The Backlash Against International Women’s Day

Warning: This article deals with the topics of domestic violence and suicide. It could be triggering for some readers.

International Women’s Day (IWD) has come and gone, but the conversations need to keep moving forward. Your social media feeds will have been filled with people and companies celebrating the women in their lives and, look, while that’s not the wrong way to do March 8, there are certainly more effective ways of pushing for change.

It would be great if IWD could simply be about celebration, but when there’s work to be done, that feels like the baseline. The government’s Status of Women Report Card, released yesterday, showed that half of women have experienced sexual harassment, while a quarter of them have experienced sexual violence. Those stats are also probably undercooking it, as just over half of millennial women report experiencing sexual violence. At the same time, the gender pay gap is still 29.2% on total full-time income, while women spend nine hours more than men on unpaid work and care.

We’ve come a long way since colonisation, where women were virtually treated as property with few legal rights, but there’s still so much to do.

Of course, many are working on the issues at hand, and yesterday was a good opportunity to highlight those who are and the problems they are trying to solve. But was everyone on this page? Many have written about the corporatisation of IWD, whereby organisations don purple and green for a day to spin platitudes while their gender pay gaps remain shockingly high.

The Australian Financial Review notes that all four of the big consultancy firms have gender pay gaps in the low double digits, rising as you go up the seniority ladder. All of these firms shared lots of ‘inspiring’ content on their socials yesterday. Both NAB and CommBank noted they were “full of opportunity” for women while having never had a female CEO. One venture capital firm, OneVentures, even managed to make IWD about “recognising the men” by sharing a photo of nine male ‘allies’. They soon apologised.

It’s been noted that no one organisation ‘owns’ IWD. It was started at the beginning of the last century by a bunch of radical socialist women agitating for change. This was the era of hunger strikes, chaining yourself to a fence, and jumping in front of the King’s carriage. In 1973, the UN adopted the date and has become its de-facto champion, setting a theme for each year. However, InternationalWomensDay.com, a fairly anonymous organisation owned by the consulting agency Aurora Ventures, sets its own, often more banal themes.

That website is run by a woman named Glenda Slingsby, formerly Glenda Stone. She’s had to settle in court for driving former employees to the brink of nervous breakdowns due to her tyrannical management style.

On Tuesday, this fact was highlighted by publication Zee Feed. This news source also questioned what kinds of women are pushed to the forefront on IWD.

Mainly, these are women “in their 40s and 50s, white, educated, wealthy.”

“Can you be all those things and be an effective leader of a women’s movement?” asked Zee Feed’s Founder, Crystal Andrews. “Absolutely! But not if you still subscribe to the same ways of thinking that created these problems in the first place”.

Speaking to The Latch, Andrews noted that IWD has “lost the energy it once had, in Australia at least” after becoming “really detached from those original protest movements.”

“Patriarchy and neoliberalism have warped our idea of what ‘success’ means and who is worthy of celebration. It’s embedded in every part of society, so we’re all guilty of thinking that making lots of money, being popular, or achieving a high-status position, automatically makes you a role model,” she said.

Andrews explained that corporations and other powerful institutions make liberation platitudes on IWD because they don’t want to promote the people that are trying to dismantle them. These corporations also platform ‘soft influence’ decision makers – like journalists, marketing teams, event planners, and teachers – because these individuals usually discuss accessible ideas and are a lot like them.

“It’s not malicious, but it does limit who the public gets to hear from,” Andrews said.

Another of the key questions this year, which was also raised by Zee Feed, is how far to involve men in the IWD conversation. Often, women talk about attending IWD events and other similar events across the year, and such events can turn into preaching to the choir. Having just women at these events means that the people who really need to hear what is being discussed just aren’t there.

“Trying to dismantle the patriarchy without the other 50% of the population noticing? It won’t work,” Zee Feed wrote in their newsletter on Monday.

Andrews told us that dismantling the toxic “prison” of neoliberalism and the patriarchy is something that “will have a direct positive impact” on the lives of men.

You only need to know the numbers of disenfranchised men who flock to reactionary, misogynistic figures like Joe Rogan and Andrew Tate to get that men are dispossessed in the current climate. Note too the sad fact that 75% of people who take their own lives in this country are men, the need for men’s sheds, and ‘It Ain’t Weak to Speak’ stickers on the back of utes. These are also products of a system that raises men in strict gender roles.

“I don’t know how to overcome an entire history of social programming, but one thing I’m trying to get better at is articulating how things will be better in a more equal society, including ways it will be better for them,” Andrews said. “There is a lot of overlap”.

While the media and attention cycle moves forward, the daily reality of living in a sexist society also carry on. The government is moving to correct things like the gender pay gap, period poverty, and gender-based violence, but, for many, it can’t come soon enough, and it will require more than funding and policy change. This is culture change we’re talking about.

So, by the time International Women’s Day 2024 rolls around, let’s ensure that we’ve kept those important conversations going and continued to think critically about the kinds of people we support in this movement. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen.

If this article brings up any issues for you or anyone you know, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.

If this article brings up any issues for you or anyone you know, or you are experiencing suicidal ideation or are at risk, please contact Lifeline (13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) or Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636), all of which provide trained counsellors you can talk with 24/7. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.

Related: The Gender Pay Gap Bot Is Back to Publicly Humiliate Unequal Companies

Related: Here’s How Men Can Speak Up on International Women’s Day

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