March 8 was International Women’s Day. Did you celebrate?
Originating early in the 20th century and recognized by the United Nations in 1975 during International Women’s Year, March 8 is now an official holiday in some countries, though not in ours. In fact, you may not have known it exists.
I’m guilty, too. I’ve been aware of International Women’s Day for a long time — having skin in the game, as they say — but Wikipedia tells me that there’s also an International Men’s Day, on November 19. It too exists at least in part to promote better lives for men and women through gender equality.
Gender equality. Meaning, as the Equal Rights Amendment puts it, equality of rights. In its most recently proposed form, the Equal Rights Amendment reads, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.”
Of course, the Equal Rights Amendment has not passed. It came close. Then five states of the three-quarters necessary to approve what two-thirds of Congress had approved began to have second thoughts and rescinded their approval.
So how are we all doing in 2019? What do we have to celebrate? All those women dressed in white at the State of the Union address, for starters. There are 102 of them in the House of Representatives now, the largest number ever. That’s 23.4 percent, not 50 percent, but it’s encouraging. The U.S. is 62nd in the ranking of equal rights for men and women in the workplace. Only six countries, according to the World Bank — Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg, and Sweden — have achieved that kind of equality. Overall, as rated by the World Economic Forum, Iceland is the most equal country in the world. We came in at 51st, between Mexico and Peru.
What does it mean to want equality?
June Jordan, in “Poem About My Rights” — shared by the Poetry Foundation on International Women’s Day — puts it this way: “suppose it was not here in the city but down on the beach/or far into the woods and I wanted to go there by myself thinking about God/or thinking about children or thinking about the world/all of it disclosed by the stars and the silence: I could not go and I could not think and I could not/stay there/alone/as I need to be/ alone because I can’t do what I want to do with my/own/body.”
Of course, Jordan is talking about race as well as gender. (The African-American writer Alice Walker said she was told, “Never be alone. Except, perhaps, in your own house.”)
Another poem people shared on March 8 was Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Werewomen.” “I want to go moonwalking / under it or on it I don’t care / I just want to go moonwalking / alone … what I want O what I want is to be not afraid. / Listen what I need is freedom.”
Let me be clear: These were brave women. Yes, some women do go walking, even backpacking, alone — I’ve done it myself — but awareness of the danger of what I was doing in my own body never left me.
Would passing the Equal Rights Amendment mean a woman could walk in the world without fear? Probably not, though that might be a gradual effect as attitudes change.
Maybe what equality really means is mutual respect.
And mutual respect is possible. The people of Harney County have shown us that as they work together to find ways to share public land. Respect for each other has been the key — respect for ranchers, for migrating birds, for birders and other recreational users as well the employees of federal agencies like the BLM and Department of Fish and Wildlife. Collaboration requires patience. But they keep talking until they find solutions that work best for everyone.
Next week’s First Draft Writers’ Series will feature Peter Walker, the University of Oregon geography professor whose field work took him to Harney County before, during, and after the takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. He’ll be sharing insights from his book “Sagebrush Collaboration: How Harney County Defeated the Takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge” (OSU Press, 2018).
Now that’s something to celebrate. I hope you can come.