Wondering how to celebrate International Women’s Day this year? If you love overpriced meals then you’re in luck. IWD sees more champagne breakfasts, business luncheons and gala dinners than your wildest dreams. Women’s Weekly and Lancôme kindly invite you to join them for a champagne breakfast at $50 a head to celebrate the day. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t have $50 to spend on a breakfast.
More importantly, I’m not really sure what a magazine that thrives off sexist gossip and a cosmetics company could tell you about women’s liberation. But move up the price bracket and you can join the Australian Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry for some non-descript meal, a bargain at $95. Or for $110 you can hang out with accountants from Sullivan Dewing to celebrate ”women in business”. Sounds like fun.
It seems that these events are less about addressing women’s oppression, and more about celebrating the charmed lives of the select few women who have the time and money to attend overpriced luncheons whilst most women are at work. I’m sure that as the caviar is consumed and the champagne glasses are clinked, little thought is spared for the workers in the women-dominated hospitality industry serving their food for a measly wage.
These events are a far cry from the radical origins of IWD. International Working Women’s Day, as it was first known, was initiated by German socialist Clara Zetkin as a means to campaign for the political equality of women, a struggle she saw as being tied to the overthrow of capitalism. Zetkin argued that capitalism is a system organised around class division between workers and bosses, and driven by profit accumulation for the latter. Whether those in power are men or women, their motivations remain the same.
A collaborator of Zetkin, Russian socialist Alexandra Kollontai proclaimed IWD as the “working women’s day of militancy”. She described its celebration in 1911 as a “seething, trembling sea of women” engaging in political meetings, strikes and demonstrations in historic numbers. In Russia, 1917, it was women workers in the textile industries whose strikes and rebellion on IWD kicked off the revolution. This is the real tradition of IWD.
Despite what Lancôme may think, IWD was not established around rights to anti-aging cream and ‘dewy lip-lover’ lipstick. IWD should be about the struggle against a system that exploits, oppresses and destroys the lives of countless working-women, and men, around the world.
The corporate love-in that marks IWD today represents its co-option by the political right, and serves to laud what Naomi Wolf describes as “power feminism”. It celebrates the ostensible success of women who have managed to climb the ladder and embrace the system of profit. Wolf herself sees capitalism as a system that “oppress[es] the many” to allow a minority to achieve infinite wealth and dominance. However, Wolf also asserts that “enough money buys a woman out of a lot of sex oppression” and encourages women who are able to, to climb the corporate ladder. Apparently it isn’t a problem that this “new kind of liberation” praised by Wolf leaves behind scores of women who remain oppressed by a system that cannot give them equality, let alone liberation.
The ruling elite, male or female, doesn’t give a shit about women’s liberation. Gina Rinehart flies her male and female workers in and out of work sites, breaking families apart and undermining their unions. Gail Kelly fails women every day as she leads the financial sector, which has the biggest gender pay gap in Australian industry.
While women have come a long way since the first IWD, we still have a way to go. Women earn on average 18 per cent less than their male colleagues, our reproductive rights remain under attack, women are still treated like objects in the media, and Tony Abbott is Minister for Women. Exclusive dining events will not achieve anything. Rather than raise a toast to the likes of Gina Rinehart and Gail Kelly, let’s reclaim IWD and join the struggle in the streets.