WhatsApp forwards taught me how not to celebrate Women's Day

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Yet another Women's Day has come and gone. Once again, social media was ablaze in pink. My phone beeped incessantly to indicate incoming messages, mostly WhatsApp forwards, about how it's the time to celebrate women. But 8th March, International Women's Day, makes me more annoyed than happy.

I remember that it’s Women's Day when I wake up to a litany of WhatsApp forwards. They're sent mostly by well-meaning men in my life, wishing me a happy Women's Day. The problem is that many of the sentiments that are passed around today reinforce many of the same stereotypes women have been trying to get past for decades now.

The worst ones of course, are those that don’t even make a pretence at being genuine, and use Women’s Day as an opportunity to pass out straight up sexist jokes about women being sly, women making sandwiches and women taking forever to get ready.

Next up come the ostensibly well meaning ones that glorify women. Most of them reduce women to their reproductive functions and our roles as mothers and wives. When are we going to start seeing women as human beings with entire personalities that are so much more than our uteruses? It is important to mention here as well, that these understandings of women are deeply exclusionary – to trans women, to women who do not want to be mothers or wives, to women that cannot or do not want to have children, to name a few.

The lifecycle of a woman, according to patriarchy, and these whatsapp forwards, goes something like this: born as a baby, to making babies, to looking after babies, to death.

"No matter what their role is" – as long as it is somehow connected to a man!

Ah, yes. Women's only worth is when they're of service to men!

Others laud women for their 'superwomen' abilities – for managing jobs and domestic work and child-rearing. No doubt this is laudable, but are we really going to gloss over the triple burden that these women face, and how it is grossly unfair? Are we going to heap platitudes upon women without discussing the invisibilisation of domestic work and the unpaid domestic and reproductive labour that women are expected to carry out?

And finally come the trite, meaningless posts, ascribing admirable adjectives to womankind in general. The posts that tell us how women are strong and kind and courageous and above all, beautiful! First of all, stop ascribing generic adjectives to an entire gender. Second of all, move past physical appearances being the only basis with which to compliment women. Women are not innately anything. We’re just women. There are some similar experiences that women have to endure (hello, patriarchy!), but we are wildly different, diverse human beings. Oh, and our worth stems from far more than our “beauty”.

What gets my goat on Women’s Day is the failure to talk about issues that actually matter (again – hello, patriarchy!). International Working Women's Day came from working women's groups organising to demand for better working conditions for women. March 8th was decided as the date to commemorate Women’s Day because on this day in 1917, women stormed together in Russia to demand the overthrow of the tsarist regime, that led to the overthrow of a century-old imperial monarchy and the institution of the Socialist government in Russia. There is blood, sweat and tears in the origins of Women’s Day. It is a day borne out of revolution. Today, we use it to get 50% discounts on spas. (Talking about the corporate commercialisation of Women’s Day is a whole other article altogether!)

Why does Women's Day today focus on everything but the struggles of women? There is no mention of patriarchy – how it oppresses women, how men (and women) are complicit in perpetuating it, and how to resist it. Today is a prime opportunity to actually listen to women talk about their battles and shine a spotlight on the glaring inequality we face, the structural violence we are subject to, our lack of representation in boardrooms and parliaments, and the countless other pressing issues that women still have to deal with, a whole century after Women's Day was instituted.

Women's Day WhatsApp forwards serve to remind me that womanhood is only celebrated when it is convenient. When it is sanitised, stripped of anything remotely political, swathed in pink and devoid of accountability. Guess what? Womanhood is not convenient. It is messy, it is traumatic and it is a struggle. But why talk about that when you can upload a selfie with your sister and talk about how strong she is instead?

Somewhere within the trite and meaningless messages that get passed around, society loses the essence of what women’s day is actually about. In some ways, this day, celebrated as it is celebrated now, reinforces the same patriarchal norms and cultural stereotypes that it was instituted to fight against. Why have a Women's Day at all?

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