Please Do Not Send Me Flowers on International Women’s Day
This past weekend, one of my neighbors started chatting to me while we were heading out on our errands. Your husband knows, he said, that Monday is International Women’s Day, right? I am sure my face expressed surprise at the question. Yes, my husband knows, at least on some level. I doubt he has the date highlighted on his calendar, but he knows it exists.
Does he care, though? I do not think he does, and I am okay with that. I do not expect flowers and I do not expect him to bring me coffee in bed (although I am grateful he has agreed to do all the dishes). One of the reasons he is a great partner is because he supports me every day, as I hopefully do for him. He may not run to my aid when I fall off my bike as I make my first clipless pedal attempts, but that is because he knows that is not what I want or need. (As this happened on Sunday right outside our apartment, the memory is fresh, but it says more about me than it does about him.)
One day of celebration and recognition, of shining a light on women’s rights and causes, is not going to change anything. I am not naive enough to believe that is the intention, nor that others believe it is enough. In the current environment, it seems these days and months of recognition are ripe with subtext and counterarguments, and I am tired of these conversations.
International Women’s Day began when the world was much less equal than it is today, before women in the U.S. had the right to vote. It is hard to believe that was just over 100 years ago, and today we have women in board rooms, women inventing Coronavirus vaccines and women leading 10% of the countries around the world. For all of the progress and accomplishments, though, we are still living in a man’s world, where men earn more and hold more power while, as Caroline Criado Perez’s excellent book Invisible Women demonstrates through data, they arguably do less work.
We do not need another Hallmark holiday to tell us we are great and appreciated. We do not need another special offer or promotion to encourage us to spend our hard-earned money. We do not need a day on the calendar that allows people to feel that they have done their work supporting women and can now return to their usual routine.
Economists and sociologists have already written and demonstrated how women, and particularly women of color and women with less economic means, have suffered in the last year. Unfortunately, the situation for women is not predicted to get better in the decade that follows the pandemic.¹ In light of this fact, and the fact that the U.S. government will not even mandate a minimum wage of $15 an hour, recognizing International Women’s Day feels like lip service rather than action.
I am aware of how lucky I am, especially in light of the last year. Other than the persistent hum of sadness about the state of the world and my separation from family and friends, my biggest daily gripe is that I feel like I am always washing dishes (it is the agreed split of household responsibilities, as my husband does most of the cooking; I have learned to enjoy dishwashing almost as much as he enjoys cooking by singing silly songs). This pales in comparison to what many are dealing with, and I am grateful to have both an employer that protected my job as well as a family situation that enables it.
It has taken me a while to gain the confidence I need to succeed in business and to give a voice to my opinion. I have arrived at this place thanks in part to great friends, great family, great colleagues and great leaders, many of whom have been men. They have pushed and pulled me along the way, opening opportunities for me often before I thought I was ready for them. They have challenged my thinking, been honest in their feedback and demonstrated empathy. They have shown me respect by helping me stay true to myself rather than conform to preconceived notions and expectations.
In our pandemic and post-pandemic world, women need this kind of enduring support more than ever. That is my hope, not just on International Women’s Day, but every day. Beyond hope, my commitment is to work harder every day to open doors for those who will come behind me. As a global society, we have come a long way since the first International Women’s Day, which should serve as inspiration to keep us moving forward.
 COVID-19 and its economic toll on women: The story behind the numbers. (2020, September). https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2020/9/feature-covid-19-economic-impacts-on-women