It’s never lost on me, as 8 March ticks around and every brand gets their social assets polished up in pink, that International Women’s Day (IWD) was born if not from the loins then the sweat of female socialists.
And look how much it, and we, have grown! Yes, the very same Conservative Party that last year tweeted its “record of empowering women to fulfil their potential” (with the hashtag #IWD2022, obviously) was earlier this year dead keen to suppress the right of working women to strike for proper pay and working conditions. (You know, like those women did at the turn of the 20th century. The very ones who prompted the empty day of celebration we all now mark!)
I’m being flippant. But I’m also angry. Because that so aptly demonstrates how empty the rhetoric around International Women’s Day has become.
Yes, there are individuals and organisations doing vital work on IWD, but they tend to be those, often at a grassroots level, doing it the other 364 days a year.
There are also those doing subversive work (I love you @paygapapp, which tweets out the median hourly pay gap for any companies that tweet about International Women’s Day). And there are undoubtedly important conversations to be had. (In fact, I had one on the podcast Yours Sincerely with Jess Phillips with the eponymous Labour MP. Phillips, lest we forget, spends every 8 March reading out the names from the Femicide Census in parliament – about violence against women and girls.)
But really, what, in 2023, do we have to celebrate? Scanning those brand memes and graphics, I’m reminded that yes, individual women are still smash remaining ceilings. But focusing on individual achievement is the very opposite of a collective reckoning (not to mention of bargaining and change).
Ploughing money into massages, yoga classes, drinks parties, networking brunches and internal panels (which are primarily aimed at professional, middle-class women) feels like a performative distraction from the real landslide of slurry we’re currently being buried under. The message: many women sink, but some can still scramble their way to an air pocket. And hey, be grateful! You’re the exception!
And allow me to say that I’ve been there and done that. I’ve sat on panels celebrating successful young women, successful women who used to be poor, women making money in a man’s world! So, I can also say that it isn’t just not enough, it’s unhelpful. But it’s far more palatable to raise a mimosa than do what I’m about to do. Which is to bring the brutal facts to the cocktail party.
Office for National Statistics data from 2022 for England and Wales shows that 1.7 million women experienced domestic violence the previous year, and the number of recorded domestic abuse-related crimes went up 7.7 per cent. Rape? Only 1.3 per cent of rape cases end in a charge, with even less leading to a conviction. And if there’s an iota of urgency from government to fix the decriminalisation of one of the most serious crimes in our country, I must have missed it.
Capitalism may tell you that the wins for modern women are in work, but not when the gender pay gap thrives and we’re being forced out of work by truly insane childcare costs. And those kids? Better prepare to bear down, with abortion rights being challenged around the world after the reversal of Roe vs Wade in the US last year.
And yet – and yet – I love being a woman. Crazy, perhaps, in a world that makes it increasingly hard to be one. So, I’m going to hold back the party poppers this IWD. At least until quite so many of us aren’t ending up sunk and buried – just another statistic I’ll mourn at the next International Women’s Day.
[See also: Why we should still celebrate International Women’s Day, despite what’s happening in Ukraine]