Last week, we celebrated International Women’s Day. There’s a glossy, beautiful web site set up for it, and national brands like McDonald’s, Brawny, and Mattel’s Barbie celebrated the day by, respectively, turning logos upside down, substituting women for their male brand ambassadors, and creating new products to reflect a world view that, thank goodness, includes women snowboarding champions and Frieda Kahlo, thank you very much. But not a single word was said about women’s suffrage.
People walked around saying, “Happy International Women’s Day!”, which was … nice, but that’s not quite right, either. And nothing was said about pay equality.
International Women’s Day has its roots in horrific working conditions. in 1909, 15,000 garment workers walked out of their jobs to demand better pay and working conditions. By 1910, a deal had been struck, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, in which 150 garment works, the vast majority of them immigrant women, died. The doors to the stairwells and exits had been locked: It was a common practice back then, to ensure that workers didn’t take unauthorized breaks. Concurrently, in Copenhagen, an international women’s day was being declared to gain universal suffrage for women.
A few more landmarks followed: in 1975 the United Nations declared March 8 International Women’s Day, so now we have the day marked as we know it. But it’s one thing to mark the day by turning your Ms into Ws (gee, thanks, McDonald’s–we didn’t realize you were catering to Ms the rest of the year), and another to put long hair and a curvy figure on your whiskey labels (ahem, Johnnie Walker), and quite another to celebrate the day.
Celebration will come when the pay gap is equalized. It’ll come when #MeToo isn’t a thing anymore. We can break out the bubbly when women have just as many speaking roles in Oscar-winning films as men do. Until then, we have a lot of work to do.
But let’s not pretend we don’t have a lot to celebrate already: Women of the world, we salute you, and the work you’re doing to make it better for the next generation.