Something happens as a woman when you first start engaging with feminism. I have seen it happen in (particularly) young women time and time again.
They read something, or a fellow feminist gives voice to their lived experience and from then on, the veil which sits across how our society is constructed is removed and there's no "unseeing" it ever again. It seeps into the way they walk, talk, date, writes, shares domestic responsibilities, works, and every facet of human existence.
To be clear, it is not that feminism is an abstract theory that women just happen to engage with as a sort of 'fad' like interest. Feminist theory is literally centuries of women recording the lived experience of other women and giving a language to those experiences. It's the reason so many young women can articulate the pay gap when asked why feminism is important, or how they have a shared understanding of that feeling when they are walking home and clenching at their keys… "just in case". It's in our every day, and at the very least feminist theory exposes those experiences within a collective framework.
There have been various times when I have had these moments of unveiling when the curtain peels back a little further and a new inequality is revealed or a new way in which patriarchy seeps its claws into our ways of being is highlighted. I can't remember the first time it happened to me, but it was probably something I saw my mum say or do while standing up for the women around her. However, I remember a few since. I remember reading bell hooks' "the will to change" and understanding that just because men are also impacted by patriarchy, doesn't mean they are not responsible for it being upheld. I remember realising from the same author that I too could uphold patriarchy and racism and that the choices I made both in my personal and professional lives mattered because in those choices, is an opportunity to reject- and maybe even change- the patriarchal structures which are so ingrained in our society.
It seems unfair then, that the liberation of women (and by that, I mean all women) is distilled into a single day within popular discourse. I just described the all-encompassing nature of patriarchy, and yet a single day is supposed to offer us all the opportunity to say all the things that need to be said? There doesn't seem enough room to fit it all in. The truth is, the female experience is a hard balancing act to describe. On the one hand, I love being a woman. I love the women around me and there is no love quite like the love I feel for the women in my close circle. They offer me loyalty without question, and an unapologetic sense of freedom to be whoever I am without judgement. They make me laugh until I cry and they know every insecurity I have picked up along the way which they do their best to squash with pick-me-ups they know will work on me.
On the other hand, I have been stalked on trains and grabbed while trying to leave the station, I have been wolf-whistled more times than I can count, I have been sexually approached by male colleagues twice my age despite making it clear I wasn't interested, and I have had other women get angry at me because their partners have been inappropriate towards me. Why? because I had the audacity to be young, female and out and about in the world all at once.
How then, do we measure this in a single day? How am I supposed to celebrate the women around me while also acknowledging the daily adjustments we all make to keep ourselves safe in a world which is rife with male violence? The answer is we can't, nor should we have to. It's bigger than a day. It always has been.
I recognise the importance of setting aside dedicated time to acknowledge women within societies across the world. The truth is there are some women still fighting for rights that are long established in Scotland and that International Women's day, should be more about those women than it is about me.
I also recognise how useful this day is for activists. Sally, one of my incredible colleagues at Untribal, hosted an event in the Scottish Parliament to raise awareness about her "Make Public Sexual Harassment Illegal" campaign. Building on her sustained work in this field, she had a captive audience and she used it. Only on a day dedicated to women, does this have the same impact and this event is a prime example of using this day to benefit the experience of women across the country. Similarly, Jess Phillips the Labour MP, used her time in parliament to read aloud the names of all the women killed at the hands of male violence in the last year. Again, this is an act which was only provoked by having a day which celebrated women.
In principle, it's a good thing that we are establishing space for women to be at the forefront of conversations, and all the complexity that brings. It is important that this becomes a part of popular discourse and on the surface, it is good that organisation’s and corporations are acknowledging this day.
However, I received in the region of 20 emails from a variety of corporations marking Independent Women's Day. Almost all of them were trying to sell me something and none of them even insinuated that this day was about anything other than the banner headline. My main questions were, why? If they were using this day to launch some new initiative where all their female employees receive a pay rise, or they were implementing a new company-wide policy of offering women free travel to and from work to protect their safety, I would HAPPILY receive their emails. Instead, they said things like "treat yourself to our new range of IWD candles". It seems to be yet another example of capitalists realising that they can make money if they recognise something which is happening in popular culture but does nothing to eradicate the reason WHY we have this day in the first place. If they do feel the need to sell something in order to recognise this day, at the very least they could use it to support the many charities which support women all year round. Rather than extort the day for yet more profit.
Something interesting happened when feminist theory reached beyond the fringes of academic institutions, but rather became accessible to the masses. On the one hand, women around the country became empowered to go out into the world and change it and to those women, I will forever be in awe. On the other hand, corporations started trying to sell me candles as if it were Valentine’s Day and I am less sure on the benefits of that.