Today is International Women’s Day! The wonderful weather in New York City seems to agree that today is indeed a day for celebration — celebration of women around the world and the women in our lives. It is a celebration for the feminist movement, or the women’s liberation movement for all its successes. The women’s liberation movement has effected change in our society, securing the right to vote for women, greater access to education, more (but yet not fully) equitable pay, the right to own property and so forth. These and many more advancements have not only helped women, but men and society in general.
Historically, the earliest observance of Women’s Day was held on May 3, 1908, in Chicago, followed the next year on February 28th, in New York. In August 1910, an International Women’s Conference was organized in conjunction with the general meeting of the Socialist Second International in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was here that German socialist Luise Zietz proposed the creation of an annual International Woman’s Day. Her proposal was supported by Clara Zetkin, and 100 delegates from 17 countries. The measure passed yet no date was specified at the end of the conference. The following year on March 19, 1911, International Woman’s Day was celebrated for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. In the United States, Americans continued to celebrate National Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February. In 1914 International Women’s Day was held on March 8, as it is today.
It is important to recognize the role of the women’s/feminist movement in creating much of the change that we celebrate today – and by the feminist/women’s liberation movement, we mean the series of campaigns on issues such as reproductive rights (including abortion), domestic violence, maternity leave, equal pay, sexual harassment, and sexual violence — a movement rooted in social justice to benefit women and men, while contributing to building a world where one can have egalitarian, non-exploitative relationships. And yet as we celebrate today, we should also remember the work ahead, as we still live in a society where for every dollar earned by a man a woman still earns 77 cents. The glass ceiling remains solid, as the percentage of mangers who are women has risen from 35% to 51.5% and that is in the past 20 years.
Women are half of the world’s population and work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, yet we receive 10% of the world’s income and own less than 1% of the world’s property and the United States ranks 23rd among nations in its representation of women. And it does not look good for young women out there… As Michael Kimmel and Carol Gilligan have shown, most girls silence themselves between the ages of nine and sixteen; that is, they give up a part of who they are because they think it’s necessary in order to survive. They begin to act like a stereotype, a false idea of what it means to be female. Girls play the more feminine role that is based on the mistaken belief that females are weaker than males. They learn to please everyone except themselves.
Carol Gilligan describes this change in many girls as losing their different and unique voices. Instead of trusting themselves, girls become uncertain and lose self-confidence. But let’s remember, patriarchy does not only hurt women. Unfortunately, the initiation of young boys into what society calls “masculinity” requires them to cover their emotional nature; to sacrifice love for the sake of honor and to create a false sense of self.
Mainstream media does not help us on this issue, as it displays a certain message regarding: women, men, masculinity, class, race and capitalism. As we watch characters in their search for love and satisfaction, as in Sex and the City and The Bachelor episodes, we learn damaging messages for women and men, now hidden under the guise of women’s empowerment. As feminists, we said how “we’ve come a long way, baby” (please note the baby), but to the point that teenagers are now allowed to wear thong underwear in school and sexualize their bodies in the name of empowerment.
Further, the US government has not ratified the world wide bill of rights for women, knows as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). And worse, just three days ago the Senate voted to block a bill that would have removed the authority of senior military commanders to prosecute sexual assault cases within their ranks, creating instead an independent prosecutor. The Military Justice Improvement Act sponsored by New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was an attempt to reform the military and protect men, but mostly women, from sexual assault.
But we are hopeful for we have seen how women can bring positive change in the workforce and in society. Prominent research institutions, including Rutgers and other American Universities, have spent decades studying the issue and have concluded that women tend to include diverse viewpoints in decision-making, have a broader conception of public policy and offer new solutions.
Today, as you celebrate the women in your lives, we hope to influence you all to become a part of a truly inclusive social justice movement, a new feminism that does not leave women of color behind, that does not leave lesbians, bisexual and transgender women aside, but puts them at the forefront of our struggle. A movement that challenges pre-set notions of femininity. A movement that invites men to liberate themselves from patriarchal definitions of masculinity. This is our movement, this is our time.
Every person, every generation has its own story. Our mothers fought to eliminate discrimination in the workplace and to acknowledge that domestic violence is a gender based crime. They marched in the streets, they advocated for survivors, and they won for women unprecedented opportunity for professional advancement.
The fact that the Critical Therapy Center was envisioned by a couple of women, we can safely say – that this opportunity was brought to us by feminism. Yet our generation’s story and your generation’s story is fueled by both the progress and unfinished business of the women who came before us.
When women gain freedoms and full equality everyone wins. And so today is our opportunity to revive and inspire young people, to challenge capitalism, white privilege, heteronormative sexuality, patriarchy, sexism and all forms of oppression. Together, as people we can imagine a different kind of country, with a new revival for feminism — invigorated by dialogue and diverse viewpoints, and rooted in social justice and liberation. Today let’s continue to celebrate the struggles we have won for all women and join us in the battles that lie ahead.