Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Bread and roses, a hundred years on...

There was a time when I was called upon to write a story about International Women's Day for the local feature supplement, and each year (I think it was three or four years in a row) I had to search my mind to see if there were new issues to write about. Balancing different roles, women and security, support groups, perceptions and stereotypes, etc. etc....I can see your eyes glaze over as you think, "same old, same old". That's true. But then, think about it, in 100 years, the issues are no different. Equal wages for equal work. The right to self-determination. The right to personhood on equal terms. The right to property. The right to not be treated as an object or possession. The same list. Year after year.

So this year I found myself wondering, are the speakers this year going to say anything different>

The newspaper stories are the same. What's different is that people now think it is a day to "celebrate" and not "agitate". So there are flowers for the women in the office, and phone calls and SMSs being passed around. But when we allow people (media) to turn this day of reflecting upon issues into a Hallmark event that allows us to parade beauties (pretty things) on our feature supplements in celebration of womanhood, are we not allowing the day to be subverted, and overtaken by the market, instead of retaining its essentially provocative and agitational purpose?

I'm not sure how or what to think about this. Although how and what I think about women's "issues" in general and gender-based (or anything-based) discrimination remains the same. Of course, within all the hype, there are occasions for true debate and unhurried, deep discussion, and the opportunity to introduce a new generation of thinking young women to the complexities of the issues that continue to be important and that continue to require urgent action and continued commitment. For instance, at a film screening this evening, women young, middle aged and old, and a few men, discussed the institution of marriage and what it means in these changing times. On television, a talk show host parleyed with a cross section of society about the need to reform the rape laws. So there are spaces for such conversation, and avenues for change.

To recap, a few of those earlier articles that have a gender dimension can be found here here, and here

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