Why feminism needs International Women’s Day

Individual empowerment meets the bigger movement on March 8

International Women’s Day has been celebrated annually in the West for over 100 years, since the days when women were first fighting for the right to vote.

It was celebrated through the movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s, when struggles were waged over equality for people of all genders, races and sexual orientations.

Today, it is celebrated alongside a multitude of feminisms, many of which embody the spirit of cooperation and solidarity necessary for any kind of widespread social change.

Other feminisms focus on individual empowerment - teaching the victims of prejudice that they are important and wonderful regardless of what society tells them.

This individualistic goal is a valid one.

It is sought by many of the feminist groups I am part of, both in Winnipeg and in virtual communities. This empowerment feminism is a kind of first step, a way to realize what a social equality movement against patriarchy can offer.

It means learning to love our bodies, genders and sexualities - even when they don’t conform to societal expectations.

It means realizing that racism, sexism, classism, ableism and countless other -isms need not confine our personal identities.

But for many of us young feminists, fortunate enough to have been born after our foremothers’ struggles reshaped the possibilities available for people of all genders, we are out of touch with a broader feminist movement.

That, I think, is where our March 8 celebrations come in.

International Women’s Day is an opportunity for us as feminists to connect, perhaps for the first time, with a broader community of people who are standing in solidarity in the fight for gender equality.

If individual empowerment feminism is the starting point, the primer for today’s up-and-coming activists, then involvement in large-scale movements is the senior seminar.

It is our opportunity to be part of something big, something powerful.

It is a chance to come together and work through some of the differences that tore at previous attempts at solidarity with the goal of really making it work this time.

Feminism in North America has been (rightly) accused of being exclusive - discounting people of colour, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities and anyone outside of the middle class, to name but a few.

Today, we are still trying to deal with that.

While individual empowerment feminism is great for the people to whom it grants self-confidence and social awareness, it is a luxury afforded to those of us who can access it and who have the privilege of forgetting about racism or ableism or transphobia because it doesn’t affect us.

For single mothers without access to affordable daycare, for people living in severe poverty due to broken social systems, and for all others who feel the pain of marginalization on a regular basis, individual empowerment is not enough.

If we really want feminism to serve everyone, our analysis of multiple systems of oppression needs to go beyond the classroom, beyond the discussion group.

It needs to extend beyond the socially aware Facebook status update into real-world engagement with battles that are being fought right now.

It means listening to other feminists and progressive activists of all stripes and learning not to speak over each other.

It means taking a step back and allowing people with lived experience to lead their own movements, acting as an ally when it is not about us, and putting liberation for all rather than empowerment for some front and centre.

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to put all of this into practice.

This year, go to a march.

Join a rally.

Sit in on a workshop.

Get involved however you can. Listen to the women who are talking about their experiences, and take up their causes.

Be part of the action, and when it’s over for the year, don’t stop.

Be part of something big, collective and important.

It’s how we get things done.

This year’s International Women’s Day March leaves from 275 Broadway (Union Centre) at 5:30 p.m. on March 8. All are welcome.

Alexandria van Dyck is a third-year women’s and gender studies and human rights student at the University of Winnipeg. She is currently the coordinator of the U of W Women’s and Gender Studies Association and is a volunteer with the UWSA Womyn’s Centre.

Published in Volume 67, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 6, 2013)

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