March 8, 2013

RANT: International Women's Day

Did you really think I would let this day go by without a post? Let's make it an annual tradition. And for the record, my radar has been zoning in on gender issues lately - maybe it's time to bury this issue for once and for all? Yeah, right. It's never over 'til the fat lady sings, as the inappropriate gender-based reference goes.

The notion of IWD began over a century ago in 1909, implemented originally by the Socialist Party of America. It began as a salute to working women, and has since been expanded and exploited by the media to draw attention to gender issues, most recently violence against women, women in prison, and women living in poverty and hunger.

I'm genuinely on the fence about this, as I am about other cultural paradoxes. First, to draw attention to women on only one day of the year is ridiculous. Is it supposed to make us feel special? Because it doesn't have that effect on me. It's not as if being a woman is a disease that we need to be more aware of - it's not even related to a cause whose achievements we can celebrate. Is it meant to appease radicals?

Second, to isolate women as a gender is hypocritical. How can we emphasize equality if some of us are still asking for permission to be special? There's no International Men's Day, as far as I know. Special treatment just makes me feel as if we are precious. And we're not. We may outnumber men by a small percentage, but basically it's one species, two genders. Pretty close to a 50/50 split. Why make a big deal out of that?

Finally, our language and culture are still riddled with gender-biased references. I'm a writer; this is the front lines for me. And it can be very subtle. Here's an invitation from a woman's industry group, trying to be inclusive of men (I applaud the effort, but find the results comically tragic):
"Guys, we haven't forgotten you. This is your chance to pay it forward to a woman in the industry that you know - recommend or sign her up - she'll come back refreshed, rejuvenated and inspired to sell more!"  
The language implies that men are still the decision-makers for their female colleagues. And the event is to honour the concept of female empowerment. Are we there yet? Not quite.

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