A week on from International Women’s Day and I’ve barely recovered from the burden of being a woman on that day of celebration. We were subject to so many inspiring campaigns, empowering messages, videos, photographs, newspaper articles that by the end of the day I was completely exhausted of being a woman.
International Women’s Day has become a competition to see who can be the best example the most encouraging, the most inspirational. Malala Yousufzai released a statement, Emma Watson had to deal with the fallout of being Beauty and the Breast; the UN Women Twitter feed nearly had a nervous breakdown in its attempts to get the message out that women deserve to be treated as equals in society.
I participated in a workshop with Circle2020 that presented six amazing campaigns headed by women to help women become entrepreneurs and improve their lives. We ended the workshop by asking each participant to stand up and make a pledge for a concrete action to help increase women’s visibility in their own workplaces. The women stood up and delivered a short phrase or sentence; the men stood up, held on to the mic for dear life and delivered lengthy speeches about themselves and what they had done so far to “respect women.”
There were those who failed in more epic ways: K-Electric prepared gift bags for its women employees that included a packet of Shan Masala, delivering the message that no matter how empowered you are, your true place is in the kitchen, cooking.
And then there were these happy events taking place in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan respectively:
I think we can pretty much trust that left in the hands of men, women’s empowerment becomes a joke and a farce.
But there are some women, too, who can’t seem to see beyond the traps of the “feminine” when celebrating women. Here’s a great paragraph from Frank Bruni’s column on Ivanka Trump:
Check out the “Wise Words” section of ivankatrump.com. It’s an overstuffed flea market of threadbare aphorisms (“never ever settle,” “work to become, not to acquire,” “keep your head up,” “there is enough success for everyone”) in fanciful typography and pinkish hues.
Yes, there are women out there who think that if they cover everything in a splash of pink, that makes it automatically women-related and empowering for women.
Color is hugely symbolic in the world, but associating pink with girls and women is one of the most limiting stereotypes in existence. Dressing up empty platitudes in pink colors and cursive fonts achieves nothing tangible for women. It’s substance that matters. And coloring the world pink, as in lighting up monuments in pink for International Women’s Day, doesn’t take the sting out of the fact that in 2017 women are not making any gains in political representation, it doesn’t alleviate the pain of gender-based violence, and it doesn’t do anything to smash glass ceilings at work.
(Yes, I know about the pink hats at the Washington DC Women’s March. And the pink ribbons for breast cancer research support. The pink hats were symbolic of the vulva, or pussy, so fair enough — but that isn’t what we’re talking about here.)
Using pink to represent women or feminism is a smokescreen. This cutesy association blinds us to the realities that the women’s movement faces tremendous pushback and opposition, that we make gains in spite of the hostility and violence that women face on a daily basis. We need to be serious about our engagement, our activism, and our advocacy. Slapping a coat of Pepto-Bismol on a goody bag, holding a pink-themed tea party, or making women dress in pink isn’t empowering, it’s infantilizing.
(Read this article from the Smithsonian about when girls started wearing pink)
More than that, though: it’s a type of societal code, or shorthand, that telegraphs the following message: Here is a girl/woman. She is pink. She is softer, prettier, feminine. She’s gentler, weaker, less capable, more in need of protection. She likes soft and sweet things. She probably loves to bake cookies and play with dolls. She likes to read books and sew, not play outside roughly and get dirty. Wrap her up in a sweet package and present her like a cake on a plate, to be served up to society to do its bidding.
Take this message, along with all your pink, and throw it out the fucking window.