Various responses on social media today about International Women’s Day got me thinking. It’s so easy for people living in the Western world to take their opportunities, privileges and support for granted. Responses to International Women’s Day ranged from the pure misogynistic to many just wondering what the point of it all is.
What’s scary is that, this time last year, I too questioned its relevance. Like many young women I even found it condescending that somebody felt the need to designate an entire day on behalf of my mere gender. This was incredibly naive of me.
The fact that so many question the day’s relevance is a positive thing, in a sense. It suggests that they never encounter any discrimination or direct sexism severe enough to make them feel inadequate or discouraged from pursuing their life. If you’ve grown up in a country that is (relatively) progressive in terms of human rights and basic gender equality and feel supported by various institutions, then of course its easy to dismiss International Women’s Day. But to feel like this is extremely short-sighted. Thousands of women in the world continue to face nothing but the opposite; hatred, oppression and abuse.
Women all over the world are still treated like second class citizens and worse. You can be stoned to death for being raped. Young girls are shot for trying to advocate girls’ eduction. In Northern Africa there is a huge problem with female genital mutilation and in Cambodia and Thailand girls are repeatedly forced in to prostitution (often by their own family members), fearing gang rape every time they leave their homes. When you look at examples like this, it becomes difficult to take your freedoms for granted. When you discover the levels of oppression and hate within cultures – and no, I’m not forgetting the UK – gender inequality becomes screamingly obvious.
In the UK domestic violence is extremely common and of course there’s rape culture. You only have to scan the magazine rack in the supermarket or switch on a television to be bombarded with limited and damaging representations of women. The sexualization and objectification of women within our culture is one of my biggest concerns. Young girls face immense pressure from the media and subsequently their peers to present themselves in ways which comply with presumed availableness and limited constructions of sexuality.
The UniLad fiasco, involving a vicious stream of derogatory and hateful attitudes towards women proved to expose a hideous underbelly of misogyny amongst what appeared to be Britain’s younger generations. What also concerns me is the proportion of girls who participate in this ‘banter’, implying that joining in is the only way many feel accepted by the opposite sex or can be spared from the abuse.
Like many were tweeting in response, every day is in fact Men’s Day. Even if living in the UK equips the majority of girls with the opportunities and the potential to succeed, International Women’s Day should remind us that there’s a long way to go before women can universally regard themselves as being truly equal.