By Kelly Rogers
It is less than two weeks until International Women’s Day 2014. The theme for this year is ‘inspiring change’, raising the question: what is IWD meant to be and what should it be?
IWD is often billed as a celebration of women. If this is what it should be, then the typical campaigns that idolise powerful, intelligent, remarkable women make total sense; although this is a message far from that envisaged by the (largely socialist) women who created IWD in 1910.
The theme ‘inspiring change’ immediately strikes me as lending to this type of campaign: the type of campaign the official IWD organisers have been running for years. See for example, their promotional videos:
But, by pointing to the powerful individual women of the past and giving contemporary women role models, do we challenge patriarchy? For me, these campaigns feed into the very problematic idea that if women work harder, aim higher, and aspire to be like all those women who excelled in science, literature, politics, activism – then patriarchy will just melt away. Eventually, it will all be ok – one woman at a time.
Let’s change our focus and look at organisations and movements. The suffragettes, ‘second wave’ feminists of the ’60s and ’70s, women at the heart of the Black Power and Womanist movements, feminist, lesbian and queer pornographers and sex-positive activists, sex worker unions – any of the myriad, powerful women’s collectives throughout history and in the present. Now we’re starting to get somewhere. If we’re going to ‘inspire change’ then we must recognise that we are a collective, comprising of many intersecting struggles and identities. By valorising the diverse and numerous movements that changed history we are embedding ourselves in that identity and arguing for a collective struggle today. But is it enough?
What really inspires us? When I began identifying as a feminist, it wasn’t because I had looked upon empowering women of the past, but because I had begun to understand the deep-seated inequality and violence that I and the women around me face.
Domestic violence, rape and everyday harassment. The capitalist swamp of confidence-crushing, identity-shaping messages, images, products that make me police myself and act against myself. The invisibility and forced silence of women (generally), black women, trans* women, queer women, disabled women, lesbian women in activism, and in every aspect of life. The deep and painful poverty felt by women, the escalating inequality triggered by austerity and neoliberalism, and the fact that many socialists still see feminism as a something to offer lip-service too only. These are some of the many things that inspired me, as I learned about them.
Making the inequality and violence go away, that’s what I dream of, not Nobel prizes, or a position inside whichever political party is systematically fucking over women this time, or becoming a high-flying CEO and exploiting other workers, or any other aspiration presented to me by liberal timelines in The Guardian, or ‘motivating’ videos from the United Nations.
The feel-good messages are valuable, but they need to comprise of stories of women collectively challenging the real causes of gender inequality, not circumventing struggle by aiming above it. Crucially, I want feminist messages to contain the gritty truth. I don’t want sanitised feminism. I want world-shaking, dark, dirty, powerful feminism that speaks the truth: we are in the gutter, and the stars remain out of reach, because our feminism is being appropriated by the forces we should be organising against.