Sheree Bekker | The emotional arc of International Women’s Day
Yesterday was International Women’s Day. Or, today is International Women’s Day. Days seem awfully long sometimes when you are living in Australia, stretched and distorted before you.
Having lived in a middling time zone before (GMT+2), I am fascinated by the way in which the arc of a day unfolds and builds here (GMT +11). I have experienced this many times over the past four years, and each time it has left me utterly exhausted yet richer for it. I think it suits me, this luxury of time through the lens of a seemingly-endless day that allows me to sift through my experiences and emotions. That allows the narrative to evolve before me, often from light, through darkness, and back to light again.
The liminality of time zones holding space for conversations to deepen is a fascinating space.
Yesterday was International Women’s Day. I awoke to a trickling of social media posts declaring “Happy International Women’s Day”. Images of carefully constructed corporate diversity and inclusion. “Let’s celebrate the women” these marketing campaigns scream at me.
It feels condescending. It feels patronising. My heart aches for the women who have died (both actually and figuratively) for us to get here, and how their stories have been silenced today – because “women are equal now”. We have won that battle, we are reminded, if only women would only “lean in” more and “be positive!”
Being the emerging feminist that I am, perhaps I am being to harsh, I tell myself. This is a start, at least we are talking about it. At least women are celebrated today.
And so I silence myself and I put on a smile.
I pose for the photos.
But all day I listen in the silences. What is not being said today?
When we look past the small talk, and seek out the pauses, what stories are we aching to share? Who is unseen? Who is unheard? What is left unsaid because this is not the time, nor the place?
Today we are instructed: if women would only be more ambitious, more hardworking, more optimistic, more supportive, more, more, more, always more then we would too be able to succeed.
Are men given this instruction too?
And so the arc of the story starts to deepen. The darker edge of the story starts to creep in.
I am exhausted by the time I get home. I feel drained by the performative happiness of today. I am depleted rather than built up. To be honest, I just want to retreat and be small.
I don’t think this was the point of today.
I start to think again of the spaces in the silences of today. Of the one pledge I saw written anonymously on the board, that said “I will speak up for victims of sexual harassment” that made me wonder what the story behind it was, and of how hard that actually is. Of the courageous vulnerability of the woman who was trembling as she shared her extremely personal story – what does she feel like tonight? Of the single mention today of the structural barriers that women face, when the rest of the day seemed to focused on assumed personal barriers that women place on themselves, and that place the onus on individual women to “be better” in order to succeed.
As bell hooks reminds: why are we focusing on individual women and their presumed lack of self-confidence, when very real structural and societal barriers exist?
As darkness descended and IWD came to a close here in Australia, looking for nourishment I turned to the women I know always challenge me to look closer.
I was not disappointed. These are the difficult conversations that take my thinking deeper. These are the killjoys. This is what I needed. Is it strange that happiness (I should say expected happiness) drains me, yet that killing joy fills me with hope?
Corporate WW feminism drains me. Explicitly intersectional feminism fills me, teaches me.
I put out a few tweets last night that begin to show where, for me, the real power of IWD lies:
— Lombe A. Mwambwa (@LombeM) March 8, 2017
I don’t want photo ops anymore. I want hard conversations about how we’re going to be accountable to each other.
— Dr. Lucia Lorenzi (@empathywarrior) March 8, 2017
Disability rights and Disabled people are consistently the most forgotten about & left behind group by many great social activists #OnHere
— Coffee Spoonie (@coffeespoonie) March 7, 2017
When I first figured out the difference between interpersonal sexism & structural sexism, a lot of stuff suddenly made sense.
— Sarah Mei (@sarahmei) March 5, 2017
Equality requires re-centring. Shifting who the ‘we’ is. Who asks the question. Who invites who. Who ‘contributes’.
— Guilaine Kinouani (@KGuilaine) March 7, 2017
Masterful essayist Rebecca Solnit on silence.https://t.co/ubNyipjYRp
— sheree bekker (@shereebekker) March 8, 2017
Silence occurs in many ways for many reasons; each of us has his or her own sea of unspoken words. English is full of overlapping words, but for the purposes of this essay, regard silence as what is imposed, and quiet as what is sought. The tranquillity of a quiet place, of quieting one’s own mind, of a retreat from words and bustle is acoustically the same as the silence of intimidation or repression, but psychically and politically something entirely different. What is unsaid because serenity and introspection are sought and what is not said because the threats are high or the barriers are great are as different as swimming is from drowning. Quiet is to noise as silence is to communication.
Silence is what allows people to suffer without recourse, what allows hypocrisies and lies to grow and flourish, crimes to go unpunished. If our voices are essential aspects of our humanity, to be rendered voiceless is to be dehumanised or excluded from one’s humanity. And the history of silence is central to women’s history.
I went to bed feeling more connected.
Waking this morning, it is still IWD in many parts of the world. I was initially reluctant to even look at media or social media, but, as I do every morning, I was curious as to how the conversation had evolved.
What I found was heartening.
— feministkilljoy (@SaraNAhmed) March 8, 2017
I had read this post by Sara Ahmed some time ago, and it had resonated then, but this morning it made me joyful. This. THIS. THIS.
I turned to her new book Living a Feminist Life, and was struck once again by how, just sometimes, a book arrives in your life at the most opportune moment. Chapter 2 “On Being Directed” has been a revelation to read this morning. Sara writes:
Feminism heightens consciousness of there being lines at all and thus requires us to make decisions when before decisions might have been made before us, or even without us. Sometimes we are tired or we experience an anticipatory exhaustion: we line ourselves up to avoid the consequences of being out of line because we have been there before and we can’t face it anymore. An then when that line unfolds, other things can happen along the way. Other times we might realize: we are willing to pay the costs of not being in line because getting in line would compromise too much. And we might find, too, other things can happen along the way.
To live a feminist life, according to Sara, is to “ask ethical questions about how to live better in an unjust and unequal world” and “to find ways to support those who are not supported or are less supported by social systems”.
Sara’s vision of feminist work is work in which “an embodied experience of power provides the basis of knowledge”, and feminist writing is “animated by the everyday: the detail of an encounter, an incident, a happening, a flash on insight”.
Being and thinking and reading and writing the silences. Looking closer. We have work to do.
And so, on this ‘second morning of IWD’, I have taken the time to be and think and read and write. As Audre Lorde taught us: selfcare is warfare.
I, ultimately, feel nourished by the arc of IWD. It has been, and always all ways is, a journey.
I love you. I see you. You are enough.