March 8th. International woman’s day.
For some reason, likely related to the infallible power of the patriarchy that brought me up, this day brings the vague memory of the strange tradition, celebrated for the first time in my childhood: roses, cheesy words, empty phrases about female power. A tradition that, several years ago, I decided to forget, despite the yearly messages I get from my mom:
I know you don’t like it, but happy women’s day! [Picture of a rose with some cheesy quote about feminine beauty]
It’s not that I don’t like it, ma. I just refuse to celebrate this day if we are going to limit it to the superficial and the ephemeral beauty of the rose.
The history of this day dates back to 1908, when garment workers in New York entered a strike to claim their labor rights. With their manual labor, working almost as slaves, locked inside fabrics without daylight and food, these women—who also had to take homework to execute at night, after the homely duties were over—were the energy, and the clothes, of a newly-prosperous country. It seems ironic that they, with everything they brought to society, needed to protest for their most basic rights: food, sleep, light…
It is even more ironic that, within days of the first official international women’s day, in 1911, several female garment workers died in the “Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire,” in New York, after their building caught fire and they, locked so they wouldn’t escape the inhumanity of their employer, could not free themselves from the flames.
But the height of irony is that, today, 106 years after more than a million women and men marched in protests around the world, fighting for women’s rights—better labor conditions, ability to vote and hold public office—, to request the opportunity for education and training, and to end gender discrimination in the workplace, we continue asking for the same.
Fighting for our rights. Fighting to be valued. Fighting for equality.
Because we are not superior. We are just tired of being treated as inferior, so much so that many of us truly believe we are.
That women had control over the world thousands of years ago, says Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, made (more or less) sense in a semi-savage world where physical strength was needed for survival. In many cases (though with many exceptions) men are physically stronger than women. But what about today? Shouldn’t our leaders be the most intelligent, creative, innovative? Shouldn’t it all go beyond our reproductive organs?
Women’s rights are human rights. But in these troubled times, as our world becomes more unpredictable and chaotic, the rights of women and girls are being reduced, restricted and reversed.
But the reduction of our rights does not have anything to do with a chaotic world. On the contrary: it seems to be one of the few constants in the history of humanity, regardless of the social and economic cycles we have seen throughout the times.
This is why I can’t deal with the cheesy words on a day like today.
Because, throughout history, the love that women are capable of, their surrender, their capacity of making everything more beautiful, is what has been highlighted… and this only limits us to the conceptions of femininity imposed by the patriarchy: virgin, angel, light of the home; never in the first plane of our society.
In his statement for today, Mr. Guterres also extends us an invitation:
On International Women’s Day, let us all pledge to do everything we can to overcome entrenched prejudice, support engagement and activism, and promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Yes. Overcome prejudice. Get over the idea that the woman, fickle and fragile, is nothing more than the innocent flower that takes care of humanity. The hardest mission, it seems, for us humans.
Judith Butler mentions the importance of breaking repetitive patterns in order to change gender stereotypes. When we stop following the rules of what it is “to be a woman” (or a man, for that matter), those we are taught as children, that we have learned so hard that we don’t even realize we follow, we are slowly walking towards equality.
In these days, I found a campaign for social media that intends to do just that: #BeBoldForChange. Through small, conscious actions, we can break the patterns and create a new reality; we can move towards equality.
Just this idea motivated me to write again. To find the inspiration I lost to a world that rejects the arts, fashion, everything feminine.
So I return to my mission as a historian, as a woman in academy: that of writing women’s and fashion history, of showing the world that “the feminine” is not inferior, of empowering myself and empowering those around me so that, one day, our grandchildren know what it is to live in equality. Of celebrating the international women’s day with roses, not because they are ephemeral, beautiful and fragile, but because of the striking power of their red petals and the boldness of their spines.
**Photo via Andrey Yakolev & Lili Aleeva