As International Women’s Day 2022 fades to a memory we might cast a critical eye over its effectiveness.
Some have criticised the festivities as a ‘purple wash’ while others happily post photos of smiling colleagues striking their crossed arm pose with an evangelical abundance of hashtags.
Which side has the right idea?
The argument I have heard for ‘breaking up with IWD’ is fuelled by a deep sense of frustration, building to anger, when the seemingly vacuous social media avalanche of Polyanna positivity is juxtaposed with the harsh reality of gender inequality.
Women, rightly, want opportunity equality, safe workplaces and meaningful action on gender based violence.
On the Sunday prior to International Women’s Day a powerful cohort of women took a stand, demanding safety, respect and equity.
They released a stirring video message and called for support.
Among the group were established voices like Lucy Turnbull and Wendy McCarthy and voices of the young we have come to know including Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins.
Using IWD as a platform they brought their considerable influence to the message that as a society we have not yet cemented the most basic human rights of dignity and respect.
The seriousness of this movement highlights the inescapable realisation that in many ways we have gone backwards.
Many women in my generation have had to face the drawing realisation that the change we foresaw, back in our youth has not been realised.
I, for one, assumed progress on gender equality would continue in a linear fashion and be, well, progressive.
But does this need for further action negate the validity of the genuine celebrations of female achievement that made their way to our news feeds on IWD?
There were functions and speeches, breakfasts and lunches, column inches and headlines — all tinted purple for a day.
Sometimes I have the uncomfortable sense that criticising these festivities amounts to blaming each other – and that has to stop.
The US author, academic and activist Roxanne Gay was one speaker of note, taking to the podium for IWD associated events during her visit to Australia.
Back in 2015 she released a book and delivered her TED talk ‘confessions of a bad feminist’ in which she hilariously and endearingly shares her own transgressions, delegating ‘man’s work’ as ‘bug killing, trash removal, lawn care and vehicle maintenance.’ Gay reminds me there is moe than one way to ‘do’ feminism – we are diverse and change our mood, as all humans do.
For me IWD 2022 was exceptionally busy.
I started my day with a very early radio interview and the first thing the producer said to me was ‘happy international women’s day!’ Being so early in the day it seems I was open to the power of suggestion.
I did conjure a genuinely happy day, notwithstanding several robust conversations about gender inequality, the need for change and who must take action.
I met with and spoke to people committed to change.
Granted they were mostly women who chose to venture out on a day of record floods to participate.
We were not kidding ourselves about the need for change.
We had all experienced moments of personal frustration and outrage.
Our eyes were wide open but we could also laugh and celebrate We were buoyed by the recognition paid to women who have spoken out and made a difference, including Michelle Obama, Malala, Julia Gillard and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Can we be strong at times and joyous in the next moment? We are capable of maintaining the rage necessary to battle with gender equality whilst stepping into moments of levity or celebration for the achievements and accomplishments of women.
We have the dexterity to do both and must never accept that positivity is a sign of weakness.
IWD 2022 set out its ambition to ‘break the bias’ – but given the recent challenges and damming statistics, many have questioned the relevance of one day, replete with purple cupcakes, fairy dust and scroll worthy posts.
But I would advocate for a guilt-free step, no matter how small, in the right direction.
The purple dust has settled for now but there is much more to be done for which we will need resilience, cohesion and strength.
*Monica Lunin is the author of What She Said and director of the leadership and communication consultancy MOJOLOGIC.
This article first appeared at womensagenda.com.au