Okay, I’ll admit it: I have feelings about International Women’s Day. As a feminist, it feels good to see the issues I spend most of my days analyzing push their way into mainstream conversation. It’s the one day each year I don’t have to wonder whether I’ll be greeted with silence if I mention the wage gap, more girls and women in STEM, a female prime minister. A glorious day when people get it. And this year’s theme, #BalanceforBetter (yes, it has a hashtag), is something I believe in. Of course I want a day dedicated to imagining what a gender-balanced world would look like.
Each year, the World Economic Forum releases a report that estimates how long it will take to close the gender gap across more than 100 countries. As of 2018, it was expected to take an average of 108 years. Economic (202 years) and political (107 years) inequities will, according to the report, be the most challenging to eradicate. I will not even be alive to see it happen. And while Canada ranks 16th on the global index (the United States comes in at 51), we’re not without our own gaps, particularly when it comes to things like political leadership.
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It isn’t lost on me that events such as International Women’s Day can help close those gaps by celebrating women. All the purple streamers and top-10 lists are important because they show us, and the world, that women can do these things. Looking at examples of women who excel in historically male-dominated fields disrupts our narratives about what we can and cannot do, even as we acknowledge that we still have a long way to go. And, yes, it’s also important that IWD, which started in 1911, is not organization, country, or group specific — it’s perhaps one of the few days that actually does try to put women and girls first.
But one day is not enough. One day allows us to slot these difficult, necessary conversations into a single — and short — period of time and then walk away. It allows us to feel good about ourselves for speaking up (not a bad thing), but it doesn’t offer us a way to keep that conversation going the rest of the year — when people are more averse to listening (a less good thing). It allows for women’s struggles to be marketed and sold, their achievements commercialized and packaged. I mean, yes, I know I’m being a feminist killjoy when I seethe at a jewellery advertisement that wishes me “Happy International Women’s Day” by way of a “To: me / From: me” caption, but the fact remains that buying a new ring won’t bring me equity.
Particularly as I’d have to dig into my wage-gap-adjusted salary to buy it.
We should not be afraid to push feminist issues into daily conversation. We should not be hesitant about asking how our systems and our decisions affect the daily lives of women and other equity-seeking groups. Whatever you think of the word feminist, you can recognize that something is wrong when you hear that women file an average of 70 sexual-assault reports to police a day in Canada, that every six days a woman is killed by her intimate partner, that Indigenous women experience violence at a rate six times that of non-Indigenous women. These statistics (and others) are grim, but the solution is not to prioritize discussing them only one day every year.
My hope is that we’ll one day be able to retire International Women’s Day. That we’ll be so far from a default “man’s world” that next generations will be puzzled when their grandmothers tell them about this one day that used to be reserved for talking about women’s struggles and successes. They’ll wonder why we ever needed it at all.
Lauren McKeon is the digital editor of The Walrus. She's the author of F-Bomb: Dispatches from the War on Feminism, published by Goose Lane Editions.