International Women’s Day

In the US, March is National Women’s History Month. It began as Women’s History Week back in 1978 when the Education Task Force for the Sonoma County (California) Commission for the Status of Women created a week-long event to promote the contributions of women throughout history. The task force chose a week to coincide with March 8th—today—celebrated annually as International Women’s Day.

If you didn’t know today is International Women’s Day, you’re not alone. The day doesn’t receive much attention, but people like me are partly to blame: we say we support equal rights but do nothing to promote them.

I’m working on that, beginning by educating myself. A friend last week found me reading a book. He read the cover and gave me gave me a look. “Dude,” he said.
    “Why are you reading Full Frontal Feminism?”
    I looked at him: “Because I’m a feminist.”
    “Admittedly,” I told him, “I’m not a very good one. Probably a lousy one, actually, but I’m working on that.”
    More silence.
    So I talked about the book a bit, told him what the author, Jessica Valenti, had discussed throughout the chapters I’d read so far.
    “She has a website,” I told him.
    “Jessica Valenti. She founded a site called Feministing.”
    “Dot com,” I said. “Yes.”
    “And you’re a feminist.”
    I nodded. “Men can be feminists,” I told him. “Anybody can be a feminist.”
    I said, “I think you should be a feminist.”
    He bobbed his head contemplatively. “OK. So you’re a feminist.”
    “Yes,” I said.
    “And I’m a feminist.”
    “You should give it some thought at least.”
    He shrugged. “OK. Now what?”

Valenti says in Full Frontal Feminism that many feminists reject the idea of men joining the movement. Their concern: men will want to take control. Others oppose men even calling themselves feminists, believing that only a person who experiences life as a woman can truly understand feminism. I’ll concede that much: no man can know what it’s like to live life as a woman, but it seems counterproductive to resist his support if he’s sincere. That’s Valenti’s take: “As far as I’m concerned, they can call themselves whatever they want, so long as they’re down to do the feminist work.”

And that’s the thing: telling someone privately, “I support equal rights,” really isn’t enough. It’s a nice gesture, but this is an issue where actions are important. That brings us back to my friend’s question: Now what?

Valenti points to feminist blogger and academic Hugo Schwyzer who says that men can’t just preach gender justice: “We have to live it out in our actions, and we have to be willing to do so publicly, as role models.”

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

“Senator Pritchard, hi,” I say, speaking to the answering machine of Sen. Bill Pritchard, R-Elkins. It’s Saturday afternoon. “I’m writing a piece for the Fayetteville Flyer about Sunday being International Women’s Day. I know you voted against the Equal Rights Amendment in committee this past week, and that the measure failed by a single vote. I also know you’re quoted in the Northwest Arkansas Times as saying you don’t believe women are discriminated against today. I wanted to give you a chance to expand on that. You can reach me at (I give him my phone number) if you’d like to call me, otherwise I’ll try you later this afternoon. Thanks, Senator.”

In the same Times piece in which Sen. Pritchard questions whether women are discriminated against, he says he’s received a large number of phone calls from constituents who oppose the Equal Rights Amendment. I admit: I didn’t bother to call my local representatives to voice my support prior to the vote. If Sen. Pritchard is to be believed, very few supporters bothered to do so. He’s yet to return my call or email, but—while it might be too late this time—I plan to try to reach Sen. Pritchard today to tell him I support the ERA. You should contact Sen. Pritchard, too. You can email Sen. Pritchard at [email protected] or call him at (479 ) 442-4172. (You can find your representatives by clicking here.)

And if you happen to know someone who identifies herself or himself as a feminist, ask the person about it. There’s no time like today.

[Photo: JIGGS IMAGES via Flickr and Creative Commons 2.0]