Friday, March 8, 2013

Penigma salutes International Women's Day

Having perused a variety of the articles acknowledging the day; it is a testament to the success of feminism.  The culture war on women from the right is the reminder that it is not sufficient to have made the gains, that we also have to hold those gains against those who would take them from us.

On a personal note, one of the things I heard growing up was that there were things girls and women couldn't do; nothing could make me more determined that I would overcome such arbitrary limitations, for myself, and for my gender.  We aren't all the way to full equality of opportunity yet, or to fully equal recognition for our accomplishments - like equal pay for equal work. We are still having to fight for control of our own bodies and reproductive rights. But we cannot be dismissed with impunity, either, as those on the right who have tried to undo our gains found to their loss in the 2012 election cycle.

In the past twelve months since International Women's Day 2012, perhaps the most profoundly feminist statement I heard or read was in connection with the Newtown, Connecticut shooting in December.  A conservative woman wrote an appallingly inaccurate and ill-researched article in the National Review Online, claiming that the tragedy of that mass shooting occurred because there was not a single man in the school.

There is a deeply offensive trend in right wing thinking that tries to posit that we are feminizing public education.  Feminizing is defined by things like not letting kids fight, because it is supposedly normal boy behavior to punch the crap out of each other on the playground. They fear that not doing so will inhibit normal male aggression. (Presumably they do not think this 'right to fight' should extend to girls.)

If there is one thing we appear to have in excess, it would seem to be aggression. The reason for not permitting fighting in schools - by boys or girls - is that it distracts from doing what they are there to do, which is learn, not define their gender or sexuality. It is not the job of schools to masculinize or feminize children.

The reality is that, contrary to the National Review piece, there were in fact a number of adult males in the school, and it did not make any difference whatsoever. The author suggested that a burly male janitor might have taken out the shooter by flinging a bucket at the shooter's knees with all his superior strength, might have stopped the mass shooting.

There WERE adult male teachers present, as well as male janitors.  At least one of the male janitors was credited with saving children in the hallway from the approaching shooter; he didn't have a bucket with him at the time (silly conservative stereotype).  The reality is that against the shooter, no male could have done more than what the brave women in that school did to save children, brave women who died, brave women who were injured.

The same fact-averse conservative woman writing in the article also asserted that the 12 year old boys should have cooperated to attack the shooter, Adam Lanza.  Except that this school was K-4th grade; there were no 12 year old boys attending, there were 9 year old boys in school. 

National Guard Lieutenant Tammy Duckworth
A comment made by the mother of a son struck me as particularly salient in the context of the recent access granted to women to serve in combat positions in the military, and in light of the election to Congress of combat veteran double-amputee Tammy Duckworth, that "our sons are not expendable". She went on to elaborate that it would have been suicidal for 12 year old boys to try to stop a shooter like Adam Lanza, a waste of their lives.

It goes to the point that NEITHER our sons or daughter, brothers or sisters, or any men or women are, by gender, more 'expendable' people than other human beings by gender.  That is part of the essence of equality, of freedom, of equal access to every possible aspect of our world, of the opportunity to realize the full potential of each one of us.

Below is a Forbes article that elaborates on International Women's Day.  On the Forbes website, immediately following this article was a photo montage of the top 10 countries for women.

The United States was not among the countries listed; not first, not tenth.

I want that to change; to make that change will require opposing the conservatives who want to put women in a submissive place.

From Forbes: International Women's Day, Labor, And The Right to Strive
Today is International Women’s Day and my Twitter feed courses with feminist politics, links to causes involving women and girls, and high-minded wishes for a world without base misogyny and cruel sexual exploitation. There’s a Google doodle and a White House proclamation. There’s a website and a hashtag and a slogan: “a modern progressive world needs equality.”
And who can disagree? Indeed among progressive men who tend to work the side of modern feminist causes, I’m not sure there’s a more eloquent message out there than the tweet by Jamil Smith, digital producer for MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry show:
Jamil Smith @JamilSmith
On International @womensday, I remember my grandmother, honor my mother, encourage my sister, cherish my wife, and love each of them.

