Belated Happy Birthday, International Women’s Day!

by Ingrid Robeyns on March 9, 2009

8march

According to Wikipedia, yesterday was the 100th International Women’s Day (I started writing this post yesterday, but spent most of that day at a feminist meeting and having a women’s night out. Sorry. But here it is – better late than never). Last year, here at CT, we discovered that in some countries this is not celebrated as a social or political event (as it is in Europe) but rather as a day to give your wife or girlfriend chocolates or flowers. So I felt it’d be good to post an old-fashioned political poster, stolen from the very same wikipedia site. Isn’t it awesome?

International women’s day originated from political activism related to women’s rights, especially their rights as workers. With the current economic crisis, several of women’s concerns, such as wage discrimination and gender segregation, or parental concerns that in reality often boil down to mothers’ concerns, such as family-friendly working hours, paid maternity leave etcetera, are probably not very high on the agenda of labour unions and other types of workers’ interests groups. Yet why should we keep considering care issues as luxury issues, or as complicating factors – rather than the core business of politics? So yesterday, on international women’s day, I thought that what we really need is to put the world on its head, and ask how the relevant policies and sciences would look like if, when we are theorizing and designing policies and reflecting on life and society, we would start from care and than add what is now standardly conceived as the core issues of policies and the socio-economic system, namely the formal economy in which money goes around and GDP is measured.

Of course, care issues are not synonymous with women’s issues – there are enough women who try to make their lives as carefree as possible, and there are men whose interests would also be better served if we were to put care central. Moreover, there are many women’s issues that are not care issues – problems such as domestic violence and sexual aggression may be somewhat linked to care, but are in large part about other issues.

Perhaps all these musings reflect my own shift in research interests from issues of gender to issues of care. Not that I think the former are any less important than I felt when I wrote my PhD dissertation on gender inequality around the turn of the century. Yet they are of a different nature. In the case of gender, one could reasonably argue in favour of abolishing gender as a system of social stratification. But we will never be able (or willing!) to abolish care. So it’s a fundamental issue, and we need to take it much more seriously than we do. Perhaps we could also start celebrating an International Carers Day, if that doesn’t exit yet?

{ 21 comments }

1

Matt 03.09.09 at 7:49 pm

If my wife didn’t usually insist that Russia “isn’t really part of Europe” I’d feel offended on her behalf for your writing it out of Europe here, since, in Russia, Women’s Day has been a day for chocolate and flowers and pretty much nothing else for many, many years now. As for the rest of the post, I agree completely.

2

Ingrid Robeyns 03.09.09 at 8:01 pm

Oh sorry, Matt. And how interesting too – since once upon a time, in the USSR, women’s day must have been as political as it has perhaps never been in other parts of Europe. Whether that was a good thing, is an entirely different question, of course…

3

David in NY 03.09.09 at 8:08 pm

Here in the US, so far as I’m aware, Women’s Day isn’t celebrated at all. I would not have known about it if we hadn’t been having a visit from a good friend, a Slovenian woman in her 60’s who works as a surgeon, who seemed startled by our ignorance. There is little difference in the treatment of women’s rights and care issues here, because neither gets much notice.

4

King Rat 03.09.09 at 8:09 pm

Growing up in Russia in the 90s, I had the distinct impression that it had been a day for flowers and chocolates for decades. I would also surmise that it’s more widely celebrated in the former USSR than anywhere else-though that’s for content-free definitions of celebrate.

Oddly enough, my girlfriend and I have done our big anniversary/Valentine’s Day thing on March 8th now for two years, as long as we’ve been together. I didn’t mean to substitute it, really-I was just taking an opportunity to be both Russian and romantic, but it caught on. I prefer it this way.

5

Righteous Bubba 03.09.09 at 8:16 pm

I would also surmise that it’s more widely celebrated in the former USSR than anywhere else-though that’s for content-free definitions of celebrate.

I’m on an international mailing list and the only mention of International Women’s Day came when “ladies” received a virtual bouquet of white roses from a Russian official.

6

christian h. 03.09.09 at 8:50 pm

In Germany, international women’s day used to be – like many things – part of the ideological competition. That is, it was not celebrated in the West by anyone but radical left groups. Instead – not surprisingly – mothers’ day was quite prominent (ie, we made mothers’ day cards for our mothers in grade school etc.).

7

magistra 03.09.09 at 9:43 pm

If you start policy building on the basis of care, you face the immediate issue that care is an important task, which most people find unappealing to perform in large quantities, because it involves much work which is repetitive (dressing someone, talking to toddlers etc) and/or physically demanding/unpleasant (wiping bottoms, lifting people). I don’t see an easy way of getting round this central problem of the nature of the work. The traditional alternative has been to exalt the morality of carers (women, nurses etc), while paying them nothing ot next to nothing, but feminism has dealt that a serious blow, not least by giving women other work options. The capitalist alternative is to pay carers nothing or next to nothing while simultaneously denigrating them for their menial work (since they are unable to earn sufficiently to outsource caring tasks to someone further down the social hierarchy).

8

James Conran 03.10.09 at 1:13 am

“…once upon a time, in the USSR, women’s day must have been as political as it has perhaps never been in other parts of Europe. “

It’s funny, because I became aware it was IWD from the radio just as I was learning (from Orlando Figges’ “A People’s Tragedy”) about how a women’s march for equal rights on IWD, 1917 played a central role in precipitating the February Revolution. (At first I was confused but then remembered the whole Gregorian calender thing).

