Tag Archives: Women’s History Month

Protesting on International Women’s Day? History is on Your Side

International Women’s Day began as a day of women’s protest in Europe and the United States. Celebrating this socialist holiday largely died out in the US, while communists in China have been commemorating Women’s Day annually since 1922. The tables have turned this year. Women in the US are striking today, while working women in China are enjoying a half-day off work.

A highly politicised holiday this year in the US, with vast support drummed up organisers of the Women’s March on 20th January, women are demonstrating to raise awareness about economic inequality, reproductive rights, civil liberties and ending violence.

Meanwhile in China, thousands of women are taking the half-day to focus on themselves, hanging out with girlfriends and spending their money online or in major shopping malls advertising huge women’s day discounts.

There’s no question that this vast disparity stems from women’s feelings of political and economic safety on the one (Eastern) hand, and women’s desperation at the current political and economic situation on the other side of the Pacific.

While women are commemorating International Women’s Day in their own ways, it might help to remember that the history is on the side of those protesting today.

Kulturgeschichte / Frauenbewegung / Deutschland / Propaganda
German poster for a women’s suffrage demonstration on 8th March 1914 | image from: German History Docs

First observed in the US on February 28th, 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay, and the right to vote. The Socialist Party of America organised a strike on the same day in 1909. Similar demonstrations marked the last Sunday of February for the following five years.

European women were also staging demonstrations throughout this same period, calling for the right to vote, economic equality and civil liberties. A consensus was reached, and International Women’s Day became truly international on March 8th 1914.

In London that day, during a march from Bow to Trafalgar Square in support of women’s suffrage, Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested on her way to speak in Trafalgar Square.

The women’s march in Petrograd on 8th March 1917 sparked the Russian Revolution, which lasted for 8 days. Women in St. Petersburg went on strike for “Bread and Peace” that day, demanding the end of World War I. Women’s Day was officially adopted as a holiday by Soviet Russia that year, and later made a non-working day. As a result, celebrations took place on March 8th in socialist communities and communist countries worldwide for fifty years.

Women’s Day was celebrated by communists in China from 1922. After the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, the state council proclaimed that March 8 would be an official holiday with women in China given a half-day off.

In 1975 the United Nations recognised the importance of March 8th and announced today as International Women’s Day, to be celebrated the world over.

Iranian-women-snow1
100,000 Iranian women gathered to protest the headscarf on 8th March 1979 | image from: NYTimes

People are taking stock, today, of how gender equality stands in a variety of arenas, from political power, to earning parity, to family leave. We’ve come a long way since the women of Europe and the US began protesting in the early 1900s, because those women changed things. Let’s hope those protesting today can harness that power and show the world what International Women’s Day is really about.

 

Read on

‘What is it with China and Women?’ Zhendegender

‘A Brief But Fascinating History of International Women’s Day’, Fortune

”A Day Without a Woman’ strike aims to raise awareness’, Aljazeera

‘Hard Times for feminists in China’, supchina

Header image from Hudson Institute

Words and Women: Vera Nazarian

A woman is human.

She is not better, wiser, stronger, more intelligent, more creative, or more responsible than a man.

Likewise, she is never less. Equality is a given.

A woman is human.

― Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration


Words and Women is a regular feature that spotlights short quotations from influential women activists, artists, and authors.

Emma Watson’s Vanity Fair Photo is Exactly What Feminists are Fighting For

British actor and pioneer of the UN’s HeForShe campaign, Emma Watson has faced criticism for the publication of a photo in which her breasts are partially exposed. The image is one of a series taken by acclaimed fashion photographer Tim Walker, with styling by Jessica Diehl. It accompanied Watson’s recent cover story interview for Vanity Fair. Of the shoot and images Watson has said:



It felt incredibly artistic. I’ve been so creatively involved and engaged with Tim and I’m so thrilled about how interesting and beautiful the photographs were.



emma-watson-tim-walker-march-2017-ss09
The offending image of Emma Watson | image from: vanity fair

As the UN Global Goodwill Ambassador, Watson promotes gender equality while maintaining her career as an internationally renowned actress. She’s a major role model for women, young and old, worldwide.

