Today, also known as International Women’s Day, made me feel a lot of things: a little bit happy, but mostly a mixture of sadness, anger, resentment, and anxiety. Ultimately, it all amounted to feeling uncomfortable in an explicable way.
International Women’s Day kind of acts like a big thermometer for how society feels about women, and then how it feels about feminism.
The way society feels about women is never more amplified, from the most radical feminists, to the most vile misogynists, than it is on this day.
Sure, it’s a day to celebrate women, and all women who have contributed to society in a positive way, often times with little to no notice. And many people do. I personally received texts from my father and boyfriend this morning wishing me a Happy International Women’s Day. And I like to think it’s because they both recognize how fundamentally important equality (of gender, race, class, etc.) is to me, and not just because I was born with a vagina and have to deal with everything that goes along with that (street harassment, objectification, degradation, lower pay, etc.).
While the celebratory voices are also raised, so are those opposing any such celebration. My boss tweeted out a photo of myself and two of my female coworkers, while I was sporting my “the future is female” shirt. Someone on Twitter was quick to say the shirt was disgusting for applying a gender to the future. It’s clear he missed the point, but that’s my point—so many people still do.
Just the fact that there even is an International Women’s Day bugs the hell out of some men. “Where is our day?” they say. Actually, you have one. Now let us have our space and bugger off.
My good friend and fellow feminist shared a status on Facebook, and ended with the simple line, “now more than ever, we need to fight for equality.” Almost immediately, a white man, clearly a “friend” of hers on Facebook, commented: “Why would you suggest that woman are not equal? I don’t see how woman are any less or superior (for that matter) than men in today’s society? If you have anything that supports your claim I’d be interested to know.”
She let him know. She was calm, patient, and educational. She had an uncomfortable conversation with someone she knew, and she prevailed. By the end of it, she had convinced another man who jumped on the “equality exists already shut up about it” train that he was wrong. “Fair enough,” he responded.
That brings me to my next point. Let’s talk about who is a feminist, and who is not.
I used to be one of the feminists who tried to convince people that feminism wasn’t so bad by explaining to them that they, too, were feminists. “Feminism is just about believing in the equality of men and women,” I’d say. Easy enough, right? “Okay then,” they would reply, clearly painted into a corner. “I guess I’m a feminist.”
But now, I’m not so sure it’s that easy. Being a feminist does mean you believe in equality between men and women. But it also means that belief is so fundamental to your values that you are willing to fight for it.
On International Women’s Day, a lot of people claim to be feminists that I would have never imagined to be. Women who have previously questioned my own feminism, and asked me point blank to tone it down around their male friends, are claiming to be champions of women’s rights.
All that does is dilute the feminism of so many women, and a few men, who have dedicated their lives to living, breathing, and speaking the feminist cause.
Being a feminist means actually doing something to combat systemic oppression. It means having uncomfortable moments and awkward conversations, even with people who are your friends. It means having an open mind, and realizing that you, and your lived experiences, do not equate to the experience of all women. Nor do they equate to what feminism should be about. Being a feminist means fighting for your rights, and fighting for the rights of others.
So, if you identify as a feminist, I encourage you to take a good hard look at what that means to you.
Does it mean going along with a trend?
Does it mean you like the idea of equality, but are turned off by the thought of confronting the people in your life when they do or say something problematic?
Does it mean you take a stand, but only when something is directly affecting you, or people like you?
Does it mean you think critically about the culture that surrounds you?
Are you willing to take on the fight for equality every single day?