International Women’s Day is condescending

I just think we should aim for equality every day


Periodically, it is useful to invoke a definition of feminism.

Which is, of course, very difficult: feminism, like most -isms, is shifting and unfixed. But broadly feminism means equal opportunities for men and women.

And ostensibly, International Women’s Day’s “theme” for 2016, #PledgeForParity, is consistent with this definition. It’s just an alliterative, marketable version of “equal opportunities for men and women”.

This is one of the several things that is wrong with the notion of International Women’s Day.

For firstly – International Women’s Day is made-up. It’s a digestible version of the issues we should care about every day. Of course, many “days” are made up – we collude in their creation. We could decide to stop celebrating Valentine’s Day for example, and it would cease to exist, just like that. But unfortunately, most “days” acquire the status of myth – largely due to the aggressive tactics of brands.

And brands love International Women’s Day. I bet you’ve seen a lot of breathy, brand-sanctioned women-centric tweets, Facebook posts, bus adverts, whatever, today. Which should make you wary: brands are not invested in social change. They are interested in the visibility of their product in the market, and how much you will spend on their product.

Sometimes – mercifully – this goes wrong. For example, today – in a battle of the brands – Bic the pen company sent Innocent Smoothies the smoothie company a box of “Bic for her” pens. Innocent, a company lacking in any edge, knows that this is farcical. But in their own way, they’re still capitalising on International Women’s Day.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 12.40.34

Anyway – back to the point. IWD is simplifying to the point of frustration. Women are half the world’s population. Giving them a designated day suggests they are this “other” quantity when in fact, equality is the remit of both men and women.

Of course there is plenty that is unequal and unfair, in society’s treatment of women. Yesterday, new figures reconfirmed the existence of the gender pay gap; this week, a picture of Leonardo DiCaprio’s mother in the 70s went viral, just because she hadn’t waxed her armpits. Last week, The Sun rated the tits of actresses at the Oscars. The charity Rape Crisis estimates that 1 in 5 women aged 16-59 have been the victim of some form of sexual violence. Rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse prevail across the world.

But I have selected these issues because I am a white, educated, 25-year old western middle-class woman who has grown up in 21st century Britain. These are the issues that bother me. You might select different ones.

And I do not pretend to understand the issues faced by another woman with a different context to mine. But International Women’s Day gestures towards a shared remit. Yes, we are half the world’s population, and there is a shared battle – equality – but that means very different things in very different contexts. Small victories here, might register as larger victories in societies with a more restrictive approach to women’s rights. To suggest that you can simplify so many issues into a single day is reductive.

Also finally, it’s just so condescending. Women don’t need a day. It suggests we are special snowflakes, princesses who need a princess day. Equality needs to feel normal, not like an event.

It is very, very important that feminism does not aspire to perfection – doing something is better than doing nothing. I am – obviously – not calling for a ban on International Women’s Day.  But I think it’s self-serving, diminishing and patronising. It’s a branded, sanitised version of the pursuit of equality – which is bigger than just one day.