The year was 1908 when 15,000 women, mostly garment workers organized by the Socialist Party of America, marched through the cobblestone streets of New York City to demand for better working conditions, higher pay, and the right to vote. Then came German campaigner and fellow socialist Clara Zetkin, who suggested at the 1909 International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen that March 8, a day celebrating women, should be made international. At the conference, over 100 women from 17 different countries agreed, and the first International Women’s Day was thus celebrated a year later.
In 2019, U.S. women now outnumber men at college universities. In the last 18 months alone, women in Saudi Arabia were given the right to drive for the first time without chauffeurs or male relatives, while women in Ireland paved the way for legalized abortion in the country by striking down the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. Women in Iran sat alongside men in a sports stadium to watch the World Cup for the first time in decades, and Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez made history by appointing a majority-female cabinet. Naomi Osaka, the half-Japanese, half-Haitian tennis star, won the U.S. Open final, becoming the first athlete from Japan to win a Grand Slam Final. Nadia Murad, an Iraqi woman who was captured by ISIS, won the Nobel Peace Prize for her activism for victims of sex trafficking, becoming the first Iraqi woman to receive the accolade.
During the landmark U.S. midterm elections in November, a record number of female candidates were elected to the House of Representatives and all across the country. Women, and particularly women of color, made history. Kansas Democrat Sharice Davids and New Mexico Democrat Deb Haaland became the first two Native American women elected to the U.S. legislature. Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar and Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib became the first two Muslim women serving in Congress. Democrat Ayanna Pressey became the first black woman to represent Massachusetts in the House. In a poignant moment of solidarity, for Trump’s annual State of the Union address, female Democratic lawmakers all decided to wear suffragette white.
Meanwhile, a former bartender named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez achieved the biggest upset victory in the Democratic primaries by winning the election for New York’s 14th congressional district in the Bronx. Osacio-Cortez, or AOC to which she’s been referred, then beat Republican nominee Anthony Pappas in the November 6 general election through an effective grassroots campaign, winning the endorsements of Senator Bernie Sanders and former President Barack Obama, and in the process, became the youngest woman ever to serve in Congress at 29 years old.
It was a year for firsts for women, but also a year of continued inequality along the gender line. Unlike in 1908, women can now vote, but only comprise 20 percent of the U.S. Congress, despite making up 51 percent of the population, unfortunately (and fortunately) making the current legislature the most diverse in history. Little-by-little, the infamous pay gap is narrowing, but women are still paid less. The majority of Fortune 500 company executives are still men. White women in the U.S. make 84 percent of what their male counterparts earn, according to the Pew Research Center, and internationally, women make 77 percent the amount paid to men. Meanwhile, black women have to work for 19 months to make what white men did in a year, according to the National Women’s Law Center.
Perhaps fittingly, the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #BalanceForBetter. Striving for a more equal and just society for women has always been the hallmark of all four waves of the modern feminist movement, but in 2019, that also means for women of different ethnicities, nationalities, sexualities, genders, and abilities to see themselves represented in mainstream media. Black Panther became the first superhero film ever to receive a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards, proving to Hollywood that an all-black cast and black narratives have the power to generate profits and critical prestige. For the first time since the release of Joy Luck Club in 1993, Crazy Rich Asians featured a cast of majority Asian descent that was also backed by a major Hollywood studio.
[pullquote align=’center’]”[I want to see] more diversity, more inclusivity: in the bodies that we clothe, in the images that we produce, in the designs that we offer.”[/pullquote]
The FX series Pose, which premiered in June 2018, follows the lives of five transgender women in New York City, depicting queer and drag ballroom culture in 1987. Writer, director, and producer Janet Mock became the first transgender woman of color to write for a TV series in history. The episode she directed, entitled “Love is the Message,” made her the first transgender woman of color to do so for any TV episode.
