International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8th every year and has been since just before the First World War. It was intended as a mark of women’s rallies which took place at the time on issues like women in the workplace and votes for women. In recent years, the day has become a victim of the commercialisation of holidays, with discounts on beauty treatments or product redesigns becoming the norm around the time of International Women’s Day.
I first recognised this trend last year when my boyfriend had told me that it is normal for him to buy flowers and gifts for the women in his life on this day. To me, this was instantly upsetting, I had been brought up in a feminist family who believed in this day as one for activism and it felt as though this was completely disrespecting my view of what the day was supposed to be. Admittedly, I did have a strong reaction and I’m still struggling to decide whether this was a justified reaction.
On the one hand, gift giving can be a way to support women owned businesses and also show visibly your respect for the women in your lives. However, when businesses sell on the basis of International Women’s Day with very little recognition of the day itself, then it becomes a problem.
We saw this in the case of pride month. Skittles' colorless packaging, M&S LGBT sandwiches and the morphe eye palette are all examples of campaigns intended to drive consumption using these days as a form of promotion. Many of these businesses were criticised for not donating to LGBTQ+ charities and the situation is similar when it comes to International Women’s Day. It took businesses much longer with International Women’s Day, but it is now beginning to be used simply as a promotional tool. There is little effort being made by brands to raise awareness for the causes or charities surrounding female issues which this day should be all about.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is ‘break the bias’. It provides ample opportunity to help women’s voices be heard. Perhaps if you choose to buy a gift you could also reflect on what you could do to better understand the bias she experiences in her life. Talk to her about it, hear her out even if you don’t understand where she’s coming from because it may be so far out of your lived experience that it is in some ways unrecognisable to you. Remember, to her, that is her every day.
Perhaps my reaction was justified in some ways. Simply giving a gift, which you could give on any other day of the year, without acknowledging the reason that the day has to exist is not enough. What women went through in history should be recognised by all people who want to celebrate this day as a day for women. We should preserve their work and continue to fight for more equality across the world.
It is clear that no matter how you celebrate International Women’s Day, the best gift that you can get a woman in your life is the gift of equality. So fight for the end of workplace discrimination alongside her, hear her out on male violence and sexual assault. For International Women’s Day give the women in your life a voice.