International (White) Women’s Day: What Went Wrong?
In case you missed it (which I highly doubt considering the barrage of company adverts) it was International Women's Day on 8th March, earlier this month. The day has never been without controversy, typically from a certain specimen of a man arguing that it’s sexist and where's International Men's Day!? (FYI: it's the 19th of November for all who celebrate).
Image caption: The piece portrays the dismemberment of the black female body to adorn the clothes of the white woman. This piece translates the message of the article in criticising the exploitation of marginalised women to further the agenda of the white feminist.
However, in recent years it has been apparent that the day has taken an inevitably tragic capitalistic turn. Think Pretty Little Thing doing a 10% discount using code: SLAYQUEEN10. This year, the downfall of the day has been decidedly marked by the creation of the Twitter account @PayGapApp, which quote tweets each company's IWD post with statistics on their gender pay gap. A prime example is the lingerie brand Boux Avenue's #BreakTheBias, imploring their followers to "stand together for our future females". The Bot calculated that this company's median hourly pay for women was 31.4% lower than men's. One company's post ended up even getting taken down when the Bot exposed that they pay women 41.7% less than men.
The issue is that IWD should be a day of celebration for all women, no matter their identity, ethnicity, sexuality or class. Yet this seems to have been forgotten in the name of White Girl Boss Feminism that is exploited for capitalistic gain. In turn, the day has left a sour taste in our mouths, one that leaves us cringing instead of appreciating other women like it was intended.
I don't think this means the day is completely futile and reductive, however, and that the importance of its meaning can be reclaimed in recognising its origins. The earliest recorded instance of a national day supporting women in the USA was February 28th 1909, founded by the Socialist Party of America. Another in the form of International Working Women's Day in 1911, celebrating the unionisation achievements of migrant workers under torrid work conditions. Twitter account @we_level_up marks the change to 8th March as commemorating "the day of a historic protest in 1909, where migrant women working in New York sweatshops protested unsafe, overcrowded working conditions and sexual harassment from bosses". Yet, IWD has morphed into something that the originators rose up against. The same companies giving 10% discounts for IWD are those propped up on the underpaid and exploitative labour of garment workers, with an estimated 80% of the world's garment workers actually being women.
IWD today at its core still holds importance. It is a day to celebrate trailblazers in our past but also to celebrate our loved ones. It doesn’t necessarily have to be entirely political in that sense, I'm not saying you need to stop posting Instagram stories celebrating your friends and family. At its core, IWD began as a day to celebrate the underdog, those who have been oppressed and exploited but have had the strength to rise up and pave the way for women’s freedom today. Society has progressed since then, and the core message can be translated into a plethora of contexts to inspire and celebrate women’s struggles in today’s world.
I don’t want to sound preachy and critical of anyone who buys into IWD as it is today. That is not the point of this article. Simply put, I think it is high time to recognise the inherent hypocrisy that IWD has descended into and to recognise this is to maintain its integrity and ensure it can carry on as a day to be celebrated, not resented for its failings.