Unless you have been wearing blinders and earplugs, you cannot have helped but notice that Sunday was International Women’s Day. It is easy to be cynical about this sort of day, considering it pointless or patronizing. However, it is difficult to argue that a day such as International Women’s Day raises awareness, making all of us more conscious of inequities based on prejudice, stereotype, and tradition.
Perhaps the first mass public awareness of women’s status came from Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s play, “A Doll’s House”. At the end, the main character Nora walks out on her overbearing and controlling husband Torvald. That final scene shocked and stunned audiences in 1879 and beyond. Ibsen claimed that he had no intent to comment on women’s roles, but the play gained traction as starting point for women’s rights. Fourteen years later, New Zealand became the first country in the world that gave women the right to vote. Equality for women has been a slow steady climb ever since. In 1909, the first International Women’s Day was celebrated in New York. The day and steps toward equality have spread ever since. It would be impossible to overlook the impact of the pill – introduced in 1960 — on women’s liberation.
This ever increasing empowerment of women continues. As it stands, girls are currently outperforming boys in school in all subjects. Percentage-wise, a larger proportion of girls than boys graduate from college. In athletics, women’s ability to participate has also grown. There were only 22 female athletes in the 1900 Olympic Games. Just about half of all participants are women nowadays. Further, women can be found in all strata of the professional world, albeit in scarce amounts when it comes to the highest levels of business and other professions. Nonetheless, the presence of women in all aspects of society is continually increasing.
On the flipside, it is easy to bemoan the fact that women earn far less money than men who hold the same position in the working world. It is easy to rant about girls who are made to feel out of place in university math and science classes. It is easy to grumble about the reality that women are still reduced to sex objects. These are all issues that need to be addressed and overcome. Also disconcerting is the scorn (often silent) heaped on women who decide to maintain a traditional role in the family or those who choose to leave their traditional role in order to enter or return to the working world.
Yet therein lies the true beauty and power of the women’s movement. Women are now free to choose. Sure, there are still glass ceilings to break through. But many have been shattered. As Michael Meyer, an Englishman who translated Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” said, the play is about “the need of every individual to find out the kind of person he or she really is and to strive to become that person.” That is what the movement and International Women’s Day are about. More and more, women are able to pursue their aspirations; being who and what they want to be rather than being forced into roles cast by society’s limiting prejudices, stereotypes, and traditions.
With that mindset, International Women’s Day is a day worth celebrating.