I love Caitlin Moran. In case you don’t know who this excellent person is, don’t worry. In Moranisfesto she admits that it’s only very specific groups who do – girls who wear lots of eyeliner, librarians, homosexuals into sci-fi, and my own tribe, bad-ass Marxist–feminist nannas.
I marvel at Caitlin Moran’s ability to ridicule the ridiculous without any sign of bitterness. It takes great skill to be a good-natured iconoclast. My muse Caitlin is just that and I want to follow her example. She maintains that writing in anger is a useless form of communication, since people react to anger with more anger, and so it goes on, getting everyone nowhere. So on that basis I am writing in a non-angry way about how much International Women’s Day this year fucked me off. This is not something you might expect from a bad-ass Marxist-feminist nanna so let me explain why this year it ripped my Farmers nightie to shreds.
Let's face it, International Women’s Day has been high-jacked good and proper by a whole raft of institutions that don’t give a shit about women. McDonalds turning its golden arches upside down is the most glaring example, but paying lip service to the rights of women has become the corporate sector’s newest hobby, even here in New Zealand where International Women’s Day used to attract about as much attention as the feast day of Saint Adalbert of Prague.
Here’s my analysis. Workplaces can no longer hide from the fact that women are grossly underpaid – or men are grossly overpaid – for doing basically the same thing. Some local authorities are proud to be taking a lead on paying the living wage for their lowest paid workers. The fact that women are the main beneficiaries of this policy is a crystal clear admission that most of their lowest paid workers were in the first place women. This is not something to boast about. These workers are the same people - it's just that they are now paid slightly less badly than they used to be.
Other entities also recognised International Women’s Day this year in a way that can only be described as self-congratulatory, by rolling out senior female executives to advise their less successful sisters on how to make it near the top. The problem with this kind of discourse is that it resurrects that dead and buried second wave feminist notion that there is now no reason why women (read usually white, middle-class women) can’t have a lucrative career. They also need a University education, the right sort of personality, a decent house, reliable car, cleaner, nanny, gardener, supportive partner, perfect health, able-bodied children, and mentally and physically fit parents. Implicitly.
Pay parity – or the lack thereof – even made the TV One News on 8 March where it was reported that it’ll be 200 years before women achieve equality. Umm no. What Wendy Petrie’s cue card should have read was that going by the present rate of progress it’ll take 170 years for women to achieve pay parity. When we start throwing around words like equality we are entering an unknown mythical world. But when we talk about pay parity we are talking about real world things like fairness and human rights – things that can actually be achieved.
The origins of International Women’s Day lie in the internationalist movement of the late 19th century. Over a hundred years later, its appropriation by corporates and government erases its radical, socialist origins and diminishes its revolutionary potential. When the mainstream media and, worse still, characters like Jenny Shipley, jump on the International Women’s Day bandwagon we know the day has been well and truly trumped.
This misappropriation of International Women’s Day deliberately conceals the reality of the lives of working women, realities that still include low pay, exploitation, racism, sexism, homophobia, and continuous job and financial insecurity. Let next year’s International Women’s Day in New Zealand be a day of protest and not a day of corporate self-congratulation.