The importance of staying angry

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International Women’s Day (IWD) comes around every year on 8th March, serving as a poignant reminder of the ongoing struggle for gender equality. Every year, governments highlight their success at tackling gender-based violence and corporations present their suite of equality and diversity initiatives. Celebrating women’s achievements and the progress that states and civil society have made with regards to women’s rights is a fundamental part of IWD. It reminds us that progress has been made and provides role models to younger generations. 

However, the tone of these announcements tends to lack the spirit of protest and anger against inequality which characterised the origins of IWD and which is direly necessary at a time when regressive ideas on gender and masculinity are having an online renaissance. The first ‘National Women’s Day’ was celebrated in New York by members of the Socialist Party of America, spreading to Europe a year later where the 8th March was selected as a day of concerted protest in support of women’s suffrage by the Second International Socialist Women’s Conference. The conference resolved to “promote the propaganda of female suffrage…in connection with whole woman’s question”, according to the ‘socialist conception’. This was the radical part: the ‘socialist conception’ meant incorporating questions of labour legislation for women, the equal treatment of married and unmarried mothers, free childcare… (and of course international revolution to overthrow capitalism).

Whilst I do not think that IWD needs to aspire to overthrowing the bourgeoisie, it should seek to challenge the gender relations status quo and to recapture that spirit of defiance against persistent injustices.

The impact of the internet on young people’s attitudes to masculinity and equal rights has begun to appear in the real world

The landscape has shifted since the suffrage era. Today, our battleground extends beyond voting rights to combating modern manifestations of misogyny, notably online. The internet, once hailed as a beacon of progress, has become a breeding ground for regressive ideologies.

The impact of the internet on young people’s attitudes to masculinity and equal rights has begun to appear in the real world. A recent study from King’s College London has shown that our generation has an ambivalent attitude to feminism, drawing links between the rise of personalities such as Andrew Tate and Jordan Peterson and the rise of anti-feminism. Under half of both men and women aged 16 to 29 think that “feminism has done more good to society than harm”, whilst a similar proportion believes it has had some negative impact.

These statistics are remarkable in that they show that feminism is broadly more popular with older generations than Gen Z. They symbolise a societal failure to prove that feminism – the umbrella term for social movements that have driven improved rights and conditions for women in the last century – has been a hugely positive force for change. 

This particular study has attracted considerable media attention and Labour has announced plans to introduce a programme to help schools train young mentors to guide boys and act as a “counterbalance to some of the negativity that young men might be exposed to online”. However, whilst this study does provide concrete figures demonstrating the growing divide between young men and women’s perceptions of gender equality, it is completely unsurprising. 

This International Women’s Day, we can be angry at the slow rate of change, the difficulty in asserting the continued need for protest

Everyone’s Invited’s 2021 list of all the schools and universities in the UK and Ireland from which it had received testimonies of rape culture, demonstrated that there is a comprehensive failure to instil values of gender equality from the youngest age. Similarly, over the last decade, concerns have been consistently raised over the increasingly young age to which children are exposed to pornography online, raising questions about consent, sex education and the normalisation of violence. 

This is where being angry and protest come in. These questions of gender equality and how gender influences all of our experiences come in and out of public discourse on a regular cycle of shock and forgetting. A news story will trigger wide ranging handwringing and the activists who work on these issues day-to-day are given a temporary voice to emphasise the scale of the issue across the national conversation. Promptly, the news-cycle moves on and repeats. 

This International Women’s Day, we can be angry at the slow rate of change, the difficulty in asserting the continued need for protest. While we acknowledge past achievements, we must resist the temptation to settle into apathy. Gender equality remains elusive, and only through sustained activism can we hope to realise it.

Image: Matt Hrkac via Wikimedia Commons

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