In Rome, International Women’s Day is celebrated with small bouquets of mimosa flowers. The guys that typically sell you umbrellas and odd gimmicks come armed with these bouquets only for today, a lovely gesture.
But my time in Rome taught me that International Women’s Day wasn’t as innocuous a celebration as it might sound. What I learned in Rome was word of mouth from those who grew up in communist or socialist countries, but there’s a current opinion piece by Antony Davies and James Harrigan in the Wall Street Journal that confirms the same. The article may require subscription access, but here are a few highlights –
- “[F]ew, if any, will note International Women’s Day’s origins in American socialism and Eastern European communism.”
- “The day was first declared by the American Socialist Party in 1909 and, in 1917, it set into motion a sequence of events that would become Russia’s February Revolution. Female workers went on strike that day to achieve “bread and peace” in the face of World War I.”
- “Leon Trotsky later concluded that this event inaugurated the revolution.”
Now, Davies and Harrigan go on to argue the merits of capitalism and conclude that the free markets are the best alternative to remedy any type of socio-economic inequity, including gender.
But I’d like to add a fourth point to their consideration of the origins of today’s commemoration.
4. Proposing International Women’s Day took the focus off of the celebration of women as mothers.
The name suggests that women are being celebrated in their entirety, whatever their role may be. But the celebrations instead focus exclusively on women’s participation in the labor/economics/government and do not include stay at home moms nor women as women. Mothers are included insofar are programs are required to support them working outside of the home. All women, similarly, are measured solely in terms of what they produce in an economy, not for who they are.
In no way do I wish to suggest that women should not be involved in every aspect of society. They certainly should.
But motherhood is an essential aspect of life for most women. While it may have challenges, it is also greatly desired. Consider the multi-billion dollar global industry that seizes on this desire for couples who struggle with infertility or the reactions of joy that many women express when they learn that they are expecting, not to mention the joys of countless experiences in family life well beyond childhood. Unfortunately, we’ve been taught that motherhood is just one aspect of multi-tasking, that it ought not to be the center of a woman’s (or a husband’s or a family’s) life. Celebrations like today reinforce the idea that women ought not to identify too closely with motherhood, that it is something which should be subjugated to other types of achievements.
In his Encyclical on work Laborem Exercens, St. John Paul II wrote:
[I]t will redound to the credit of society to make it possible for a mother – without inhibiting her freedom, without psychological or practical discrimination and without penalizing her as compared with other women – to devote herself to taking care of her children and educating them in accordance with their needs, which vary with age.
Sadly, today’s commemoration fails to represent and honor the women who willingly and freely choose to make their vocation as a mother a primary part of their identity, even at the cost of career achievements.