Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, and with it comes words like “empowerment.” Which, well, okay! Empowerment isn’t a bad thing, and it certainly isn’t something to zero in on and condemn when there’s about a million other things to zero in on and condemn. (All of which I’m sure I will get around to in the future.)
But here’s the thing: buzzwords make me so tired. Feminism-as-a-purchasable-commodity is draining. (I mean, I love a casual mantra, but you can’t hang your entire identity on “Nevertheless she persisted” tote bags.) And while I’m not about to lecture anybody on their preferred methods of empowering one’s self, to use International Women’s Day as an excuse to shill product is exactly the opposite of anything good. You want to sell us t-shirts and keychains and mugs? By all means. But to pretend it’s anyone’s #IWD or feminist duty to acquire branded paraphernalia is insulting. One’s social and political leanings do not require the addition of physical goods to be proven. And to conflate feminism with capitalism is not just a buzzkill, but a misstep. It’s wonderful that feminism is trendy. But it isn’t a trend.
Especially because it has such an exclusory history. Lest we forget that white feminism has roots firmly anchored in racism, ableism, xenophobia, transphobia, and classicism (to name a few), and even today (in the year of our lord 2019), it’s still rare to see true intersectionality being prioritized as much as the availability of sellable goods. Which is exactly the type of problem we should be using International Women’s Day to address: unless every woman has the same rights and is granted the same opportunities, women – in general – lose. And, well, that means women are losing.
Which isn’t exactly a cheery IWD message to share on a day reserved for celebrating women. But the thing is, it’s possible to celebrate women while simultaneously acknowledging that outside the “you go, girl!” umbrella, there are millions of women who are being let down and whose power won’t come from a slogan mug; women who’ve been perpetually subjected to the worst parts of our system, and who’ve been consistently excluded from the feminist discussion. I mean, International Women’s Day can be powerful absolutely, but it must also be a day in which we ask ourselves what we’re doing to ensure that all women are granted power. Are we listening? Are we shutting the hell up so another woman can speak? Are we stepping aside to make space? Are we sharing the work of women who have better perspective than us? Are we advocating for the rights of women whose voices have been routinely silenced? Are we apologizing for when we misstep instead of getting defensive? Are we backing up other women even when the spotlight isn’t on us? And are we doing these things every day?
And sure, if you want to accompany the aforementioned with a t-shirt or RBG sticker on your computer, bless. That is your business, and that is your taste. But International Women’s Day isn’t another holiday stacked high atop the foundation of consumerism. It is a day where we remind ourselves of the work to do, of the work that’s been done, and the work we are doing. It can always be complemented by something you’ve bought (who am I to say you can’t wear a fun set of pins), but power doesn’t come from a pair of socks with a message. Ultimately, it comes from the women who’ve pioneered the path we’re lucky to be walking on; the power lent to us that we’re meant to keep passing down.