International Women’s Day: What This Day Should Be About.

Yesterday, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau shared on Facebook her visions for what International Women’s Day in Canada should look like. It read: 

“Are you ready to ignite change? This week, as we mark International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate the boys and men in our lives who encourage us to be who we truly are, who treat girls & women with respect, and who aren’t afraid to speak up in front of others. Take a picture holding hands with your male ally & share it on social media using the hashtag #TomorrowInHand. Together, we can create a movement that inspires more men to join the fight to build a better tomorrow with equal rights & opportunities for everyone because #EqualityMatters.”

Read this closely: International Women’s Day is not about men.

Allies are important. Crucial, even. No movement can truly succeed without allies getting on board for the cause. The civil rights movement could not have gotten where it is today without white people recognizing its importance and acknowledging they must change their ways; the strength of unions need CEOs to work with them; and trans rights will not be realized without cis politicians advocating for them in the House.

But what Sophie wrote about International Women’s Day is not my International Women’s Day. It is not what I believe should be the focus of International Women’s Day. Let’s break this down:

Who Approved This Message?

Let’s celebrate the boys and men in our lives…”

 Sorry. Let me get this straight. On International Women’s Day, you are asking women around the world to celebrate the men in our lives? That seems a little counter intuitive to suggest we celebrate men during the ONE DAY that is meant to celebrate women.

“…who encourage us to be who we truly are, who treat girls & women with respect…”

Ah yes. Treating women and girls with respect, encouraging women and girls to be their authentic selves. Gold star for you, gentlemen of Canada! Thank you so much for awarding us the basic human right of equality and showering us with respect.

“…Take a picture holding hands with your male ally & share it on social media…”

Now ladies, this is important. To truly celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day, go find yourself a man. (If you don’t have one, oh my gosh, that is so embarrassing.) As a single, independent woman, you really wouldn’t be doing the movement justice. Rather, go hold hands with a man so other men will see your worth and start treating you with respect too!

“…we can create a movement that inspires more men to join the fight …”

Let’s focus on making feminism a movement that is as palatable as possible for men around the world. Women, if you are doing something that makes men feel uncomfortable, like asking them to confront their privilege or getting too ‘loud and angry,’ please refrain. We want feminism to be the George Clooney of movements – everybody likes George Clooney!

Let’s Try This Again

If I was to rewrite Sophie Grégoire Trudeau’s blurb (which I will because this is my blog and I am the queen of this cyber kingdom) perhaps this is what I would write:

“Are you ready to ignite change? This week, as we mark International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate the women in our lives who inspire us to be who we are without apologizing, who advocate for marginalized and feminized peoples, and who aren’t afraid to speak up against institutional bigotry. Take a picture holding hands with a woman from a different social, political or cultural background & share it on social media using the hashtag #IntersectionalityForIWD. Together, we can create a movement that inspires all of us to fight to build a better tomorrow with equity, justice & equal opportunities because #EquityMatters.”

What This Year Should Be About

This year cannot be about men. No International Women’s Day can be about men.

That’s like Martin Luther King Jr. telling all black people in the US to hold hands with any white person who didn’t kick them out of their restaurant. It is an upsetting notion that we should celebrate the ‘little things’ people do in hopes that they will stop being discriminatory.

International Women’s Day, especially in these turbulent times, must focus on women and femmes who are fighting an increasingly difficult fight. Our male allies provide valuable support, but it is still our fight. To not focus on the selfless, impossible, exhausting work that women and femmes are doing is to devalue our work.

So here is what I say to my male allies: thank you. Thank you for being a part of a movement, even though your life experiences do not compel you to participate. Thank you for recognizing our struggles even though you cannot fully understand them. Thank you for supporting us in the ways we ask you to.

But here is what I say to my male allies today: remember your place. Do what great allies do and stay in the background. Come join us in a march, but let me and my femmes march in the front; let us be the leaders of this movement. Support us, lift us up and cheer us on.

International Women’s Day is about celebrating women.