Yet in reading some of the posts this morning, I found myself thinking about work and the nature of opportunity and success. International Women’s Day traces its origins back to a protest by women garment workers in New York against poor working conditions. In 1908, the Socialist Party of American established a day to support the garment workers and a year later, behind the slogan “Bread and Roses,” the commemoration spread to Europe. The deaths of 146 workers, mostly young immigrant women, in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of New York, showed the prescience of those original protests and the International Women’s Day movement gained steam in demonstrating against the slaughter of the trenches in World War I and was instrumental in the downfall of the Russian Czar.
At its core, International Women’s Day was about the right to work – and the right to work in fair conditions, properly compensated for labor, and legally organized in open forums.

 Fast forward to 2013. On Wednesday night, I was privileged to moderate a panel discussion for NYU’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising (where I teach) on networked feminism, social media, and role of women in philanthropy. Organized as part of a series on digital philanthropy by my colleague Marcia Stepanek, the discussion centered on the power and speed of networks in reacting to crisis and news. As I’ve written here and elsewhere, I don’t think there’s a more powerful networked force than networked feminists out there; movements organized or distributed  widely by citizens with a strong feminist viewpoint are among the fastest-growing and most potent on the digital social commons.

But as author Allison Fine cannily pointed out on our panel – which unfolded without irony just a block away from the Triangle Shirtwaist building (now NYU classrooms) – all the panelists as well as the moderator were, in terms of labor, part of the growing free agent economy.

And, she elaborated, those types of workers are both better networked and less encumbered by the kinds of full-time jobs that encourage a more quiet obeisance to the social strictures of the workplace. This is not to endow the “freelance economy” with ennobling qualities it does not necessarily enjoy (or to ignore the fact that many people create their own jobs not by choice but by necessity, as wages and benefits in the country formerly known as Full-Time Land decline), but to observe that freedom from punching the time clock has created opportunity – and allowed many women to take to the digital street who might not have been either inclined to, or able to, in previous generations.

Heads nodded and not just mine. Next to Allison were three accomplished women, all social entrepreneurs, who scraped beautiful roads from the dust. Vanessa Valenti, co-founder of a leading community of online feminists, Feministing,  winner of a Hillman Prize (another small irony, since Sidney Hillman was the founder of the clothing workers union which would later merge with the garment workers) discussed research into the long-term sustainability of online feminist networks that took on the likes of Rush Limbaugh. [Disclosure: the Sidney Hillman Foundation is my client.]
Jennifer James, founder of a massive network of 18,000 “mom bloggers,” talked about leveraging those voices into a movement for social change and philanthropy – a goal she achieved last year with the launch of Mom Bloggers for Social Good, a global coalition of bloggers from 17 countries.

And filmmaker Nancy Schwartzman, director of the fascinating 2009 documentary The Line and founder of The Line Campaign, an interactive campaign aimed at battling rape culture, who showed her Circle of 6 smart phone app, winner of the White House “Apps Against Abuse” Technology Challenge.

Only a hundred yards and a hundred years from a scene of terror and labor abuse that ignited a movement, these free agents aren’t working around the edges of social change and scuffling in part-time jobs (though the personal economic challenges should not be understated) – they’re at the center of the largest cohesive network of activists and organizers at work in the world today. And Allison Fine was right: the nature of their labor and the changing structure of how so many of us work today provides fuel and opportunity to that movement. What’s fascinating to me is that so much of what needs to be considered on International Women’s Day is economic, both here in the United States and around the world.
The network allows us to share and plan and organize more quickly – and those abilities simply cannot be discounted – but it’s also the “showing up” that changes society over time.

And that’s a factor that the workers who rallied in the name of organized labor and better working conditions to found International Women’s Day would clearly recognize in the evident success of their empowered, wired, and decidedly unbowed descendents.


  1. I have been sorta out of the news loop today, so I did not realize that it was International Women's Day until I heard a report on the events in Israel (protesting the violence and repression that Israeli and Palestine women face) ... then I read about a march to the US Embassy in Manila Philippines as thousands of Filipinos commemorate Women’s Day with calls to stop violence against women and children. At the same time, The House of Representatives approved HB 3962 which will declare March 8 a non-working holiday in the country to allow Filipino women to fully enjoy their special day through a one day break from their workplaces (it now moves to their Senate).

    Yet, when I turned on the CBS Evening News ... no mention ... I guess since President Obama signed the VAWA legislation yesterday, that was enough coverage for the American media.

    A salute to you and all the supporters of International Women's Day.

  2. FYI : Here is a link to the Glass-ceiling Index which lists the good-ole-USA as #12 for the best places to work out of 26 countries.