How to be a better feminist this International Women's Day
As British feminists look forward to an International Women's Day that coincides with the centenary of female suffrage, one writer maps out what we could learn from past mistakes
Besides St Patrick’s Day, what exactly has March got going for it? Seemingly not much, except International Women’s Day on the 8th. This year’s IWD is being hailed as one of particular importance, due to the fact it marks the centenary of female suffrage for UK audiences.
A limited victory
However exciting this may be, we should practise a little positive scepticism when celebrating this milestone in the history of British feminism. More than just another opportunity to chat purple sashes and King’s horses, this anniversary is a reminder that we need to keep our eyes on the prize and remember that it is equality for all, and not equality for some, that we are working towards. Though the trail blazed by white, wealthy suffragettes of the late 19th and early 20th century was an exciting one for any of those who benefitted from their sacrifices, it’s also worth noting that their victory only initially benefited those over the age of 30 who owned property. Working class, very young adults, and those who didn't own their own home weren’t granted rights of their own for another decade.
The problem with modern marches
Much like Pride — which, despite beginning life as an anti-establishment riot led by queer POC, has been both white-washed and turned into a corporate-funded street party — the radical potential of women’s marches and demonstrations can easily get lost in a sea of faux-empowerment. Sticking on an embroidered badge and slinking into a parade isn’t enough to tackle gender inequality, especially if you aren’t committed to feminist principles throughout the year.
In 2018, while some individuals across the world are waiting until 8 March for their dose of feminist resistance, this year has already seen thousands take to the streets once more, in defiance of one of the Western hemisphere's most notorious ‘pussy-grabbers’. But those Trump retaliations continue to feel like the domain of white, able, cis women. Take, for example the infamous ‘pussy hats’, which have apparently grown into a fully-fledged ‘social initiative’. This gimmick was one that many protesters got on board with, but very few members of the majority clocked just how exclusionary the whole affair was for trans women and non-binary people and people of colour. Evidently, not all women have vaginas, and not all vaginas are pink.
The feminist goals of empowerment and equality can never be met if we don’t continue to strive for intersectionality. It’s too easy to be swept up in the moment from time to time, but perhaps IWD 2018 should be a time to learn from (and resolve) 2017’s missteps; particularly if we happen to be part of the societal majority. Rather than jumping on the bandwagon and raising our voices to be heard, we should pause to listen to the phenomenal individuals fighting in the name of feminism around us. With the wealth of information afforded by the internet and the relatively democratic platform offered by social media, it’s easy to scroll past opinions, events or accounts which don’t dialogue directly with our experience.
Self-education about the experience of trans, differently abled, low income, queer, and / or non-white individuals is fundamental for understanding your own experience of oppression and how you might be helping perpetuate the oppression of others. Discriminatory ideas are filtered down through the mainstream media and education, touching all individuals in all walks of life. It is only through actively informing yourself about other individuals’ perspectives and thinking empathetically and pragmatically about other people’s needs, that you can begin to work to dissemble these prejudices.
Celebrate your sisters (and not just your cis-ters) by making IWD a day for putting these principles into practice. Planning an event for 8 March? Then ensure that all venues are wheelchair accessible, that the ticket price won’t exclude willing participants and that you don’t allow your own personal experience or prejudices to dictate the course of the event. This can seem daunting, but it’s all about asking for advice and actually listening to the answers.
As the inimitable Audre Lorde said: "I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own."
International Women's Day 2018 – Events Guide
The theme of this year’s IWD is #pressforprogress, presumably referring to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, which helped to bring the issues of sexual misconduct and abuse of power to light, exposing their true scope and scale. But while hashtags are handy, coming together IRL is important for building communities and meeting like-minded people.
Glasgow Women’s Library host a series of six events organised in partnership with Panel and Craft Scotland between 1-8 Mar, focussing on products inspired by the library’s collection. Events include screenings and exhibitions along with banner-making workshops, creative writing sessions, crafting groups and more.
Over at the Old Hairdressers on 8 Mar, The BIT Collective invite IWD revellers for an all-female knees-up featuring HEISK and Jenn & Laura-Beth. Funds will be donated to Glasgow Women’s Aid, a charity that provides support to victims of domestic abuse. Doors at 8pm.
Over in Edinburgh, Chachi Power Project and Swedish photographer Jannica Honey join forces to bring When the Blackbird Sings to Arusha Art Gallery (8 Mar, 6.30pm. The evening event of storytelling and poems from amateur writers, set in the surrounds of an exhibition of the same name by Honey (exhibition continues until 25 Mar).
More in the way of feminist raconteurs at Cafe Voices' Sheroes event, in which storyteller Ruth Kirkpatrick (whose own 'sheroes' include Billie Jean King and Mary Seacole) will be heading up an evening celebrating great heroines. The event’s open-floor component allows for a dialogue of ideas and for participants to share the ‘sheroes’ close to their hearts. Scottish Storytelling Centre, 8 Mar, 7pm.