Last year on International Women’s Day – only the second or third time that I paid any real attention to the celebration – a woman made me aware of my problematic attitude towards the holiday. Like many other men I was inclined to wish a woman a “happy IWD” and, despite some doubts, so I did.
It led, not immediately, but eventually, to a conversation where I was brought to understand two issues surrounding International Women’s Day which need to be countered for the day to stay meaningful. First, there is the treatment of it as “Mother’s Day Without Children” where women are “congratulated” for being oh so wonderful, without paying attention to both the origin and continued relevance of the holiday as one to reflect on and support the emancipatory struggle of women. Second, there is the matter of it being used as a token, a way to pay lip service to women’s issues one day a year without doing much more.
To change this on a personal level I thought up a “International Women’s Day Resolution” for myself. Whenever topics surrounding women’s issues came up I was to ask the question “what can I, a man, personally do to reduce sexism?” as a way of becoming more aware of the sexism women face.
Throughout the last twelve months I had several opportunities to ask this question. The resulting answers varied from extremely practical – go to the other side of the road when you cross or are behind a woman at night, be careful with assuming that a woman wants to have the door opened for her – to more general ones such as “be open-minded and treat women as equals”.
All in all it was an interesting exercise which I will continue and recommend to others. The conscious attention I have paid to these conversations truly have made me more conscious of the challenges and particular irritations women are confronted with. Indeed, this year I will not wish anyone a “happy International Women’s Day”, because there still is enough reason not to be.
Take a look at the digital hub for more about International Women’s Day.