9

Zamfir 03.10.09 at 10:01 am

To be honest, the people I know in the Netherlands who care about Women’s day are flower grower who export to Russia, because it is one of their peak days.

10

Ingrid Robeyns 03.10.09 at 10:13 am

Well, Zamfir, that says more about the people you know than about what was happening in this country. There were several events taking place on Sunday – I think every big city had one event. I was at an event with workshops and lectures in Utrecht, and with speeches by 3 major politicians (Koenders, Bussemakers and Verhagen) and it was quite informative with good discussions. International Women’s day is one of the few days during the year when one can debate issues to do with women’s and men’s position in society in a setting with other people (both men and women) who are intersted in these issues. But I have no illusions that most people don’t care at all about this topic, just as they don’t care about many other political issues or social inequalities. So be it.

11

J. Otto Pohl 03.10.09 at 11:32 am

Left out of this glorious paen to European socialism and feminism is the fact that IWD is originally a US holiday. It was first celebrated in the US in 1909. Only two years later in 1911 was it observed in Europe.

Although the date that IWD in the USSR ceased to have any real connection to women’s rights is debatable I suspect it was pretty early on. Certainly by the 1930s the Soviet government had little interest in real liberation ane equality for women. Interestingly enough Stalin chose to celebrate major holidays in 1943-1944 with the deportation of whole peoples. For IWD in 1944 he chose to deport the Balkars, earlier he had celebrated Red Army Day with the deportation of the Chechens and Ingush and New Years Eve with the deportation of the Kalmyks.

12

Katherine 03.10.09 at 11:56 am

I attended the Million Women Rise march on Saturday – obviously timed each year to coincide as much as possible with International Women’s Day. I doubt it got much media attention, but there were a lot of people doing their usual shopping thing on Oxford Street, down which the march went, who might now occasionally think about it.

13

Zamfir 03.10.09 at 1:32 pm

But I have no illusions that most people don’t care at all about this topic, just as they don’t care about many other political issues or social inequalities.

It seems perfectly possible to me to care about the position of women in society, without caring about Women’s day :) But more seriously, I think there is something in magistra’s take, that shifting focus to care turns a men/women divide in a class divide, with working-class women taking over many care tasks from higher-class women, without really changing gender disbalance on the whole.

I fear especially that interest in care issues might disappear if the most influential 20% or so of the people can buy away most of their care issues.

14

David in NY 03.10.09 at 2:41 pm

“Left out of this glorious paen to European socialism and feminism is the fact that IWD is originally a US holiday.”

Interesting. It seems to be a tradition in the US — inventing good holidays and ignoring them. The international labor or workers’ day, May 1, also originated in the US in 1886.

15

rvman 03.10.09 at 7:28 pm

To be fair, we do have a Labor Day, first Monday in September, as a substitute for May Day, more or less literally. Our labor day was designated as the first Monday in September by Pres. Cleveland, the year after the Haymarket massacre in May, 1886, contaminated the first major celebration of the May 1 version. These days, May Day is more a pseudo-pagan thing than a labor thing in the US.

16

des von bladet 03.10.09 at 8:39 pm

Well, Zamfir, that says more about the people you know than about what was happening in this country.

Bad Zamfir! No biscuit! And no biscuit for me, either, because I missed the Dutch Wimmins’ Dag too. Mrs Von Bladet was already op reis in Italy by then, but she also didn’t mention it last year or the year before.

I’m in no position to dispute that events were organised in Groningen, but lots of things happen in big cities without me being aware of them. (This is practically a definition of “big city”.)

17

Ingrid Robeyns 03.10.09 at 9:05 pm

Des, if you come to Utrecht, I’ll serve you Real English Tea with a biscuit. I promise. Or I can bring you een koekje when I come to Groningen on May 13th to give a lecture in the philosophy department. Or do you think feminists wouldn’t serve tea and bake koekjes?

18

des von bladet 03.10.09 at 9:25 pm

I didn’t think _anyone_ home-baked koekjes, regardless of ideology!

Ingeburgerd as I am, I take Lidl koekjes to work for my verbirthdags (we never have koekjes in the house otherwise — the single-koekje as coffee-accessory is something we leave to the Hollanders, along with koffiemelk). And ingeburgerd as I am, the tea I mostly drink is oost-frisian served weak, black and in a glass (although we do have to go to Germany to stock up).

None of which constitutes a declination of either of your kind offers, though!

19

Zamfir 03.11.09 at 8:53 am

Ingrid, there was someone on TV last weekend who said that biscuits (at least in the Dutch meaning of the word) are nearly impossible to bake at home, because the dough requires industrial-strength mixers.

I don’t think I qualify as a real feminist, but I do bake koekjes myself, and sometimes bring them to work, where they are looked at with suspicion.

20

Ingrid Robeyns 03.11.09 at 7:11 pm

Well, if you have a three year old as I do, then sometimes you do bake koekies. But I confess (a) that this happens only rarely, and (b) they look horrible, and they taste too sweet. But for the three year old it’s a great achievement and for all of us a joyful thing to do, especially when it rains.

21

roland 03.13.09 at 6:54 pm

Should I have brought chocolates last Sunday?

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