We get one damn day a year; we are going to keep it.

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9 comments

  1. You are so right Paula ! Yes men can support us but this is National Women’s Day

    1. Thanks Susan! I hope you had a great IWD!

  2. Ryan Trean · · Reply

    Paula, your writing style is fantastic. Unfortunately, you clearly did not read “I have a dream” by Martin Luther King Jr. You also didn’t google him to see the various photos of him holding the hands of white people. Your inability to do so has resulted in a piece that is, quite frankly, foolish. Read his speech and you’ll realize how poorly you’ve misinterpreted it, assuming you read it at all! Also, how much of a hypocrite are you trying to make women be? Your logic that men must stand in the background is ridiculous. If we all followed that logic then we may as well criticize the white females who stand up for their racial women friends. We should tell white people to take the back seat when they stand in solidarity and protest violence towards minorities. We should tell white women who protest the thousands of murdered aboriginal women to take a back seat and simply watch, and not be the voice of change. What kind of logic is that? That is flawed. And sad! You’re better than this! I know it.

    1. Hi Ryan, thank you for your comment – I appreciate you reaching out. I think you have misunderstood my main point in this article. I have extensively read on MLK and know that he placed great emphasis on allies in the civil rights movement (with which I agree, for any movement). Here is what I argue though: Feminism is about gender equality, which means most of the work is centered around empowering the oppressed genders (feminized people). While this movement wants to empower all genders, the majority of its work centers on women and femmes. I believe getting men involved in feminism is important, but given the work of feminism the role of men is not to be a leader, but an ally. As such, men should not be on stage with megaphones, speaking to women about gender equality, because they are not the leaders of this movement. If men, as allies, want to further gender equality and be an ally they must do the very difficult job of speaking to other men about your privilege, about the oppression women endue, and about the institutional bigotry at play. There is no fun in this job, but it is crucial. I follow this same logic for white women being allies to WOC – our job is to speak to our white communities, not to take the mic from WOC. I do not suggest any ally “sit and watch,” but rather warn them from co-opting a movement away from the marginalized community that it serves.
      I hope that clears some things up.

  3. What should I tell other men about the privilege that they benefit from? How can I collapse the institutional misogyny that is engraved in our country’s laws?

    1. Hi Paolo, thanks for your thoughtful question.
      I recommend you discuss specific instances where men benefit from their gender, as many men are often unaware of the privilege they carry. This could be as simple as talking about how business clients interact with men vs women, or the relative physical safety men have walking on the street at night compared to women. I also recommend you share articles/swap books written by intersectional feminists (bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Kimberley Crenshaw, etc.) to better understand the discrimination women face.
      You are so right – one person cannot debunk our institutional misogyny, but speaking out is crucial. And if everyone spoke out, and everyone educated ten of their friends, we could see a societal shift!

      1. These are good suggestions but I may be hesitant to speak up for these issues out of fear that I might be using my privilege and taking the role away from women. I don’t want women to think I am just another male speaking for them. How can I do this?

        Also, I do see your point about how I’m privileged with safety on a daily basis. People have said to me that males are a much higher percentage for being homicide victims and victims of violence, but they must be reminded that these statistics are based on male on male homicide/violence or just general violence committed by males. Women are certainly facing a specific kind of violence daily that the statistics are not representing properly and needs to be a higher priority. Sometimes I feel these stats are a little discriminatory against women.

        QUICK STORY: Walking home from my downtown area on the weekends, I’ve had women cross the street to walk on the other side of the street. I’m assuming out their institutionalized fear for their safety which has been drilled into them their whole lives. I shouldn’t have this privilege but I unfortunately do. If this happens again, how can I let women know I am an ally and not of the large group of men who commit some form of violence against women?

        Thank you!

  4. Hi Paula,
    Please check out my post (related to women) here:
    https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2017/03/18/the-language-of-women
    My blog is not focused on feminism but I write on this topic sometimes. I love all of your posts and I’d appreciate your thoughts and input.
    Thank you,
    Priya

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