in NYC’s SoHo neighborhood in September to the continued fight for federal funding for Planned Parenthood, to a Georgia state representative’s attempt to redefine the word ‘rape’, in the United States, women’s rights are under seige.

In the United States and around the world women are treated as second class citizens right off the bat. Add other variables like race, religion, ethnicity, disability, weight, sexual orientation and a woman’s rank in society goes down yet a notch further. But serious progress has been made, and movements like the anti-street harassment movement prove that we are changing. In the words of a friend, our country is ripe for a revolution. So who is ready to take that stand?

I’ve often lamented that I wish that I had the gall of our foremothers who walked out of garment districts demanding better pay. I wish I’d been there as we demanded our rights to vote, demanded the rights for contraception, and won the right to choose. I look at pictures of women of varying ethnic groups standing shoulder to shoulder in black and white stills of the marches on Washington and wonder if this generation is ready to make the same amount of real noise as those women. Not just Internet and Facebook noise but real Noise. Burning your bra Noise, mega phone Noise, in your face NOISE! The Women’s Movement may have ended but if we aren’t celebrating Women’s Day in a big way nationally, the fight is not over.

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Erika K. Davis is the writer and founder of Black, Gay, and Jewish and lives in New York City.

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