Today is National Women’s Day, unless you are reading it another day, in which case it is not. Anyway, today’s post is not going to be discussing Women’s Day per se, but rather the idea of devoting a day, or even month, to considering certain issues, and the debates surrounding it; as whilst generally I think it is a good thing, there are some legitimate criticisms which can be made about such a proposal.
Of the various arguments employed against events such as Women’s Day or Black History Month, the one I find it hardest to argue against is that these events encourage people to think about the topic being discussed as a ‘one day/month issue’ rather than something which needs to be considered all year round. I also have a degree of sympathy with those who argue that these events can, if we are not careful, become completely devalued, in that these days and months can very easily be reduced simply to a means through which politicians, leaders, and indeed the population at large, can pay lip service to the idea of commemoration and the significance of the event, without actually reflecting on the issue in a meaningful manner.
However, there are some criticisms which are, put simply, ludicrous, not least the criticism that there are ‘too many’ of these days, weeks and months. Ignoring the fact that you can, you know, ignore them if you do not agree with them, who decides what number is too many? And furthermore, surely these events cannot exist without some sort of public demand for them? Whilst there is the (partially) legitimate concern that these events could be used by people in a position of authority for their own ends, I think people can usually tell the difference between those events which were created in reaction to widespread demand, and which have the support of the general population; and those which have been forced on people without any real consensus as to their necessity.
However, the one criticism which makes me genuinely angry are those along the lines of “if we have a black history month, why is there not a white history month?” You can substitute women/homosexual for black and men/heterosexual for white, it does not matter. All of these calls ignore the fact that there is a white history month, and a men’s history month, and a heterosexual history month, and it is called history until the 1960s. Until dismayingly recently, history was written almost exclusively by and about white, middle to upper class, heterosexual men; and to somehow try and argue that these groups are being ‘written out’ of history because we have finally realised that, hey, thinking about how different groups have been affected by and influenced history might not be a bad idea is a baseless argument, which is given far, far too much attention and credence.
As I said before, I think that these events should be encouraged. Even if you do agree with the argument that it promotes thinking about issues such as women’s rights or the representation of ethnic minorities in history as a ‘one day issue’, surely thinking about the issue for one day is better than not thinking about it at all; and whilst that seems a pretty blasé statement to make, I feel that these issues are not considered nearly as much as they should be on a day to day basis. Whilst we have made great strides towards equality over the past few decades, it takes time to overcome prejudices which are hundreds, if not thousands, of years old, and as such any action which helps us focus on the steps that need to be taken in the future should be embraced.
Similarly, I feel that making one day or week or month the focal point of a debate around a topic helps clarify the issue in a way that a constant but somewhat aimless discussion does not. Again, I am not saying that we should only discuss these issues on that day, but rather that having a specific time which is dedicated to a cause condenses all the arguments and discussion surrounding it so that we can more easily identify the key issues which are at stake, and also serves to frame the debate going forward.
However, the real power of these events lies in their capacity to raise awareness of issues which we had never really considered, or which we feel do not affect us. Admittedly, it is something of an obvious statement, but historically speaking, we are a pretty privileged generation. Any wars which we are involved in do not directly affect us unless we are related to service men or women; we have found the cure to illnesses which, for centuries, were thought to be untreatable; and we are more likely to die as the result of excess than from starvation or poverty. In this context events such as Holocaust Memorial Day are vital, in that they encourage us to imagine the unimaginable, and empathise with those people who have been marginalised, excluded and persecuted.
Overall, I see no real reason to object to days like Women’s Day, as the potential benefits far outweigh the negatives. In a worst case scenario, the day is simply ignored; but at best, you can ignite a debate which may lead to palpable, measurable change, and I think that this alone makes days such as today so important.