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What International Women’s Day gets wrong

8 March 2019

4:34 PM

8 March 2019

4:34 PM

Happy International Women’s Day! Newspapers are laden with pictures of women, Twitter is alive with anecdotes about the fairer sex and corporates feign interest in the hope of gaining some positive coverage. Meanwhile, politicians are busy giving bland statements about the importance of “women’s equality”. And the rest of us? We’ve barely even noticed.

For most women outside the City – and for those fortunate enough not to use Twitter – today is just another day. In fact, if I had to draw a cartoon of what IWD has become it would probably involve a female investment banker sneering down her nose at a stay-at-home mother telling her: ‘It’s International Women’s Day, don’t you know?’.

International Women’s Day has certainly come a long way from its roots. When it was founded by a group of socialist women in New York back in 1909 their demands were for shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. In the 100 years since, equality between the sexes has improved immeasurably. Yes, there are still battles to be won. But I think the women who founded IWD wouldn’t be impressed by what it has become. ‘What are they complaining about?’, they might ask, ‘Why have they let corporates take over this day?’.

On both fronts, they would certainly have a point. After all, shouldn’t we celebrate women who work at home as much as those who work in an office? Why aren’t there stay-at-home mums on the front cover of the nationals? Probably because they are too busy at home looking after the kids – and 8th March isn’t highlighted in their diaries.

Perhaps then it is time to scrap IWD. It’s patronising and people should acknowledge women’s merits – and men’s – everyday, rather than as a one-off. Making it into a day allows faux campaigners to tag on. It also tends to pit women against men. This is a pity when women should remember that, for the most part, men are our friends. But for some, today seems to be an opportunity to bash blokes. On Twitter, a few men have clearly tried their best to mark the occasion, only for it to backfire. Take Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s representative in Brexit talks, who tweeted: “You go girls.” Unfortunately, his reference to ‘girls’ rather than ‘women’ didn’t go down well among those without a sense of humour. This might seem like a small example but if we lambast blokes that do try, what is the incentive for them to stand up for women when we might need them to?

The po-faced tone of some of those ‘celebrating’ IWD – and condemning those they think of as not marking the occasion properly – also shows that more of us need to learn to take a joke. This one is so important. I’m part of an all-female WhatsApp group called “The Hood”. If someone has a work issue, we all pile in. If someone has bad PMS, we all pile in. If someone has a good orgasm, we pile in. It’s great. Today I received a picture of an IWD banner that was crumpled. Someone captioned it with ‘this needs an iron’. It was funny. Jess Phillips also found the same picture funny. No-one should be offended. It isn’t perpetuating a stereotype.

So if women – and men – want to celebrate the fairer sex, they should do so everyday. After all, women’s standing in the world isn’t just for 8th March, it’s for life. Let’s not trivialise it with a silly, tokenistic day.

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