Last week, International Women’s Day encouraged women around the world to stand for gender equality. Icelandic government officials pledged to eliminate the wage gap by 2022. Russian activists displayed a giant poster denouncing patriarchy outside of the Kremlin. Egyptian leaders allowed female prisoners an extra family visit.
Contemporary mistreatment of women makes it crucial to celebrate female achievements and contributions, while pushing for equal rights legislation. After all, throughout the world, equality is far from a reality. The global statistics are startling: One in three women have experienced violence from an intimate partner; with each passing minute, six women are at risk of genital mutilation; every two seconds, a minor is forced into marriage.
In the era of an American President who endorses “grabbing women by the pussy,” limits on reproductive freedom, pervasive rape culture and disrespectful media representations, feminism is a necessity. The equal rights movement provides an avenue through which to navigate today’s frankly frightening social context.
We need International Women’s Day.
The worldwide event demands attention. After all, if women wear red, leave work, and refrain from buying anything for the day — and then tweet about it, of course — we will definitely have made an impact. At least that’s what we tell ourselves. In reality, however, while International Women’s Day is well-intentioned and truly global in scope, it speaks to a specific female experience.
More importantly than needing International Women’s Day, we need to stand in solidarity.
Since its birth, the women’s rights movement has fissioned into disparate factions. Feminists criticize other feminists. Sheryl Sandberg is too privileged to be feminist. Emma Watson’s outfits are too skimpy for her to be feminist. Sophie Grégoire Trudeau’s reflection on International Women’s Day is too celebratory of male allies to be feminist.
As Emma Watson said in defense of her Vanity Fair photo shoot, “Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with. It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality.”
Lean In Feminism, Marxist Feminism, Womanism, White Feminism, Mujeristas. Why split into all of these categories? Pointing fingers won’t help the feminist movement move forward. Life experiences differ between women, and every woman’s relationship with her identity is valid.
Not every woman can skip work to attend a march or protest the status quo. Not every woman faces systemic prejudices, such as low-quality healthcare and low-wage jobs that promise little upward mobility. Not every woman has a partner who can take care of the kids while she’s leaning in at work.
Not every woman’s experiences are reflected in the broader movement for gender equality.
It is important to recognize that feminists come from all walks of life: more affluent, less; more melanin, less; more privilege, less. No one’s experiences are insignificant. It is necessary that feminism recognizes how women of different races, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic statuses uniquely experience gender inequality.
The contemporary feminist movement overwhelmingly represents white women of privilege. That is a problem. That is a not a reason to attack such women, but rather, to communicate with them. Women of privilege naturally have more of a platform to share their equally valid experiences. Open communication within the feminist movement can clarify how the current structure excludes certain identities. By educating allies on the intersectionality of the female experience, we can encourage them to elevate their peers’ voices in the discourse around equality.
There is nothing wrong with a woman of privilege speaking to her personal challenges. Her struggles are not to be discounted just because they are not universal. Experiences of corporate sexism, for example, are real. They are wrong. And they should be spoken against.
The problem arises when that same individual speaks for women with experiences she will never understand. Sexism against any woman, and in any capacity, is wrong. All of those individual relationships with gender inequality ought to be expressed within the broader feminist movement.
Feminists should speak to their own experiences while also creating a platform for women of different colors, classes and sexual orientations to speak about their backgrounds as well. The feminist movement should be wide-reaching, intersectional and should incorporate the experiences of all women — even if those women don’t look like the Gloria Steinem, the 1980s posterchild for mainstream feminism.
We must not let our movement crack along these fissures. We must not criticize our sisters, but instead, should attempt to empathize with one another. We must stand in solidarity against the systemic oppressors who subordinate women to lower status.
International Women’s Day is necessary. While it has been consistently international in reach, it has not been completely intersectional. In the fight for gender equality, it is my hope that on March 8, 2018, we can stand as a representative, united front in our struggle for the equal rights that will one day be ours.
Contact Tashrima Hossain at thossain ‘at’ stanford.edu.