Every year on March 8, people flood social media platforms with various messages, stories, quotations and snapshots about International Women’s Day. Sometimes, they also congratulate women for achieving a ‘dedicated’ day for women. But many don’t quite ruminate over the fact that the struggle is far from over, and don’t see that we are veering around a benighted path and deviating from what gender movements stand for by the way we ‘celebrate’ women’s day.
We need to stop cherry-picking days and assign them to be significant and purposeful, only for them to be commercialised later. Discount vouchers for shopping, grooming and dining are definitely not the cardinal concerns of gender equality struggles.
We must also move away from the normative standard of being a ‘woman’. Time and again, academic discourses on gender – particularly the third wave of feminism onward – rejected the idea of becoming a woman’. Gender is what you feel (or don’t feel) and not what society makes you believe.
Judith Butler has been among the first to talk about what characterises women marginalised by different ‘masculinist practices’. ‘Woman’ is not only a social category but also a felt sense of self, a culturally conditioned or constructed subjective identity. Yet, we fail to recognise the myriad gender identities that people often choose from and undoubtedly neglect to accommodate them into our lives with heteronormative privileges. Structural and compounding inequality systematically interweave along the axes of gender, caste, religion, class and sexuality. There are not enough days in our calendar to adapt to the numerous possible combinations, celebrating such ‘differences’.
Last, what defines a ‘working woman’? In India, most women are either not gainfully employed (housework) or working in the unorganised sector or both. By the traditional definition of ‘work’, every woman is working but not every woman earns from that work. Note that such debates do not even arise while discussing ‘working men’. The stereotypical roles of women certainly interferes with notion of being a ‘working woman’. Clearly, claims for equality is still a far-fetched dream.
So, what exactly are we celebrating every year?
Ankita Chakrabarti is a PhD scholar at the Centre for the Study of Regional Development, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University.