When I called my sister to ask about how she thought I should frame this article, she summed it up succinctly.
“Even though we grew up together, we grew up in different worlds,” she said.
It couldn’t be more true. The fact that we were raised in the same house and attended the same primary schools did not stop us from being bombarded with social values enforcing rigidly separate expectations and dynamics. In some ways my family pushed back, making us take turns cleaning the dishes and trying to teach both of us to cook, but the inescapable differences in roles and expectations still seeped in.
My sister was incessantly told she was weak and in need of protection. She internalized this message and it affected her self-esteem and self-worth, when in reality she has always been strong minded, passionate and powerful.
There are countless examples of how we live in different worlds, or are received differently by the world, and part of what second wave feminism attempted to address is the universality of women’s experience. Yet as many critics pointed out, this analysis often came from a Western perspective where white women with class privilege argued women the world over should have allegiance to women above any other aspect of their identity.
Not many people celebrate International Women’s Day in this country — I’m willing to bet most of you haven’t even heard of it before. Even though my sister works with nonprofits and organizations focused on empowering women and girls, she hadn’t heard of the holiday either until she lived in Italy, where people often honor the day by giving flowers to the women in their lives.
Some people will argue there’s no need to mark International Women’s Day, and while there are some legitimate cases for this (it reinforces a gender binary and ignores the experiences of trans-people), the lack of public discourse about — and action around — the role patriarchy plays in our lives is depressingly low.
I learned March 8 was International Women’s Day in high school when a friend invited me to come to an anarchistfeminist conference coinciding with the date. Easy enough for me to remember: My mom taught me the importance of feminism from a young age, and it falls on her birthday.
Today such identify politics are less common, as it seems more people recognize that even if women’s experiences vary dramatically throughout the world, and even in within our city, there is still a need to understand and acknowledge how patriarchy affects our lives.
While the intersection of different privileges and oppressions creates vastly disparate experiences for people throughout the world, some women have built powerful connections across the globe to address systematic problems, be it the effect advertising by transnational corporations has on body image or the complex, underground network of human trafficking.
The holiday has also been known as International Working Women’s Day, and Jobs with Justice is hosting a program this year under that banner. March is also Women’s History Month, and the Commission on the Status of Women, the Greensboro Public Library and the YWCA are co-sponsoring an event March 22 entitled “Unsung Heroine of Women’s History” at the Historical Museum.
One need not look far to notice ways patriarchy plays out in our lives, be it in the assaults on women’s reproductive freedom or our interpersonal relationships. Part of the solution is naming the problem and creating a space to discuss solutions, like Women’s Equal Pay Day on April 17 that the Commission on the Status of Women is involved in to draw attention to continuing pay disparities.
So while International Women’s Day isn’t without its flaws, we can still use it as an opportunity to reflect and build. And as one leading feminist I spoke to pointed out, our increased ability to communicate internationally provides an opportunity to more fully embody the spirit of International (Working) Women’s Day.