Why We Need Women's Day

Have you ever tried any of the Harvard Implicit Social Attitudes Tests? I have. When it came to the gender-related tests, the results weren't pretty. 

My results in the Gender–Career test:
"Your data suggest a moderate association of Male with Career and Female with Family compared to Female with Career and Male with Family."

My results in the Gender–Science test:
"Your data suggest a strong association of Male with Science and Female with Liberal Arts compared to Female with Science and Male with Liberal Arts."

Dear Brain, what bullshit is this? I've grown up with my mom being the one coming home late from work and my dad being home cooking. How in the world do I have a moderate association of Male with Career and Female with Family? Also, my mom is a geek who works in ICT and my dad is an artist. So how the fuck do I STRONGLY associate Male with Science and Female with Liberal Arts?

Clearly there has to be something wrong with society if against all odds, I have these underlying biases. It's upsetting and precisely why we still need feminism and Women's Day. It's not just about educating men on women's issues but ourselves too. It's not okay that I've internalized these attitudes and I hope that if I ever have children, they will laugh at the absurdity of my test results.

There are a lot of serious reasons as to why we need Women's Day, such as violence against women, but it all boils down to our attitudes. My messed up biases may not be the most harmful ones but they are part of a wider problem of categorizing people based on gender – which then leads to inequality and violence.

To elaborate on the everyday violence and harassment that we face due to attitudes such as "women are inferior", I asked my friend Hanna to tell you about her recent experiences. Read about it below.

-C


I was having dinner last night with some friends, when I received a text message from my roommate saying a guy attacked her on our street, after he had followed her from the main street. She fought him all the way to our door, telling him her boyfriend was coming out but he did not believe her nor listen. Finally, someone came out of our building, which caused the guy to bolt. She went inside, crying and shaking, and didn’t go out the next night because it was too quiet and too dark outside.

This morning I sat with her and my other roommate in the kitchen and we talked about all the times we got cat-called, all the times we had to tell someone to fuck off on a night out and all the times we bought into the harmlessness of sexual harassment. We discussed the best ways to avoid rape; sticking your fingernails into eye sockets, busting their eardrums with rape whistles, pretending to be on the phone or having someone walk you home.

On the morning of the attack I had attended a security briefing for my upcoming semester abroad, and whilst boys were told how to seal the deal on a bargain of a taxi ride, the girls were told that if they were faced with the situation where the options were rape or death, they should choose rape. We were told that anything is curable except death; that physical damage can be dealt with. 

It makes me so goddamn angry and tired, that the message that was repeated to me this weekend did not surprise me or shock me. We are nowhere near being done discussing the violence against women. If anyone tells me that rape culture is a myth, if anyone has the audacity to say that we no longer suffer inequality when it comes to gender I would like to tell them that I was too scared to walk home alone last night. My roommate is getting pepper spray from another friend who happens to own two. My other roommate carries a rape whistle around. All of my friends carry keys between their fingers when strange men pass them on the streets.

We are scared, because in a standard security briefing we have to go over the possible scenario of letting someone rape you in order to keep your life. And these are merely the mildest symptoms of a disease; in Libya, the women that faced rape as a weapon of war are still largely remaining silent. In the Democratic Republic of Congo between 2006–2007 more than 400,000 under 20-year-old women were raped. Just to name a few examples.

I would also like to point out that this is not an angry message targeted at men. I am pointing the finger at the box where we have put our heterosexual male specimens. The one with labels on it that connote masculinity, such as aggression or sexual prowess, force over empathy, action over feelings. This is a matter of an entire system operating on presumptions that hurt both sides of the battle line.

I would like to raise a daughter who knows that the guy pushing her boundaries is the one out of line. I hope she will not shut up if she feels violated, because she knows the shame is not hers to carry, not even a little bit. I would like to raise a son who knows he is entitled to nothing but human dignity. That we are here to respect one another and there is intrinsic value in each human being. More than that, I would like to raise my children in a society that teaches these things as facts, where they will listen to my stories about carrying keys between my fingers and covering drinks with my hands in order to avoid getting drugged and think of it as some distant nightmare.

I could focus on all the ways we as women have gotten further in the society. I could talk about the positive developments, and make us feel good about the roses and candy we get today. Today, however, I am too angry to do that. My friend was attacked, and I feel helpless and I only have words to try and fight back. In the spirit of Period Stories, in the spirit of sharing what it is to be a woman, the gritty parts with the good, I urge you to speak up each time things like these happen. If you create enough noise, it will be impossible to drown it out.

Happy Women’s Day.

Hanna Sarsa

Hanna is an International Studies student at Leiden University, a beautiful poet & my best friend.