By Ada Alvarez
Women have a “special day” marked on the international calendar that cannot be celebrated as a holiday nor marked as the perfect excuse to receive random flowers.
The 8th of March is International Women’s Day and is the perfect moment to define the difference between sex and gender. This observation started as a feminist fight to recognize the day when in 1908 textile workers in New York declared a strike on account of their horrible labor conditions. The extent of those inhumane conditions came to light in the infamous Triangle factory fire in New York City when flames broke out on the top floors of the Triangle Waist Company where 146 women, working in sweatshop conditions, burned alive inside.
This event triggered an outrage that was the start of women speaking out for better work conditions. They organized a march to claim better salaries and to protest their 12-hour-a-day shifts that included more work every time. Their fight lead to the creation of the International Day of Women also known as the Day of Women Workers.
But what is that supposed to mean?
I’ll go back to my original statement — it is the perfect time to understand the difference between sex and gender. International Women’s Day offers a unique opportunity to recognize that, globally, woman have struggled to escape from what others have determined for them based on what they are born with.
Sex, put rather simply, is based on genitalia. You have a penis, you are a male, you have a vagina and breast and you’re a female. Gender is more complex than that.
It is what determines social roles imposed by a traditional, usually patriarchal, culture of concepts. Because of gender, when girls are born, they are “pink” while boys have everything blue. It is the reason little girls are given dolls instead of cars. It is why they say “boys don’t cry,” while they tell girls that they don’t fight.
It is the reason why how you dress matters more for the label people impose that brands someone being either conservative or “slutty.” It is why women, my age, struggle to silence the cries of people pushing more to end the status of “single,” than encouraging pursuit of educational degrees. It is why babies matter for a woman, in some part influenced by an exterior pressure that is attached to a concept of female value. And it is why contraception was demonized for so long and is still criticized from so many.
Women’s historical fight for civil rights extended beyond the right to vote; it also included the right to work, to fight, to choose her partner, to love, to control her pregnancy, to be in politics, to not be abused or treated as property and to be able to speak out against injustice. Those women who fought for our rights in the past must be acknowledged today and should be celebrated for taking the first steps towards equality — but there are more steps that need to be taken. The fight continues as society keeps dragging down gender roles that make women think we are the “weaker sex.”
So let’s celebrate our heritage, our roots, our society and our women and womanhood on International Women’s Day. Celebrate in the women you see in front of you, the women who gave us more power. Make sure that the men who congratulate women on their “day” don’t do it because they feel she’s weaker or fragile.
Instead of saying “Happy Women’s Day,” we should say “Happy Humanity Day” because this is an opportunity to have less women willing to silently live in oppression and fear, and that is an investment in a freer society.
And men, don’t get jealous. You can and should be able to receive flowers too.
In fact, I’ll start. I will give a flower to the man who understands what International Women’s Day is really all about — the right to be me.
Based in Puerto Rico, Ada Alvarez is a journalist and writer who has specialized in covering issues pertaining to dating violence. While pursuing her PhD, Alvarez is currently working as the press secretary for Puerto Rico Senator Eduardo Bhatia.