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  • Thursday, March 09, 2006


    Happy International Women's Day, Belated Edition

    International Women's Day was yesterday, 8 March 2006, and I did not post anything on it. Such a naughty fellow am I!

    I think of people (well, men, if you want to be technical about it) who pose questions like "Where's my special day? Why isn't there a Straight White Men's Day? Huh? International Women's Day, Black History Month, Gay Pride Month, everyone's got special celebrations but me." Of course, the typical answer in some quarters is "Didn't you know? Every day is straight white men's day." While this may seem to belittle the individual hardships even straight white men go through, from a class, gender, and social analysis perspective, I find it a rather apt comeback.

    A brief gadabout of "International Women's Day" Google listings leads me to the Wikipedia article on IWD, whence the following is excerpted:
    The first IWD was observed on 28 February 1909 in the United States following a declaration by the Socialist Party of America. Among other relevant historic events, it commemorates the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire (New York, 1911), where over 140 women lost their lives. The idea of having an international women's day was first put forward at the turn of the 20th century amid rapid world industrialization and economic expansion that led to protests over working conditions. Women from clothing and textile factories staged one such protest on 8 March 1857 in New York City. The garment workers were protesting what they saw as very poor working conditions and low wages. The protesters were attacked and dispersed by police. These women established their first labor union in the same month two years later.

    More protests followed on 8 March in subsequent years, most notably in 1908 when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. In 1910 the first international women's conference was held in Copenhagen by the Socialist International and an 'International Women's Day' was established, which was submitted by the important German Socialist Clara Zetkin. The following year, IWD was marked by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. However, soon thereafter, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City killed over 140 garment workers. A lack of safety measures was blamed for the high death toll. Furthermore, on the eve of World War I, women across Europe held peace rallies on 8 March 1913. In the West, International Women's Day was commemorated during the 1910s and 1920s, but dwindled. It was revived by the rise of feminism in the 1960s.

    Demonstrations marking International Women's Day in Russia proved to be the first stage of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Following the October Revolution, the Bolshevik feminist Alexandra Kollontai persuaded Lenin to make it an official holiday, and it was established, but was a working day until 1965. On May 8, 1965 by the decree of the USSR Presidium of the Supreme Soviet International Women's Day was declared as a non working day in the USSR "in commemoration of outstanding merits of the Soviet women in communistic construction, in the defense of their Motherland during the Great Patriotic War, their heroism and selflessness at the front and in rear, and also marking the big contribution of women to strengthening friendship between peoples and struggle for the peace".
    I'm continually surprised by either my ignorance or what I've managed to forget over the years. I must have known about the connection between IWD and the Russian Revolution but I didn't remember this until I read it here. I find two commemorative days ironic and amusing, IWD and May Day, because they both originated in the USA but many people in the US snub them as "foreign" or "communist." Of course, May Day has a much older history than its modern political celebration, notably as Beltaine (Bealtaine in modern Irish).

    So here are a few links to blogs I picked out of searches, a serendipitous selection if you will.

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