Watson’s critics argued that by posing for this revealing photo, she betrayed her feminist ideals. Rather than apologise, Watson came back at her critics with a simple explanation of what feminism really means:



Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with. It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality. I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it.



Feminism is about empowering women to make their own choices. Equality means women have the freedom to choose how their bodies are treated and viewed, in both public and private spheres. This issue is up there with the right to education, the right to equal pay and the right not to be sexually harassed and abused.

Watson’s critics, whether or not they’re aware of it, reinforce the case of people denying women access to reproductive healthcare. The argument against giving women access to abortion and other essential healthcare stems from a misogynistic view that women do not deserve control over their bodies. Access to reproductive healthcare is about allowing women to choose how their body is treated and viewed, in both public and private spheres.

A little glimpse of boob might seem like a drop in an ocean of all the things feminist women have been fighting for for hundreds of years. It might seem like a single image from a fashion shoot is hardly worth all this conjecture. But it is our reactions to these seemingly small issues that snowball until we have an entire woman-shaming culture: by opposing a single woman’s consensual decision to bare her body, we become complicit in preventing hundreds of thousands of women from life-saving healthcare.

As Watson put it, this criticism is synonymous with:

saying that I couldn’t be a feminist and… and have boobs.



Read on

‘Emma Watson on Vanity Fair cover: “feminism about giving women choice”‘, The Guardian

‘Cover Story: Emma Watson, Rebel Belle’, Vanity Fair

Suffrage



We have to free half of the human race, the women, so that they can help to free the other half.

Emmeline Pankhurst



suffragette-holloway-prison
A suffragette looks through a window on Holloway prison broken by an explosion after suffragettes tried to bomb the prison. 19 Dec, 1913 image from: mashable
I shall never while I live forget the suffering I experienced during the days when those cries were ringing in my ears.
Emmeline Pankhurst


emmeline-and-cristabel-pankhurst
English suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel, founders of the Women’s Social and Political Union, in jail for demonstrating for women’s rights (21 Oct, 1908). image from: mashable


Read on

‘1908-1917 Imprisoned suffragettes’, mashable

Words and Women: Adrienne Rich

The connections between and among women are the most feared, the most problematic, and the most potentially transforming force on the planet.

adrienne-rich
Adrienne Rich, image from: coldfrontmag

Adrienne Rich was an American poet, essayist and radical feminist. She was credited with bringing “the oppression of women and lesbians to the forefront of poetic discourse” (Flood).

Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you…it means that you do not treat your body as a commodity with which to purchase superficial intimacy or economic security; for our bodies to be treated as objects, our minds are in mortal danger. It means insisting that those to whom you give your friendship and love are able to respect your mind. It means being able to say, with Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre: “I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all the extraneous delights should be withheld or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.”

Responsibility to yourself means that you don’t fall for shallow and easy solutions–predigested books and ideas…marrying early as an escape from real decisions, getting pregnant as an evasion of already existing problems. It means that you refuse to sell your talents and aspirations short…and this, in turn, means resisting the forces in society which say that women should be nice, play safe, have low professional expectations, drown in love and forget about work, live through others, and stay in the places assigned to us. It means that we insist on a life of meaningful work, insist that work be as meaningful as love and friendship in our lives. It means, therefore, the courage to be “different”…The difference between a life lived actively, and a life of passive drifting and dispersal of energies, is an immense difference. Once we begin to feel committed to our lives, responsible to ourselves, we can never again be satisfied with the old, passive way.”

Read on

Flood, Alison. “Adrienne Rich, Award-winning poet and essayist, dies at 82.” The Guardian. 29th March 2012.


Words and Women is a regular feature that spotlights short quotations from influential women activists, artists, and authors.