March 8 is International Women's Day. This is a day that historically commemorated the demand by women for better working opportunity, pay, and conditions, but expanded to include demands for equal rights for women in all areas, including healthcare, reproductive rights, environmental safety, childcare, and political rights.
In 1911, New York City mostly female, immigrant garment workers were often locked into their workplace for long shifts under hazardous conditions. On one occasion, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory caught on fire, and the women were unable to escape because they had been locked in. Many jumped to their death from the upper floors of the factory building. This incident came to symbolize the plight of working women, and led to the creation of the first union representing the garment workers, and became the focus of International Women's Day marches for years to come.
The organization of women into political groups has waxed and waned over the years, but often is in the forefront of anti-war activities, and a demand for a better life for all people.
A few decades ago, when the cigarette industry sold the public on the idea that "liberated" women smoked cigarettes as a sign of their independence and intelligence, a cigarette brand named "Virginia Slims" used the slogan: "You've Come A Long Way Baby." Well the fact is, we have not.
Every generation of women ends up fighting the same battles over and over again. Starting with the struggle to end violence against women, which continues to be common in all countries of the world. It is a shared problem among western developed countries and in the poorest third world failed states. Women are beaten, mutilated, murdered, enslaved, sold for sex purposes, and routinely abused without any intervention by the government to punish those who commit these acts, or to educate future generations to end the violence.
Amnesty International unfortunately has an entire section devoted to the sole issue of violence against women, which is so overwhelming and so widespread that it requires its own division. In the U.S., the wealthiest nation in the world (as they keep telling us), we have no national program to end violence against women. And we suffer from violence in every class, every race, every educational sector. The police are better at prosecuting now, but we still routinely see the battered woman defending the batterer, often because she has low self-esteem and because violence is still considered to be the result of something the woman did. She asked for it, in other words. We need a national educational program, much like the anti-smoking crusade, to end violence against women.
One of the focuses of women's rights in third world countries is the effort to end female genital mutilation. In some countries, a woman's clitorus is cut off to prevent women from enjoying sex and, theoretically prevent her from ever wanting to have sex with anyone. Sex with her husband will be a chore, but she will never experience true sexual arousal or pleasure. In the U.S., we see such practices as barbaric. Yet it is routine in our country for women to have their noses sliced off to try to please men, have molded plastic permanently inserted into their chins, cheeks, chest walls, and butt, have fat sucked out of their bodies, have poison injected into their faces or have their face sliced off, pulled taut, and re-attached, all in an effort to please men and avoid being rejected by the male power structure. Who's calling whom barbaric?
International Women's Day is celebrated in many countries throughout the world, but not so much inside the U.S. It's interesting that the two "women's" holidays that are celebrated in this country are devoted to women in their traditional roles: Valentines' Day (women as sweetheart) and mother's day(the Madonna). International Women's Day is for women in their capacity as workers, to recognize their rights for equal opportunity, wages, decent healthy working conditions for all workers, a decent wage, as well as a respect for and support of a healthy community for their families. Women demanding rights instead of passively sitting back in their more traditional roles, in other words.
In the U.S., one of the fables promoted by the Republicans, the right-wing and the religious right is that women's true nature, God-given, is to stay home and cook, clean, bear and raise children, and be a slave to her husband. Any woman working outside the home is seen as a temporary, accidental issue, one which should be ignored. The men should find a way to get more money so they can return the wife to the home and keep her in the kitchen, away from the sordid arena of commerce.
But the truth is that women work full-time just like men do, and women's paychecks are required to put food on the family's table and shoes on the kids' feet. Just like the men's paychecks. And women working is not a temporary condition. It more likely will be the case for most young girls in this country. So we should stop the fantasizing and start demanding that women receive equal rights, opportunity, pay, benefits, and working conditions. Women really do hold up half the world. We'd rather have a pay raise than a bouquet, and would rather have a pension than a peignoir.