Finally, International Women’s Day Became A Big Deal
America is still scared of women who can roar
International Women’s Day became a big deal in the US yesterday. And it’s about time. Thousands of women took off from work, many marched in the streets — notably blocking traffic throughout NYC, and many more wore red in solidarity. In the late afternoon, wanting to gauge the cultural response the strike was creating, I took to Twitter and saw dozens of photos of empty workplaces and protestor-blocked streets.
As expected, the trolls came out, too. Notably, they called out Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez and Bob Bland, four of the main organizers of the Women’s March, for inciting traffic jams throughout the city and wholly causing an inconvenience to many. Among other punishments, the trolls recommended jail time, relying on the same rhetoric used against Hillary Clinton throughout (and after) the election. Often, their comments devolved into slurs; into warnings of deportation; into trying to grapple with something these trolls so loathed that they could no longer keep quiet about: Empowered women.
I wasn’t surprised, but the more I read into these voices, the more obvious the reason for this hate became: Naked fear. Contemporary America still struggles with a blinding fear of empowered women. And I honestly don’t have a solution for it.
I understand why some called for the organizers to be jailed — inconvenience has become, in many ways, reason enough to punish. Whether you see blocking traffic as a nuisance or an empowering act, you can’t ignore the cultural volume it speaks. But calling for these women — and all women who went on strike — to curb their passion for the cause should be inadmissible in today’s America. Yesterday’s strike reaffirmed this. It made International Women’s Day a big deal throughout the country. And it’s about time.
Arguably, many Americans didn’t recognize this holiday until yesterday. In its history of IWD, Fortune reminds that “the first time it was observed was back in Feb. 28, 1908” when “15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay, and the right to vote.” Eventually, “Since European women were staging their own demonstrations at different times throughout this same period, a consensus was reached in 1913 to observe IWD on March 8.” But without the Women’s March on Washington, I’d argue this holiday would still remain unknown to many. This may be because of social media and the political climate we inhabit, but in a country that loves to celebrate itself as the founder of all things great and productive, yesterday reminds how America is woefully behind in recognizing women’s rights as one of the most fundamental human rights. With the precedent of January’s march, yesterday’s strike broke through this, reminding the country again that it can’t ignore these voices any longer. It may seem tedious to raise this point, but these reminders are needed to combat the flood of cultural message we face today.
This doesn’t mean the US will start acting to grant and improve these rights. Raising a storm like yesterday’s is the first step, though. And it does mean that a voice so loud has been recognized in national discourse — that today, has become a struggle if you’re not white, male, and upper-class. At the same time, there’s risk in celebrating a victory like yesterday’s as the only victory for the cause. It’s important not to lose sight of historical precedence, recently through the Women’s March, and even further back through our history. Raising yesterday’s strike as one of the most central fights for women’s rights in contemporary America, I worry, will only give the trolls brain food: Why can’t you do better, they’re bound to start asking after misreading pictures of women arrested for protesting.
Efforts like yesterday’s aren’t a question of superlative. Rather, they are one of frequency and strength. Contemporary feminism, it seems to me, is most successful by simultaneously raising hell and raising it continually. Our national discourse has become too stubborn and too fixed in naked fear to listen without this. Of course I’m not calling for a shouting match, but I am encouraging more exposure, more often, all the time.
Normalizing the act of protest comes with a dilemma: Does this detract from the messages being sent? On the other hand, normalizing the fact that women should be taken seriously as they protest is the first step toward combatting fear of the empowered woman. Recently, the art world has addressed just that.
Today, Kristen Visbal’s “Fearless Girl” stands in front of Wall Street’s bull. This statue represents the contemporary women’s movement in all its glory. She is notably smaller than the bull, their relationship making the case that frequency and persistency have become the contemporary questions of achieving empowerment. Because both are made of the same material, the statue simultaneously acknowledges the cause she’s up against and warns it against misrepresenting what they share. It’s too big a risk, she seems to argue, to keep looking down on us. It’s too big a risk, she maintains, not to let us in.
Much like the women’s movement in general, “Fearless Girl” stands up to the male-centric financial world by placing herself in danger. In danger of lower wages, of less respectability on the job, of being silenced over a male colleague’s contribution. Her placement at the center of the world’s financial industry speaks volumes about the industry itself. A Woman’s Place is in the Resistance, she argues, poised with hands on hips to confront something that’s been more powerful than her for too long now. She speaks truth to patriarchy by reminding them it’s not all about the shouting match.
And people are listening. Consider the Change.org petition calling to make the statue permanent. With over 1,900 signatures, this petition represents a call to action and the American people’s response. This is the cycle of political art we so desperately need to stand alongside IWD and its fight more people are subscribing to. Make the art, sign the petition, stand up — through any way you can — for what this cause deserves.
Efforts like “Fearless Girl” will define the artistic response always welcomed by the women’s movement. Along with the thousands who were happily surprised when she appeared on scene, taking photos of and with her, the resistance will continually be defined through days like IWD and responses like the Wall Street statue. The future of the resistance is frequency and strength in numbers. I’d like to believe “Fearless Girl” stands by that too when she turns her back away from detractors and dissenters and all they have to spite to confront her problem at hand.
George Goga is a writer and teacher from Buffalo, NY. Twitter @GeorgeOGoga