On International Women’s Day, I challenged myself to say “Happy International Women’s Day” to every woman I came into contact with. I hate to say it, but I failed my own challenge.
The day before, on March 7th, I said it to two women together in line at the grocery store and to the woman checking people out. “Happy International Women’s Day tomorrow.”
“That’s tomorrow?” one of them asked. None of the three of them knew it was the next day, though two of the three looked like they had heard of it before.
I posted it on Facebook and Tweeted it. I got an e-card from a friend in Costa Rica as well as one personal phone call wishing me a happy day, but in real time, it was different. No one said it to me without me saying it first.
I started off the day at my favorite coffee shop where the barista is a woman I usually see a couple times a week and who is awesome. She can talk to anyone and talks to everyone. All kinds of people want to talk to her. She’s nice and interested in them and shares about herself. She’s genuine and fun. She’s also a musician, which of course, isn’t uncommon in Austin, and she knows a lot of people and other musicians.
“Happy International Women’s Day,” I said.
“Oh yeah?” she said, “to all us sluts.” She laughed.
Her answer took me off guard, but I laughed with her. She was of course referring to the recent insults by Rush Limbaugh to Sandra Fluke. We talked for a moment about how Rush made it seem like all women in America who want access to birth control are sluts. She hadn’t known it was International Women’s Day.
Next I went to a Meetup group for Moms and Toddlers at a gym for kids where there were way too many people that day for the space. I said it to the woman at the front desk, who said “Thank you” and looked really appreciative, but then also said they hadn’t expected to be so busy. As we walked into the gym area, I said to myself, “I’m going to say it to every woman here that I talk to,” but then, at first, I didn’t know anyone.
One woman recognized me from another Meetup we had both been to several months back and we started talking. I was watching my son, making sure he didn’t fall off of the ladder he was climbing on and that he didn’t get trampled by the older children on the trampoline or jumped on while he was in the ball pit. I forgot to say it to her and at that point, I forgot to say it to other women I came into contact with there.
Then my son began pointing at other children’s food as they sat at a side table and ate. I got him a snack and we sat in a side room at another table next to a woman who was feeding her son fresh cut strawberries and fresh blueberries each out of their separate tupperware containers. My son was getting a granola bar pulled out of its wrapper. I said to the mother that I was impressed she was able to get the fruit snacks together like that and that it was really awesome. She kind of smiled but didn’t really respond to me.
Then a woman I had spoken with before came into the room with her son. She was wearing a shirt that said Orion and was followed by a pink breast cancer ribbon symbol. I had seen it earlier and wondered if it was another organization fighting breast cancer, which was at the forefront of my mind after Komen pulled money from Planned Parenthood.
I asked her what Orion was and pronounced Orion like the constellation. She corrected me on the pronunciation and told me it’s a little town in Illinois where someone she had cared for very much had died of breast cancer. Her eyes teared up immediately, so much so that mine did too. She told me how wonderful that woman had been and how much she had cared about her and how strong she was. ‘She did a lot for making people aware about breast cancer and she did work with Komen,’ she said.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “You know, it’s fitting that you’re wearing that shirt today for her because it’s International Women’s Day.”
“Yeah. Happy International Women’s Day,” I said, “and to you too,” I added to the fresh strawberry and blueberry mom, “and to me, to us all.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that. You too,” said the woman with the Orion shirt as she laughed and seemed to sniff back her tears.
The strawberry and blueberry woman smiled.
When we left, at the intersection of the highway and the street to head up toward our house, was a woman asking for money on the side of the road. I didn’t have any cash to give her or anything. But today- of all days, I didn’t want to not give her anything. I drove home, grabbed three bucks I had left on the bathroom counter and drove back to where she was. My son wasn’t sure what was going on, but he was able to hang without too much fuss.
I turned into a Thai restaurant, drove through their parking lot and out the back onto the street that comes right up to the intersection. There she stood. I rolled down the window as she came walking up to take the money in my hand.
“Happy International Women’s Day,” I said.
“International Women’s Day is today. It’s our day. Happy International Women’s Day,” I said.
