From the IWD website:
IWD is now an official holiday in China, Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. The tradition sees men honouring their mothers, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, etc with flowers and small gifts. In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother’s Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers.
The new millennium has witnessed a significant change and attitudinal shift in both women’s and society’s thoughts about women’s equality and emancipation. Many from a younger generation feel that ‘all the battles have been won for women’ while many feminists from the 1970′s know only too well the longevity and ingrained complexity of patriarchy. With more women in the boardroom, greater equality in legislative rights, and an increased critical mass of women’s visibility as impressive role models in every aspect of life, one could think that women have gained true equality. The unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men.
However, great improvements have been made. We do have female astronauts and prime ministers, school girls are welcomed into university, women can work and have a family, women have real choices. And so the tone and nature of IWD has, for the past few years, moved from being a reminder about the negatives to a celebration of the positives.
I still think the world can use a whole lot of reminders about the negatives — especially since the “great improvements” above apply mainly to white, middle-class western women — but I suppose one day of optimism is unobjectionable.
In terms of celebrating the positives, then, the first thing that springs to mind for me (as, of course, a white, middle-class, western woman — more on that in a mo) is that, for as much as people still do judge women’s parenting choices right and left, and as frustrating as it can be to be single, I’m 34 years old, childless (possibly childfree, though the jury’s still out) and only very recently married, and for the most part? Nobody ever said boo about it. I mean, not the way they would have to an unmarried, childless woman in her late twenties — let alone early thirties — in my mom’s generation, even. Forget about the generations before.
There have been some nasty remarks, both well-intentioned and not, over the years. Lots and lots and lots of things in this culture still tell women that marriage and babies should be their primary focus. But since we’re focusing on the positive today, I will take a moment to marvel at the fact that I never actually felt like a pariah for being unmarried and childless well into my thirties. I didn’t have to deal with anyone telling me directly that I was approaching (or past) my sell-by date, so I should settle for any dude who would have me, stat.
And though a lot of my friends got into long-term committed relationships before I did, and a lot of them have kids already, I’ve never felt like an out-and-out freak for not taking that path on the same schedule. I have never-married friends my age, friends who have already been married and divorced, legally married gay friends in Canada and gay friends who fucking well ought to be legally married here. I have a handful of friends who don’t plan on ever having children, and lots of mom friends who work outside the home. When my mom was my age, on the other hand, her girlfriends were in heterosexual marriages and staying at home to raise children, period. No matter if they had incredible minds for business or no real interest in being mothers. No matter if they were gay, or their husbands were, or they were being abused or had otherwise just married entirely the wrong people, way too young. She had friends who eventually got divorced for nearly all of the above reasons, but none who simply opted out in the first place — and the ones who did get divorced mostly waited decades, until the kids were grown, no matter how much it sucked. (Wait, I can think of one friend of hers who never married and went straight into a career. And smart money’s on her being a lesbian who never felt comfortable coming out to her oldest friends, so she’s still not a great example of someone feeling free to be her authentic self in that generation.)
My mom got married at 22, had 2 kids by the time she was 24, 4 kids by the time she was 38, and a grand total of 7 years of her adult life in which she didn’t have kids in the house. (She died when I was 25.) She had dreams of being a writer, but she followed the script for her generation, and her only real career was full-time mom. I’ve already had nearly twice as much time as she did without the daily responsibilities of a family, and in that time, I’ve worked in publishing, gone to grad school for writing, and co-written a book, among other things. Whatever snide remarks I got about being totally single for a lot of that time, living in sin with a couple of different guys when I wasn’t, and potentially letting my eggs shrivel into uselessness have been pretty damned easy to brush off, all things considered. For me, that shit was an annoyance; for my mom, that shit would have been a crushing, demoralizing constant pressure, had she not just caved to it from the get-go (and thus swapped it for the crushing, demoralizing constant pressure of resentment and depression, ahem).
So that’s one form of real progress that’s affected me personally, and I am incredibly grateful to the feminists who fought their asses off for it — and to my mom, who was categorically not a feminist but nonetheless encouraged me not only to have a career, but to pursue writing seriously. (Yeah, she also made it clear from the time I was about 2 that she expected me to get married and have babies, because everyone gets married and has babies, duh, but at least I was supposed to be a bestselling author with a husband and babies.)
Having said all that, there are millions of women in this country (let alone others) who still don’t have anywhere near the freedom I did to pursue their dream careers. I started off with a whole lot of privilege that meant removing the “you must marry and reproduce young” obstacle actually had an enormous effect. That wouldn’t have been true if I hadn’t had the money to go to college; if I hadn’t had white skin and a WASPy name invisibly opening doors for me all along; if I hadn’t had parents who valued education and valued their girl children just as much as boys; if I’d grown up in a community where women still did start having children very young, or where there was no expectation that the average kid there would go on to higher education and a white collar job; if I’d been gay and the marriage/babies issue had been a lot more complicated than “I’m busy with other stuff.” My example here is a grade-A prime illustration of how feminism has centered and benefited white, middle-class, straight women, while leaving other women behind — and thus a prime illustration of how feminism needs to change, and how much fucking work is left to be done.
But if today is about celebrating the positives, it’s worth acknowledging that it’s also a prime illustration of how much cultural values can change in a single generation, and how much one strain of change can make a difference for some women. I grew up with a shitload more freedom and independence than my mom did. And that is indeed worth a cheer from me today, before it’s back to all the battles left to be fought.
Shapelings, what positives are you celebrating today? Or are you too frustrated by the negatives to even consider that?