“I see television and film as a grand and powerful spotlight with the ability to shed light on people and communities rarely given such a chance to take center stage,” she tells CR. “For trans women, particularly those from low-income communities of color, Pose represents the very first time in television where we are centered as the heroines of our own stories, enabling us to stand boldly in our humanity and complicatedness, and in turn, shed light on our truths so often now given the chance to be told. I want to see more women in positions of power behind-the-scenes, more Ava DuVernays, Nina Shaws, Shonda Rhimes, Nina Jacobsons, and Dana Waldens, green-lighting film and TV projects, hiring diverse crews, writing, directing, all the roles that are so often not shown but truly empower a project from the ground up.”
The #MeToo movement also maintained its momentum, spurred on by a bombshell story in October 2017 that exposed decades of alleged sexual abuse committed by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. In September, Christine Blasey Ford testified for four-and-a-half hours in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, alleging that President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were in high school. Ford never wavered in her composure; Kavanaugh was sworn in anyway in October.
Once-revered comedian Bill Cosby was sentenced to prison and so was former Michigan State and USA Gymnastics sports doctor Larry Nassar, who was convicted of sexually assaulting hundreds of young women. Weinstein was indicted for rape; Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, who broke the story for The New York Times, won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. The documentary Surviving R. Kelly brought years of Robert Sylvester Kelly’s alleged abuse, pedophilia, and predatory behavior towards black and brown women to mainstream awareness. Kelly then was indicted on 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse.
“When you think about it, we have been having the conversation about R. Kelly and his depravity for 20 years, and in that 20 years, there’s been numerous articles, and alongside that, more than one documentary,” Burke tells CR. “There was a grassroots movement that turned into an international movement and it took all of that for people to pay attention to what black women have been saying for 20 years. In contrast, it took two articles to bring down Weinstein. It took very well-researched and well-done articles, and I’m deeply grateful for them, but that’s sort of a snapshot of how hard this work is.”
This past weekend, the documentary Leaving Neverland, amid public outcry from Michael Jackson fans and the Jackson estate, featured the stories of James Safechuck and Wade Robson, who say Jackson allegedly sexually abused them when they were children and asked them to lie for him during his criminal trials for child sexual abuse in 1993 and 2004. “Michael had just drilled in you over and over since you were a kid, you know, if you’re caught, if we’re caught, your life is over, my life is over,” Safechuck told Oprah Winfrey, a fellow survivor of child sex abuse, in an interview special on HBO called After Neverland.
In fashion, women danced on the runways. Decadent couture dresses moved others to tears. Rihanna had women of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities model Savage x Fenty on the runway, showing that inclusivity and diversity, elusive on the catwalks for decades, would be wholly celebrated and embraced once they were given a proper platform. Meanwhile, Maria Grazia Chiuri, the first woman to helm the house of Dior, paid homage to feminist activist Robin Morgan, Italian artist Tomaso Binga, and the androgynous Teddy Girls of 1950s Britain.
“[I want to see] more diversity, more inclusivity: in the bodies that we clothe, in the images that we produce, in the designs that we offer,” Chiuri tells CR. “To demonstrate that beauty is not an imposed standard, but something complex that is to do with emotions, sensations, attitudes, and concepts, with the heart and also the mind. And then, more collaboration: women working together, adding value to each other in the spirit of sisterhood I think is the real—and most powerful—message.”
“The fashion industry is complex, but it does not deny women the opportunity to express themselves and be influential in other fields too,” Chiuri adds. “Precisely, because of its comprehensiveness and its extraordinary communicative power, fashion is a field that women must exploit to make themselves heard, by using their own peculiarities, rather than hiding them, to be more competitive and equal to men.”
In January 2019, 111 years after the first International Women’s Day demonstration in New York, a scaled-down crowd took to Washington D.C. The Women’s March has battled controversy and concerns of anti-Semitism within the movement since its first protest in 2017 drew in more than three million people around the world (becoming the largest protest in history), but its larger goals of gender equality, racial justice, and opposition to the policies of the President Trump have remained steadfast. And perhaps, in another 100 years or so, we can all finally stop marching.END
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