It’s International Women’s Day—before you ask, International Men’s Day runs March 9 until March 7 each year, enjoy. Sometime today, my dad will call me with wishes, maybe deliver flowers. Women’s Day was a big deal in Communist Poland while he was being indoctrinated into the ways of the world, a sop to reward the female half of the workforce for putting in a full shift at the factory and a full shift at home. It was still celebrated like that in Cuba, which has survived its decades of the American trade embargo and Castro Communism chiefly because women—more specifically, mothers—will do whatever’s necessary to make sure their children are ok. (Fine, the steady influx of US dollars from Floridian Cubans has helped too, but let’s stay on topic—women.)
I don’t talk about feminism much with people because, well, it’s a concept as poorly understood as the theory of evolution (don’t get this anthropologist started) and as triggering a construct as the patriarchy, capitalism, and God. But on International Women’s Day, it’s hard to avoid making the observation that on much of this Earth, in most situations, it’s still sucks more to be a girl and a woman than a boy and a man and so, like… we still need feminism.
Even in the Northern First World, where the situation has improved the most, we’re still fighting for basic equal rights, be they political, reproductive, economic or social. This is depressing, until you consider how far we’ve come and how quickly. Some of our grandmothers couldn’t vote. My mother wasn’t allowed to wear trousers in school. The birth control pill wasn’t approved in the UK until 1963; in Canada, doctors could prescribe it for “therapeutic” reasons from 1960 on, but it wasn’t freely available until 1969. Equal pay for equal work—well, we’re still working on that. And sexual and domestic violence—by men against women—fuck. Seriously, people. How is this a thing?
(The answer, btw—to “How is this a thing?”—is, very simply, patriarchy.)
“Not all men,” someone says.
And, “My Uncle was an abused husband.”
And, “You think it’s easy to raise boys these days?”
Like the All Lives Arguments, these reactions miss the point—which is, simply, that we are far from being an egalitarian society. An egalitarian society is one in which the genders are equally valued. Not the same—equal. And there is no need for an International Women’s Day, any more than in a patriarchy there is a need for an International Men’s Day…
Why is this concept so hard to understand?
Wait. I know—patriarchy.
Two true stories:
I’m texting with a dude, and I make a suggestion of when and where we should meet. He’s thrilled. “It’s so refreshing to meet a woman who takes initiative,” he writes. I raise my digital eyebrows. It’s intended as a compliment—it sounds patronizing. I dig into it a little, elicit a bit of a rant about the passivity of women in the dating context, how hard it is to be a man and do all of the work. It disturbs me.
“Don’t blame my more passive sisters,” I write. “The patriarchy burns women who know who they are and what they want.”
Cut to the second story: I’m doing an interview, for a gig I really want, that I’m mostly qualified for, maybe it’s a bit of a stretch and a jump, but that’s my whole career, so I’m stretching and jumping here because I really, really want this gig. I’m giving the VP a quick synopsis of my career, which consists of a lot of stories such as, “So this opportunity comes up and I think, well, I haven’t done that before and I don’t have the qualifications they ask for, but I could totally do this job, and…”
“You break the mold,” she says. She’s pleased, because so does she. “Most women, they only apply for jobs if they meet all of the requirements. Most men, well…” She doesn’t finish the sentence; she doesn’t have to. We’ve both read the studies.
And it’s not wiring. It’s patriarchy. Conditioning.
Comments on my Canadian school report cards, from age 10 to age 16, when I finally escaped high school, early, with an obscenely high average, and all the scholarships out there: “She’s too confident in her abilities.”
My first performance review at a Corporate Canada job: “A little more humility and diffidence would make her more effective at working with our partners.” (Followed, incidentally, by a critique of my choice of clothes.)
Back to the first story. Remember? Dude telling me how much he likes my initiative, confidence, that I know what I want and I express it? We make plans for an afternoon ice cream date. I propose noon; he says, that might be a bit tight, can he check in with me in the morning when he knows how his morning is going?
At 1:16—pm, not am—I take the initiative again. “Good afternoon… how’s it looking?”
An hour later, I get an essay of apologies and excuses, including—this is a direct quote—“I also didn’t want to stand you up or worse shown up inauthentically.”
Implied somewhere in there is a request to reschedule, I think, maybe—it’s hard to parse essays full of shit. In any event, it doesn’t matter. I exit stage right, politely but forcefully. The only consistent predictor of future behaviour, in my rather rich life experience, is past behaviour, and I’m too busy—too old—too, er, dare we say, confident—to dally with unreliable people, disorganized people, or people who do not honour their commitments.
I express this sentiment succinctly—but, I think, politely. Decline to reschedule; say goodbye.
Dude no longer appreciates my initiative or ability to express and assert what I want.
I am now a bitch and that four-letter word, because I don’t politely, meekly, eagerly accept his excuses.
Thank you, patriarchy.
(I am reminded, again—Flora loves this—that straight and bisexual women are proof that sexual orientation is NOT a choice. No woman, enby or queerdo has ever called me a bitch because I’ve chosen not to sleep with them or decided not to see them again. Cis straight men on the other hand…)
I have a daughter, and on this International Women’s Day, I remind myself that I’m raising a bitch and a cXnt, not a nice girl, and I’m doing this on purpose.
I’d rather she was loud, abrasive, pushy, aggressive—did I mention loud?—than “nice,” a people-pleaser so terrified of giving offence she was forever violating her own boundaries, herself.
I find myself, constantly, on the verge of telling her to tone herself down—and I do not do this to my two boys.
Social programming runs deep.
Flora: Finally! You admit it!
Jane: The fact that you see it and are able to call me on it and I am able to hear you means I’m largely doing my job here.
I’d like to end this International Women’s Day rant with a shout out to my parents, who also raised a bitch and a cXnt and, for the most part, did not clip my wings. I was not an easy girl to raise, and they were growing me in a very hostile world. They taught me to take up space and to fight and to not play by unfair rules—then were a little shocked by how much to heart I took those lessons. But they had my back, they helped me fly.
And to my daughter—Keep on taking up space, keep being loud. And fighting. Shouting. Rewrite the unfair rules—call them out, break them. Continue to dismantle this unfair system until we need an International Women’s Day as little as we need an International Men’s Day, and we’re all just equal humans.
(Equal. Not the same. Seriously. I need to explain this again?)
I’m pretty sure you and your generation, you’re gonna do it.
Mom is so proud of you.