Sunday, March 8, 2009

International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day--largely ignored in the US (except on college campuses) but an official holiday in a number of countries. What would it take to make it an official holiday here?

I'm celebrating this day especially this year, because I just returned to Massachusetts from Texas where I participated in the first ever International Convocation of U*U Women. What an amazing gathering, coordinated by a grassroots effort--with sponsorship of the UUA but no money except through grants. Still nearly 600 women managed to come, from most continents of the world, representing nearly 20 countries--mostly UUs. What a wonderful feeling to be part of a large UU women's gathering again.

I came into the larger UU movement (beyond local congregation and district) in 1983, when I attended General Assembly in Vancouver BC. I started with the UU Women's Federation Biennial, so my gateway was women. Then I went on to study UU women's history and develop resources for others through the UU Women's Heritage Society, along with becoming a parish and then community minister.

History is important--and we need to know what women were doing as well as men. I am particularly struck by this after doing research for the sermon I preached today. There are an amazing number of parallels between what was happening a century ago, when International Women's Day started, and what is happening now. At first I was depressed at how little has changed, but then I started to get excited. If we look at this past in terms of role modeling, we might just discover some new perspectives on what we need to do now.

On March 8, 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City for better pay and working conditions--and for the right to vote. I would like to know more about how that coalition came together--because it seems like two movements must have merged in that march. One was the largely white middle/upper class suffrage movement, and the other must have been women who worked for a living in low pay jobs, like textile mills, etc. That latter movment erupted a couple of years later in the "Bread and Roses" strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts. In that movement, women from different ethnic groups, religions, and cultures overcame their differences and organized successfully for better working conditions and pay.

I'm not suggesting that strikes and marches are what we need right now. Instead the role modleing I'm referring to is the way diverse groups of women worked together. It seems to me that one of the largest failures of the feminist movement has been our inability to work across lines of race and class.

At the Convocation we heard about third wave feminism. May this new wave of women's organizing bring the world closer to gender equity and every other sort of equity too.

Some say the 21st century is the century of women


  1. "What would it take to make it an official holiday here?"

    Perhaps a more realistic question for the time being would be -

    "What would it take to make International Women's Day a well publicized day of observance here?"

    Quite regrettably International Women's Day slipped right by me this year (other than seeing your blog post yesterday) because it is so poorly publicized. In previous years it has been half-heartedly publicized here in Montreal and there have been various IWD events here but I heard nothing about it until I saw your blog post. I am not saying nothing happened in Montreal, apparently *something* did happen, but it was not well publicized beforehand. I might add that, at least locally, International Women's Day seems to have been appropriated by what some might characterize as "the Far Left". If women, to say nothing of men, want International Women's Day do become a national holiday I expect that they will have to take steps to ensure that International Women's Day has a significantly broader appeal so that people from all (ahem) walks of life can feel comfortable participating in it.

  2. What do you propose to do to cure "our inability to work across lines of race and class?" Any ideas?
    While the will to do so is first, it, unfortunately, isn't all it takes. Differences in cultures really exist, and they hamper our communication, largely because they are mostly unconscious. Expressing ourselves in ways that are the height of politeness in one culture can be the pit of rudeness in another. Then we stumble over assuming the person's intention was what we heard rather than what they meant. How do we "cure" this?
    I can't think of any way except to make this stuff conscious, to educate ourselves and each other about how things sound to us that might be different from how they were intended to sound.
    Is anyone out there working on this stuff?