Most countries around the world are celebrating a holiday today. While here in the United States we might have a few blog posts and an auxiliary lunch or two, other countries are hosting parades and setting aside time to honor women. For today, March 8, is International Women's Day. A national holiday in some countries, this is the day set aside to mark the economic, political, and social achievements of women. Of course, just mentioning the day's existence prompts some to ask "well, why isn't there an International Men's Day?" In response I'd echo my mom's reply when on Mother's Day I would ask her "why isn't there a kid's day?" and she would say "because every other day is kid's (men's) day."
But the fact remains, if women truly were treated as equals, valued for our contributions, respected for our ideas, and not assumed to be inferior or incapable in any way, then there would not need to be a day to bring attention to the achievements of women. If women weren't commonly passed over for jobs, paid less for doing the same work as men, mocked for trying to get ahead, and told that they are only worthwhile as nurturers or pleasure-providers, then perhaps the reminders of what women are capable of wouldn't matter. I have of course seen great advances made in women being respected as whole people and have personally witnessed hearts soften as hatred melts away. But that doesn't mean there aren't still struggles.
All too often men feel threatened by the idea that women are capable and worthy of respect. To them, treating women as equals implies some sort of competition -- taking away their opportunities and challenging their manhood. I've had guys tell me that women should be barred from working outside the home because they take jobs away from men who need them. I've been told that in suggesting that the specific qualities of a woman would be helpful in a certain job that I am preventing the best person for the job (a man) from getting it. That what all women have to offer that men can't is their victim status, so why bother with women at all. That God would never have allowed patriarchy to exist and men dominate women unless that was the way it was intended to be. Absurd as these arguments are, I still hear them on a regular basis.
I know a lot of this is based on cultural conditioning. Men are taught to define their very worth by their ability to have power over something. To treat women as respected equals challenges that conditioning. Unfortunately, the common response to this is not to unlearn those cultural lies, but to lash out against women and reassert power. Men who respect women, champion their achievements, and fight for their inclusion are condemned alongside women as being less than "real men." It's hard not to see why we still need a day to be reminded of what women have done and our ability to capably serve society. We know it's not about competition, having power over others, or declaring a winner. We just wish certain men would get over seeing us as threats and start productively working for a better world together.
This desire on behalf of women is nothing new, of course. Recently, I found it fascinating to read one of the first English feminist pamphlets written by a woman. Rachel Speght was the daughter of a Calvinist minister who later married another Calvinist minister who wasn't afraid to encourage men to a more loving and Christ-like attitude toward women. In 1617, she published under her own name (rare for women in those times) A Mouzell for Melastomus (A Muzzle for the Evil-Mouth) in response to a booklet by Joseph Swetman (often referred to as "the woman-hater") detailing why all women are corrupt and should be despised. In it she implores men to stop showing ingratitude to God by treating the women around them as less than the equal partners God created them to be:
Let men therefore beware of all unthankfulness, but especially of the superlative ingratitude, that which is towards God, which is no way more palpably declared, then by the contemning of, and railing against women, which sin, of some men (if to be termed men) no doubt but God will one day avenge, when they shall plainly perceive, that it had been better for them to have been borne dumb and lame, then to have used their tongs and hands, the one is repugning, the other in writing against God's handy work, their own flesh, women I mean, whom God hath made equal with themselves in dignity, both temporally and eternally, if they continue in the faith: which God for his mercy sake grant they always may, to the glory of their Creator, and comfort of their own souls, through Christ. Amen.
This is my story. It is the world I still encounter and the plea I make every day. I echo the words written nearly 400 years ago asking that men stop mocking God in their treatment of women. We've come a long way, but still have a long way to go. This is why I find International Women's Day important -- we still need these reminders and the encouragement that we can do more.
Julie Clawson is the author of Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices (IVP 2009). She blogs at julieclawson.com and emergingwomen.us.