Wednesday 8 March signifies International Women's Day. In some countries it represents the celebration of love for women, similar to Valentine's Day or Mothers' Day. In other regions its takes on more of a political stance, whereby the struggles of women worldwide are brought to the fore. No doubt it provides an opportunity to consider the advancement of gender equality and the continued fight for woman's rights around the world, otherwise known as the feminist movement.
It's difficult to talk about woman's rights without mentioning that ugly F word: feminist. Mentioning the dreaded F word congers up images of stereotypical man-hating, white women, who are angry, radical activists. Modern feminists believe this is a stereotype was propagated by people that sought to undermined the support of the women's movement. Meanwhile, African-American women claim that the modern feminist movement is concerned only with white women's rights and does not cater to their specific issues, whilst other feminists claim that women who bare their breasts (i.e Emma Watson & Madonna) are sending the plight of women backwards rather than forwards. And finally let's not forget the guys out there who are standing up in support of women's issues and are copping flack for speaking on behalf of women. Gee, it's a tough gig being a feminist. You're expected to be everything to everyone and there's always some other feminist telling you you're doing it wrong. It's no wonder no one wants to call themselves a feminist these days.
However, the fact remains that the feminists' fight for equality still has a long way to go. The feminist movement is now so broad that it encompasses a plethora of issues, along with many seperate organisations and individuals that campaign for change. Here are just a few examples:
Domestic violence against women (See White Ribbon in Australia),
Child brides (See GirlsNotBrides in the UK),
Dress codes in the workplace,
Economic inequity, including the gender pay gap & single parent support,
Female education in the developing world, and
Female genital mutilation in Australia and abroad.
A feminist is defined as a person who publicly supports women's rights on the grounds of equality of the sexes. That's very broad and inclusive definition. Basically, if you're a person and you believe in gender equality, you're a feminist. It includes the high heel wearing, corporate ladder climbing professionals, as well as the woman-loving, football watching, beer drinkers. It includes the stay-at-home mothers who bake and people who work in the sex industry. Basically it includes every single type of human being you can imagine...all except for the woman-hating ,misogynist type. Are you a woman-hating, misogynist type? No? Well then, you're probably a feminist.
With women's issues that are so wide and varied it is important that we have supporters who are as diverse and different as the topics themselves. Gender equality needs to be pushed forward in so many directions, in so many industries, countries and cultures, that there is a need for every type of feminist. We need researchers, historians and writers who share the stories of successful women long forgotten or dismissed. We need politicians, celebrities and other leaders to speak out and drive social change. But most importantly we need parents, teachers and carers to bring up the next generation of little people who believe in gender equality.
If you can influence just one other person and inspire them to challenge their gender biases (even if it's your own), then you have made a difference to the feminist cause. You may already be doing it, by teaching your sons to respect women and telling your niece to dream big. Perhaps your a feminist already and you didn't even realise.
For International Womens' day I ask that everyone do one small thing that they have never done before, in order to show support to women around the world. It may be reading a book by a female author, taking a friend to see a Woman's AFL match or donating to one of the aforementioned causes. It may be as small as calling yourself a feminist. Every small action counts. Whatever it is you chose to do, do it proudly and give yourself a pat on the back. That's how we should celebrate International Women's Day.
Happy International Woman's Day!
PS> For an expansive list of organisations that support women's issues in Australia and overseas go to: http://www.sydneyfeminists.org/links.