So today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day — known here in Colombia as Día de la Mujer. As you may or may not know, the holiday started back at the beginning of the 20th century, as a sort of combination of the socialist labor rights and women’s rights movements. Following the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and ongoing strikes and protests by Russian women during the 19-teens, the international community finally began to pay marginally more attention to women’s demands for equality. Since the end of WWI, International Women’s Day has spread across the globe, and is now an official holiday in more than 25 countries, and celebrated unofficially in many others, including Colombia.
Here, Día de la Mujer is kind of a like a combination of Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. Women receive gifts like candy, flowers and small stuffed animals — or, in the case of one of my fellow teachers, a terrifying 8-inch-tall pen shaped like a rabbit. Walking around town today was pretty charming, because practically every female person over the age of about 10 is carrying at least two flowers and probably some other kind of gift. It’s an especially great day to be a female teacher, with all the kids running around school giving teachers candy, flowers, cards and other presents — kind of like reverse Halloween for grownup ladies. I think I collected like ten candy bars over the course of the day (needless to say, most of them didn’t make it to tonight intact), as well as some very lovely flowers and a personalized card from one of my seventh-graders (who even spelled my name right! A miracle!).
Everyone greets each other with “Feliz día!” (“happy day”) which gives the whole day a positive and festive feeling. I already receive about 100 hugs on a daily basis, but I think I might’ve managed to go over quota today, what with all the well-wishes. We also had a short assembly near the end of the day, where a few teachers spoke briefly about the history and significant of Día de la Mujer and we were treated to the musical stylings of a group of 11th-grade boys — who were actually surprisingly good. Then again, I’ll never speak badly of an impromptu midday concert.
To be perfectly honest, though, I’m really not sure how I feel about this whole idea of having a Women’s Day. Of course, I have a lot of respect for the genesis of the holiday, and I do think it’s vitally important to commemorate the past struggles of women who fought to gain the (relative) equality many of us enjoy today. There’s never a bad time to note the past (and present) accomplishments of the world’s successful, amazing women, and I appreciate the idea of taking a day to really reflect on all of these topics. HOWEVER. I do have a problem with the idea of setting aside just one day to think about “women’s issues.” It’s like how movies with a female lead are basically always pigeonholed as chick flicks, even if there’s tons of shit blowing up.
Now, my school overall did a pretty good job trying to get past that idea that thinking about women in the context of something other than “ooh! Pretty things!” is just the territory of women. I liked that they went into the history of the holiday and tried to impress upon the students the importance of reflecting on the advancement of women’s rights. These are all good things, and I feel lucky to be at a school that has values that generally align with mine. But again, a lot of the discussion on this day starts to involve the whole “women are sacred and beautiful flowers and where would men be without women and they are of paramount important because only they can give life” and etc etc. Again, none of these are necessarily bad things, and let me be the first to say that I think the fact that women can create other beings inside their bodies is totally fucking badass.
But. BUT. Maybe it’s because I’m not a mother, maybe it’s because I have no idea if I ever want to be a mother, but there’s something just slightly icky to me about the whole glorification of motherhood and birth as the ultimate purpose or definition of a woman’s existence. I mean yes, great, if I want to, I can squeeze a tiny alien-looking creature out of me, but I can also do other things. And some of those things could be pretty damn awesome. And I would appreciate if someday, we could place equal value on the lives and actions of women who do things like work toward a cure for cancer or report on human rights violations in Syria, without first seeking to define their contributions to society based on whether or not they have children.
I do think that ultimately there’s a lot of space in the celebration of International Women’s Day for that kind of opinion, and that it’s not all about the rhetoric of delicate-flowers-givers-of-life-on-a-pedestal. It’s also interesting to me that we really don’t celebrate the holiday much at home — I had a hard time explaining to people today why we don’t. And honestly, it’s a question I’m not really sure I can answer. Because we sure could use a little more support of women’s rights in the good old U.S. of A. right about now.
Oh, and Mike of Mike’s Bogota Blog/Bike Tours fame had some interesting things to say about this day and women’s equality in Colombia, as well.