A Daily Practice

March 08, 2016 by Bill Ivey

The total feminist failure I am, I haven't planned anything for International Women's Day. Help. - Queen Lilipop (tweet posted Monday, March 7, 2016)

Well. The total feminist failure I am, I hadn’t even known International Women’s Day was upon us. It wouldn’t have taken me long to realize it, though, as my timelines today have been flooded with tweets and posts (many of them from Queen Lilipop!), and as Facebook offered up a memory of the year I went to Radnor University to demonstrate on the bridge in support of Zainab Salbi and Women for Women International. One of my first clicks was on this video posted by The Global Goals and shared by Girl Effect which laid out four major areas for global goals over the next 15 years. Their goals led me to reflect on the progress we are making and the work yet to be done.

The first global goal Girl Effect laid out is quality education, noting specifically:

  • In 2000, 62 million girls were not enrolled in primary education.
  • In 2015, 31 million girls were not enrolled in primary education.
  • 2030 goal: all girls complete primary and secondary education.

The benefits of educating girls are well known. A greater sense of well-being and self esteem. A decreased rate of risky behaviors, and a lower rate of teen pregnancy. Not getting married as young. Greater ability to provide for their families. An economic benefit to countries.

Of course, in parallel with this work, we also need to ensure that the jobs awaiting female graduates fully welcome them. Rachel Simmons recently shared an op-ed piece by A. Hope Jahren, a professor of geobiology at the University of Hawaii. Dr. Jahren wrote about a talented student of hers who spent the first month at her dream job writing “This is such a great place… I am learning so much here… I know this is where I am supposed to be.” Then a senior colleague began writing her of how attractive he found her, reminding her of all the things he had done for her, ensuring she understood her options (as he wanted her to see them, anyway) were to put up with it or wait until one of them leaves. She is now thinking of quitting. Dr. Jahren noted that in STEM fields, women earn 41% of B.S. degrees, 38% of M.S. degrees, and 33% of Ph.D. degrees, and that progressive reduction in the proportion of women in STEM is reflective of the problems we need to confront. Stories like that of Dr. Jahren’s student abound, and the need to fight sexual harassment (and its corollary, street harassment) and fully value women’s job and personal skills and contributions is glaringly clear.

The second global goal Girl Effect laid out is good health and well-being, noting specifically:

  • In 2000, the maternal mortality rate was 380/100,000 births.
  • In 2015, the maternal mortality rate was 210/100,000 births.
  • 2030 goal: maternal mortality rate less than 70/100,000 births.

We are making inroads, slow but nonetheless steady, into lowering the rate of child marriage, and accelerating this progress would certainly help with maternal mortality rates. Moreover, as we think of this problem, we need to avoid heteronormativity and remember it may apply to girls and women of any and all sexualities. Sex ed that acknowledges that full range of sexualities will further help us down the path to good health and well-being. Even seemingly little things, like the tampon tax, have an effect, and working to eliminate such gender-based economic penalties is another critical aspect of meeting this goal.

The third global goal Girl Effect laid out is gender equality, noting specifically:

  • In 2000, the rate was 14% female representation in global government.
  • In 2015, the rate was 22% female representation in global government.
  • Goal for 2030: 50% female representation in global government.

For all the United States likes to think of itself as a world leader in justice and equality, fewer than 20% of members of Congress are female, below the current global rate. Our gender wage gap is persistently stubborn and is in fact worsening; according to an article by Ivana Kottasoava in CNN Money, in 2015, we fell from 65th to 75th among the 145 countries listed in a report issued by the World Economic Forum. For the record, Rwanda topped the list as the nearest to equality, and Saudi Arabia, dismal as their performance was, showed the greatest internal progress in the last decade.

The one area where I disagree very slightly with Girl Effect is in their goal of 50% female representation in global government. I completely agree with the spirit of their goal, but set my own goal at 49%. My parallel goals would be 49% male representation in global government, and 2% intersex/non-binary/transgender/etc. representation in global government. That proportion would more accurately reflect the actual gender make-up of the world’s population.

The fourth and final global goal Girl Effect laid out is peace, justice, and understanding, noting specifically:

  • In 2000, 50% of females experienced violence.
  • In 2015, 35% of females experienced violence.
  • In 2030, no girl or woman would experience violence.

Campaigns focusing on violence against women, many of which are using the #VAW hashtag, are starting to have an effect. To my thinking, those that focus more on a fundamental human right to safety and respect are having more influence than those introducing the “Would you want this to happen to your mother? wife? daughter?” line of thinking. Of course, violence against women needs to be seen as an issue being addressed by the entire global population, which means calling in men. That said, a patriarchal line of thinking that essentially conceives of women as property can only help in a surface kind of way. We need to dig deeper and work until our cultures fully value what we have defined as “feminine.”

The goals of feminism entail an ongoing journey or, as HuffPost Women put it, “a daily practice.”

They may even entail a literal journey, as with Emma Watson who is taking a year off from acting to immerse herself in feminism. She is planning to read a book a week on her own, another book each month along with her book club, and furthermore to spend a lot of time listening. There are so many voices to hear - women of colour, lesbians, disabled women, trans women, women of different socio-economic classes, and women living at all possible intersections of all those axes of diversity. Men and nonbinary people can and should be part of the conversation as well - after all, we can’t effect deep changes in our country if only female-identified people are doing the work, never mind that patriarchy has toxic effects on people of all genders, not just girls and women.

The path to true equity seems interminably long and steep at times. But as we take a look back, we can see we are moving in the right direction even as there is much work yet to do. A school such as ours that graduates what Charlotte ‘16 has referred to as “frustrated feminists” is the kind of place that nurtures the kind of positive change we need.


Audre Lorde image

Written by Bill Ivey

A dedicated member of the faculty, Bill Ivey is the Middle School Dean at Stoneleigh-Burnham School. He teaches Humanities 7 and the Middle and Upper School Rock Bands. Bill is the advisor for MOCA, the middle school student government, and he coordinates and participates in the middle school service program. Among his many hats, Bill also coordinates social media for Stoneleigh-Burnham School.

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Filed Under: intersectionality, Feminism, International Women's Day