It’s International Women’s Day!
Hooray! We don’t celebrate it much in the United States but every Latin-American country I’ve visited takes it really seriously. Good for them! So here I am in a school presentation about how marvelous women are, and I can’t help but think to myself: Why, but WHY, is the airtime today, of all days, being dominated by a man?
The same politician who seems to show up at all this town’s community events is talking yet again. He’s going on and on about all the marvelous, caring, responsible women this community has seen over time. Lord have mercy, when will he sit down?
Ahhh! Finally! He sat down.
A school administrator stood up (a woman–yippee!) to introduce the nuns recently stationed in town (nice!–more strong women) and she starts talking about all that women do. “Every woman not only works, she cooks, she cleans, she irons clothes, she manages the household expenses,” she says, “Women are amazing. When your mom leaves for a night away, your father is lost, isn’t he?”
And flames start to shoot out of my ears.
This is a problem, obviously, because all of us teachers are seated in a nice row at the front of the auditorium to watch the presentation. Can the students see me fidgeting? I’m not concealing it very well, as much as I’m trying to play nice.
Don’t get me wrong! I’m a third-generation feminist. I love me just about anything dedicated to celebrating strong women. Maybe it’s because I love it so, that all this nonsense gets me so riled up. I love International Women’s Day. It’s fantastic, with some really good science behind it.
The Scientific Reasons to Love International Women’s Day
What science, you might ask? Well, want to improve the economic stability of a country? Time and time again, look to the women. Improve girls’ access to school, allow mothers to have access childcare, employment, and have control over their finances, and suddenly things start looking up in that country. It was created by the United Nations in recognition of the fact that when women do better, we all do better. As societies, we can be measured by how well we treat the women–young and old–in our lives.
In Brazil, International Women’s Day is pretty dang cool. People shower you with gifts. You get kisses and blessings all day long. Our students went out in the streets and gave thank-you presents to all the women they met. There were kids running all over town giving presents to women young and old. It was a beautiful thing. We went into my favorite school supplies and crafts store (in truth, there’s only three to choose from–but it’s my favorite anyhow) and we traded gifts–I gave them our present, they gave me a flower with a very Brazilian bombon in the center!
But Let’s Get Real Here
What I have a hard time with is that it’s just one day of the year. One day out of 365. That’s 0.27% of people’s brain power. Don’t put me on a pedestal one day a year and throw roses at my feet if for the rest of it you’re ignoring the fact that I’m scrubbing your floors.
Which is exactly what happens. All those lovely presents? Indubitably prepared beforehand by women. Dear teachers, PTA mothers, who stayed up late making all those gifts–I see you.
That charming and touching presentation by the students? It was all boys talking. Where my girls at? Why are you so silent? Why aren’t you also talking about how great it is to be female, the strong women that inspired you, the things you hope to achieve?
That politican made a joke about how initially he didn’t want the nuns to speak; that he thought he had all the bases covered in the presentation, but they did such a great job he was glad they were here after all. Ha ha.
FLAMES. Flames flying off my cheekbones, I tell you.
Mansplaining is rampant around here. I cannot count the number of conversations I have been talked over. I have had my own experience explained back to me. I have had my opinion doubted over and over until a man repeats what I just said. Sometimes I have just disappeared altogether from the conversation.
Equally rampant is the normalization of all the hidden work that women do. The coordination of social events, the smoothing of relationships, the running of errands, the cleaning, the organizing. I worked for a while giving massages to rich ladies. What did I learn? That in order to get where they are those rich ladies engaged the work of other women to pick up the tasks that they didn’t have time to do. They hired housekeepers, laundry ladies, nannies, and cooks. Occasionally a particularly stressed one would come in, throw her purse down, and lament about how she didn’t have hired help at the moment, that she was doing it all.by.HERSELF–Gasp! Nowhere in the equation is the idea that maybe the men should be doing some of the work.
So, we should be moving society to change all this, right?
The Brazilian Gender Quota in Politics
Interestingly, I learned that Brazil has laws on the books since the 1990s trying to combat this proble. Our talkative Paolo Politician explained that Brazilian political parties are legally mandated to have at least 30% of their candidates be women (technically the law states that you can’t have more than 70% of one gender). He explained that a lot of the time political parties struggle find enough women willing to run, and they end up putting in women just as placeholders, with no real intent that they ever actually get elected. It shouldn’t be this way, he said. Politics should be filled with women.
Yes, my friend. Yes it should. But… if you spend the whole year not listening to my opinion… If I spend the whole year juggling work and child rearing and an impeccable household (because for Brazilians that is the only standard)… and then you come knocking asking me to step forward and take on one more task, run for office, and ask that people listen to my opinion? Well, let’s just say that I understand why they’re having a hard time finding candidates.
They Call Them Warriors
One colleague sent this image out by What’s App (Brazilians really know how to rock the meme conversations).
I think it really sums up the issue: Women are expected to do everything (and stay beautiful and fit through it all) and then are applauded for surviving it.
Brazilians compliment their women by calling them guerreras (“warriors”), which is strong and fantastic. Except that they also created the conditions of battle and no one wants to talk about that.
Roses are Gorgeous, Chocolates are Tasty, a Helping Hand is Ideal
So this International Women’s Day, do give us chocolate and kisses. By all means. But don’t just praise the women around you–lighten her load. Stop, and pick up a task. Do the dishes. Provide some childcare. Lay out your kid’s clothes. Pick up the groceries.
It’s not just enough that the doors of advancement are open to us, we have to be unburdened enough to walk through them.