Equality and Dignity:

A Tribute to International Women’s Day

We claim we know about sexism; we claim we know about feminism. We’ve heard about the Madonna-Whore complex; we’ve heard about “The Angel in the House.” We’re aware of the glass ceiling; we’re aware of unequal rights. We’ve witnessed the rape of women being used as a military tactic; we’ve witnessed the stoning to death of women charged with adultery.

Why do I bring this to our attention? Because March 8th (today) marks “International Women’s Day.” The first ever was held over 100 years ago in 1911, created as a social movement to advocate for gender equality. And while I don’t always discuss gender and/ or feminism on this blog, this day both celebrates and encourages justice and dignity — two entities that routinely resurface throughout my writing.

Let it be clear: women deserve to be celebrated; they deserve to be heard; they deserve to be recognized; they deserve respect. But just as Countee Cullen was reluctant to be known as a “Negro poet” during the Harlem Renaissance (he aspired to be recognized as a poet, his skin not dictating his worth), I too am hesitant to modify professions and designations with “female” or “woman.” To hear sentiments such as “she’s a great female writer” irks me. In much the same way as racial hierarchies, this sort of distinctive labeling merely reaffirms patriarchal standards. That is, instead of recognizing women as people worthy of positive recognition, it makes their value contingent on their gender.

Unfortunately, we don’t yet live in a world where everyone shares equality — be it through race, gender, sexuality, economic standing, etc. Therefore, one of the paradoxes of women’s movements all around the world (and other such related movements) is that in order for difference to be overcome, it must first be acknowledged and asserted.

So, as a tribute to women, both past and present, I have curated some reading material, videos, and quotes below. My goal is to celebrate the minds of these women, focusing on their achievements, and not on the gaps that still need to be filled. That being said, I don’t want to single out the following authors, filmmakers, and poets as great only because they are women; but rather, I want to recognize their talent and prowess in spite of them being women.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:

“It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power.”

http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?language=en

Dionne Brand:

“I am directed by rootlessness…I want to draw new maps.”

http://www.quillandquire.com/authors/she-s-a-wanderer/

Judith Butler:

“I wanted to say that the category [of ”woman’] mis-recognizes certain people, or fails to recognize them all together. So maybe opening up the terms of recognition was one aim of ‘Gender Trouble.’”

Anne Carson:

“I guess I’ve never felt entirely female, but then probably lots of people don’t. But I think that at different times in my life I located myself in different places on the gender spectrum, and for many years, throughout my thirties which is when I did that pilgrimage, I didn’t have any connection to the female gender. I wouldn’t say I exactly felt like a man, but when you’re talking about yourself you only have these two options. There’s no word for the “floating” gender in which we would all like to rest.”

http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/5420/the-art-of-poetry-no-88-anne-carson

Joan Didion:

“Confronted with sudden disaster we all focus on how unremarkable the circumstances were in which the unthinkable occurred.” –A Year Of Magical Thinking, 4

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/867987830/the-joan-didion-documentary

Aisha Sasha John:

“May our enoughness please us.”

http://www.bookthug.ca/author-reading-aisha-sasha-john-thou.php

Audre Lorde:

“For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence.”

http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/g_l/lorde/activism.htm

Toni Morrison:

“Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge.”

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1993/morrison-lecture.html *one of thirteen women to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature

M NourbeSe Philip:

“I would say that modernity itself is haunted…steeped in amnesia.”

http://www.torontoreviewofbooks.com/2014/04/in-conversation-with-m-nourbese-philip/

Laura Poitras:

“Her features — strong nose; sensitive mouth; a long wave of dark hair, parted in the middle — bring to mind a Victorian artist, a woman of character whose intensity is kept under wraps.”

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/10/20/holder-secrets

Kamila Shamsie:

“Violence…it is the most contagious of all the madnesses.” –Burnt Shadows, 126

“If you must swear, say ‘fuck.’ It has a certain savage elegance to it.” –Burnt Shadows, 255

https://www.guernicamag.com/interviews/wheres-the-rage/

In the end, I think it is clear that you don’t need to be a woman to be a feminist: in order to believe in equality and dignity you just need to be human.

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Originally published at returning2humanity.wordpress.com on March 8, 2015.