“Well you too. And thank you,” she said. “And you have pretty blue eyes,” she said.
“Thanks. You do too,” I said, noticing her eyes. I had seen her track marks as she leaned in to take the money and that she was bruised and looked pretty rough around the edges, but I hadn’t noticed her eyes. They were beautiful and maybe I was projecting onto them, but they also looked sad.
After my son’s nap, I packed him up for a quick trip to Walmart, where we don’t frequent, but seem to somehow not avoid at least every once in a while. I only needed a couple of things, so we went through the less than 20 item line where the woman working was drinking a soda and her manager had just told her to put it away. She laughed him off. I asked her about what he was saying and she said they weren’t really allowed to drink anything but water on the floor.
“It’s International Women’s Day, tell him it’s your day and you can drink what you want,” I said smiling.
“I say it anyways,” she said. “He doesn’t really care, but they made it a rule so the customers aren’t upset.”
“I’m a customer and I don’t care if you drink water or something else while you work,” I said.
“Yeah, I drink what I want anyways, because it’s a stupid rule and I don’t get in trouble, but they made the rule because one of the customers complained.”
“Yeah. When I was pregnant, they didn’t want me to have a stool to sit down while I worked either, and that’s hard to stand all day. I did it, but…”
“You know I read something where women have been fighting to make pregnancy seen as a temporary disability for women so women aren’t fired or edged out of jobs when they are pregnant b/c they need to sit down some or need to drink water while at work.”
“It should be a disability.”
“Right.” I signed the bill and paid. “Happy International Women’s Day,” I said.
She laughed and it wasn’t just a giggle, it was a full hearty laugh. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but it wasn’t bad, just a laugh.
When I got home, I spoke to a friend in New Mexico on the phone. Happy International Women’s Day,” I said.
“You’re the second person to tell me that today,” she said, “and I’ve never heard of it before.”
That was the last woman I said it to that day. Why did no one know about the day? There is such little awareness about it in the United States. Why? I’m not sure, but I have some theories.
It’s possible that it is much more recognized as an important day in other countries because of what appears to be more blatant gender oppression there. It is also possible that in the United States people believe we have made such strides, that pretty much things are seen as equal now. We are told in so many ways that things are fine or other things are more important (ranging from the economy to tonight’s dinner) than women’s rights. As women, we are made to think we are exaggerating or being a bitch or annoying or ridiculous if they speak up about injustice related to gender. So the day has also been ignored and downplayed, just like women.
One thing I noticed was that when I had the experience over and over again of no one knowing about it, I started to feel silly or crazy or like I was the only one going around saying these strange things. I’m pretty used to speaking out, but I definitely noticed my feelings around repeatedly saying it to women who didn’t know about it. At the kids’ gym Meetup group, I felt awkward saying it for some reason, as if it weren’t important or as if almost every parent there wasn’t a woman, or being a mom were separate from being concerned with women’s rights. That was the place I failed my challenge. Not that I had to say it to every woman there, but I didn’t say it to every woman I interacted with. I forgot, but I wonder if I forgot partly because it was difficult to ease it into the conversation with women I didn’t know.
Too often as women we are wary of each other and don’t always know how to interact with each other. I also think we have very little awareness about why there is a day to recognize women and also to recognize the battles we have fought and still are fighting for equality. If the awareness is kind of there, it might still be seen as random or unnecessary.
There are battles that have divided us as women and though many of those issues, will probably still divide us, there must be a way we can come together to celebrate us being strong in whatever we want to do as individual women.
Grrl Code: Women’s herstory month is a great time to speak up and to encourage unity among women and awareness about women standing for women. International Women’s Day is a good time to spread the word, but the word spreading doesn’t only have to be on that day or during this month. Find ways to spread the word about women’s rights. Spread the message that not everyone is happy with the current oppression of women that results in violence against us, less access to jobs we want, less pay, low self esteem, and less choices and options for our bodies and lives. Talk about women, about how awesome we are, and about how much we do and how there is an imbalance that is directly related to gender.