International Women’s Day

Upper Sixth student, Phoebe McGowan is a member of Cheadle Hulme School’s Equality Society and has been promoting International Women’s Day throughout the school.  Here, she explores the origins of International Women’s Day and how the messages translate in modern media.

On March 8th, 1917 a small group of women in St. Petersburg were allowed to protest, calling for ‘Bread and Peace’, for the end of the war, for reasonable working hours – for basic human rights. The protests started off small, but soon spiralled into chaos as more and more factory workers, men and women alike, spilled out of their factories and into the street, soon to be joined by the armed forces.

The army had never deserted the tsar before, and soon Nicholas II would abdicate, leaving Russia to its first democratic government. Women and men alike were granted the right to vote.

This day is well known in history, but few remember that the women who started this were celebrating International Women’s Day – now a national holiday in Russia and the ex-USSR.

People often see this day as a symbol of the 21st century – a move towards political correctness and appeasement – but few realise the true age and historical significance that the day has. Established in 1909, the day has been significant throughout history in bringing rights to working women for over a century. Yet the struggles that the day has had is often reflective of the struggles women had; European countries were originally hesitant to embrace the day due to a fear of women actually gaining suffrage, as socialist parties were afraid they would vote conservative.

The issue of voting being a basic human right never came into the matter, simply how it would affect the men in power at the time. The adoption of International Women’s Day in Europe, therefore, meant that a decision had been made – women’s rights were finally being treated as human rights.

Nowadays, some knowledge of women’s rights is common, yet the image of women in the media is still increasingly negative.

The recent media outrage around Emma Watson’s Vanity Fair photo shoot, in which her breasts were only partly covered, was upsetting for me to hear because it was not men, but women who were shaming her and denouncing her feminist teachings simply because of a photo shoot.

Yes, debates such as these do open a space in the media discussion for feminists to share their view, such as Watson rightly did, proclaiming that ‘Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women’, but this often pushes feminists onto the defensive. The effect of this is that feminism and the celebration of women’s rights is portrayed as negative, or as something that people are afraid to get wrong.

The significance of International Women’s Day not only allows for the discussion of injustices to women around the world, but also allows a more positive space for women in the media.

International Women’s Day is not only a protest against oppression but a celebration of what women have achieved, and it is important that we remember this.