March 8 is International Women’s Day. Although the first “Women’s Day” was held in 1909, I’ve spent most of my life unaware of it. My calendar doesn’t list it. What’s it all about, you ask? Is it some Feminist thing?
Wikipedia provides lots of information about the history of this special day, which focuses on women’s rights. Early expressions of this movement came from socialist and communist groups and countries, but International Women’s Day was adopted by the United Nations in 1975. Their website provides details about the fight for gender equality around the world. They choose a yearly theme and for 2019 it is
“Think equal, build smart, innovate for change”.
A brief refresher on feminism might be helpful at this point. During the first wave of feminism, around the turn of the last century, women fought for legal rights — especially the right to vote (suffragists). Think of the suffragettes in England (militant suffragists), or Alberta’s “Famous Five” and the “Persons Case” here in Canada (when, in 1929, Canadian women were finally recognized as persons under the law and could be appointed to the Senate). (Most) Women were granted the right to vote in provincial Alberta elections in 1916. Voting in a Canadian federal election was granted to some women in 1917 (those serving overseas, and relatives of men serving overseas) and to more women in 1918. Asian people (both sexes) in Canada were not given the vote until after WWII and First Nations people were excluded until 1960.
The second wave of feminism occurred from the 1960s to the 1980s and focussed on job equality, sexuality, and reproductive rights (the bra-burning era). The third wave began in the 1990s and revolved around redefining feminism to embrace individualism and diversity. The fourth wave began around 2012, relies heavily on social media, and emphasizes expanding the fight for equality out of white middle-class America to include all people, regardless of race, social status, or country.
Born in the late ‘60s, I grew up during the second wave of feminism and became part of the third wave — without really knowing it. When I was in university, I participated in rallies to protest violence against women. I bought, read and discussed feminist literature. I attended a Gloria Steinem lecture. After graduation, I got married, had a baby and quit my job. I got flack from my cohort for being a turncoat: for wearing skirts and lipstick and jewelry, for changing my name when I married, for becoming a stay-at-home mom. But, you know, I’m still a feminist. I believe women should have the same rights as men: political, economic, social, and cultural. And that includes the right to choose what you do with your life.
I may not be out there marching and carrying a placard, but I hope that my quiet example can still make a difference in my little corner of the world. The saddest thing I encountered while working as an archaeologist (in the late 1980s) was a little girl on a school tour who called me over. She was wearing an immaculate frilly pink confection of a dress and asked, “Doesn’t your Mommy mind you getting so dirty?” I like to think that seeing me enjoying my unconventional job opened up her mind to new possibilities.
The point is that equality should be normal. Both my husband and I have worked towards that in our own ways. My son’s friends know I’m a trained archaeologist and I think they see it as just another thing moms do. I have volunteered in my son’s schools to discuss my career in the sciences. I have rushed to school meetings directly from a dig site and arrived coated in dirt instead of nail polish. I’m just another mom. My husband mentors young people in engineering and gets great satisfaction from helping kids develop new skills. He described teaching a high school student to use a power tool and the look of pride that the young woman and her father shared when he saw her creating something mechanical. Everyone can help create equality.
So, yes, International Women’s Day is a feminist thing. It’s about celebrating the achievements of women so their examples can give strength to others. It’s about working for equality for all people, regardless of gender, nationality, race, or religion.
While doing research for this article I found several websites listing books on the subject (check out the web address above for links). I’ve complied a list of books with a historical bent that I hope to read soon and thought I would share it with you:
Who Cooked the Last Supper? by Rosalind Miles
The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers by 49 writers
Enchantress of Numbers: a Novel of Ada Lovelace by Jennifer Chiaverini
The Richest Woman in America: Hetty Green in the Gilded Age by Janet Wallach
Nancy: The Story of Lady Astor by Adrian Fort
Books on Women in Science:
Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky
Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science — and the World by Rachel Swaby
This article was originally printed in the Bergen News and is being reprinted with permission.