I can remember being a girl and being horrified to learn that in so many part of the world, half of everyone I might meet would see me as an object or property or unclean or just plain less than because I was born female. It was worse learning that there were plenty of people in my own country who felt the same way. The anonymity of a city street makes it easy to steal away someone’s personhood without feeling too bad about it.
The first time I was catcalled by a grownup man, I was in sixth grade. The only thing I did to draw attention to myself was developing early. And I was maybe twelve and in a nice quiet suburb the first time a man followed me, asking me if I wanted to get into his car.
But you know what, the risks of simply being born female I could take. What was heartbreaking was breaking down at age thirteen after being harassed and followed yet again on a busy city street only to be told, “Well, a lot of men are just like that. It’s going to happen. Get used to it because it’s not about what you’re wearing or where you’re walking.” How could it not be heartbreaking to learn that to so many, near and far, you’re simply not a person?
Now my daughter is 8-years-old and she’s starting to notice that the larger world isn’t fair, but she’s still too young to grasp the worst of things. And thank God for that. Let her go for as many more years as she can without realizing that in some other part of the world she’s be bought, sold, married off to a man her grandfather’s age, covered from head to toe, not allowed to read, not allowed to drive, not allowed to learn… And let her go for longer than I did without realizing that right here in the US there are grown men who will catcall a sixth grader or follow a terrified preteen down the street.
So what’s that got to do with International Women’s Day? Which I’ll admit is a wonderful day to take a moment to google Muzoon Almellehan, Anne McClain, Nicole Aunapu Mann, Christina Hammock Koch, Jessica Meir, Dr. Laura Stachel, Dr Grace Murray Hopper, and other notable women during your lunch break. To share those women with our daughters and sons. But for me the good is tempered with bad and it feels somehow disingenuous to share one without the other.
How do I share the fact that so many women are right now literally mocking a day meant to celebrate the achievements of women globally and historically – achievements that really do deserve celebration considering how many of those women around the globe had to fight tooth and nail just to be allowed to compete!
How do I share the fact that outside of our tiny, safe bubble women are still disproportionately poor and illiterate? How do I someday gently reveal to my daughter that she lives in a global community where in many places there are still child brides, women can still be sold for cash, spousal abuse isn’t seen as abuse, women are burned with acid for being too independent or killed for dishonoring a family. That there are parts of the world where she won’t be allowed to drive or step foot into certain spaces for fear she will make them unclean.
I mean, heck, it was hard enough to admit to her that we live in a country that until the very recent year 1920 didn’t consider women competent enough to vote for their own representatives!
The question I don’t want to answer is not what is International Women’s Day but why do we need International Women’s Day. So today we’ll talk about Hedy Lamarr and Dr. Shirley Jackson and others and I will resolve to make a better effort to teach her about notable women across disciplines but I may or may not mention International Women’s Day this year.
My hope is that maybe when the time comes to share the bad as well as the good, I’ll have given her enough role models to serve as the antidote to the hopelessness that comes with finding out what most of the world is really like. To make finding out that “It’s going to happen. Get used to it because it’s not about what you’re wearing or where you’re walking.” a little less bleak.