Spring is right around the corner, and here is International Women’s Day. I want to share a bit of the history of the day and ask about how it ties into feminism. How do we define these broad movements in the 21st century?
In a western context, the first National Women’s Day was celebrated on February 28, 1909 in the U.S. Over the next 60 years, there was rapid development with women’s rights, such as the Socialist International Meeting in Copenhagen which also established their Women’s Day. This day has had massive impact in creating social and political agency for women of the World War I era. For example, the Russian War in 1917 saw the gathering of women who protested for their right to vote, also celebrate on March 8. The International Women’s Day that we know currently was declared an international day by the United Nations in 1975. The UN website says “women are recognized for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political.”
Now that we’ve got some history down, it’s important to note that definitions of ‘womanhood’ have vastly different connotations across time, cultures and communities. I want us to push notions of Women’s Day forward, by tying to tie in a feminist framework. Women’s Day is not just a date, but a practice that you incorporate into your life.
What is feminism?
Feminism as a theory and practice has a long history and has been divided into ‘waves’ such as first, second and third wave feminism. The Oxford Dictionaries defines feminism as “the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.” While these may the fundamentals, feminism has many iterations, divergent and overlapping expressions. More recently, you may have heard of praxis like black feminism, queer feminism, trans feminism, intersectional feminism and so on. The beauty of these different expressions of feminism is how they all highlight a new way to think critically about our social and colonial structures, race, class and gendered and sexual relationships. Feminism is practice and process where we redefine and challenge a variety of social and codes.
How can I practice feminism?
Pass the mic
Feminism is a heavily mixed field, as both an academic and theoretical discipline as well as a daily practice we can implement. While feminist acts can be in writing an essay with a feminist lens, or attending a Women’s Day march, these acts of feminism could be as simple as leaving space for others to express their needs by “passing the mic.” This practice allows people on an individual or community level to speak about the concerns that are directly affecting their embodied realties that you do not share or understand. Passing the mic allows us to step back and listen to each other and to decondition preset ideas of how we think we are best helping each other.
Being an ally is another way to practice feminism. I believe that anyone can be a feminist and even if you don’t belong to a certain community, you can still share in the movement. Allyship, however, is not an identity, but a way of building consistency, accountability and solidarity with the marginalized communities/individuals in your life. Since being a feminist ally is subject to numerous connotations, I think the best step in practice is to accept these opinions and schools of thought with an open mind and to listen to people’s needs.
No matter your knowledge of feminist practices, International Women’s Day is a great time to recognize the massive global impact that women’s work, knowledge and experience has given us, as well as a time to put some feminist skills to the test in your daily life.
Furthermore, our connections between feminism and International Women’s Day we must recognize the physical space, environments and social systems that that allows this article to be created. Celebrations of Women’s Day and feminism must include analysis on Indigenous perspective and deconstruct colonialist structures.
While not a full solution, this territorial acknowledgment is an important step in creating a feminism that can benefit everyone.
I would like to begin by acknowledging that Concordia University is located on unceded Indigenous lands. The Kanien’kehá:ka Nation is recognized as the custodians of the lands and waters on which we gather today. Tiohtiá:ke is historically known as a gathering place for many First Nations. Today, it is home to a diverse population of Indigenous and other peoples. We respect the continued connections with the past, present and future in our ongoing relationships with Indigenous and other peoples within the Montreal community.