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The Commodification and Girlbossification of International Women’s Day

by Libby Pierzak-Pee

International Women’s Day is a global holiday celebrated annually on March 8. Its purpose is to recognise the social, political, economic, and cultural achievements of women around the world whilst also focusing on issues regarding gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence against women and girls. Or at least, it’s supposed to.

 

Today, instead of being used to promote radical social reforms to improve the lives of women and girls globally, the day has become misappropriated and co-opted by major corporations in order to promote shallow “empowerment” ideology and vague notions of “equality.”

 

We celebrate International Women’s Day in a very capitalist neoliberal way. Every year we are greeted by a self-congratulatory echo chamber where everyone pats each other on the back and celebrates “how far women have come” without actually changing anything.

 

We are bombarded with endless lists celebrating the first woman to do this or the first woman to win that. People meet for brand-sponsored empowerment talks with female led panels and attend networking brunches where you receive cocktails, canapés, and a goodie bag like it’s the corporate equivalent of a birthday party.

 

Companies circulate pictures of any women they can find in the office, accompanied by empty slogans splashed across their social media pages such as, “women in the workplace matter,” failing to address the irony of celebrating the very female workers whom they continue to exploit, undervalue, and underpay each year.

 

Shops bombard women with merchandise, selling t-shirts and hoodies with slogans like “women are strong.”


We may not have equal pay or feel safe on our streets, but don’t worry, we can console ourselves by wearing pink and getting 10% off PLT with the discount code #GIRLPWR

 

These performative gestures combined with collective virtue signalling and success-driven narratives are laced in capitalism and are repackaged as being motivational and inspirational. This distracts women from the equality fight by refocusing attention on celebrating and empowering which simultaneously allows important issues to be diluted and excluded from mainstream conversations.

 

If we’re too busy focusing on how to be ‘girl bosses,’ we will inevitably stop focusing on the oppression that greets the female population every single day. 


This year, half of the world heads to the polls with elections taking place in more than 60 countries - making 2024 the biggest election year the world has ever seen. These elections take on even more significance given the current scale of global challenges – conflict, the climate crisis, terrorism, famine – and the continuing regression of women’s rights.


The US Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade ended the nationwide right to abortion, impacting the lives of millions of women and transforming the global political landscape. But the fall also exposed a crack in the foundation of mainstream liberal feminism.

 

The last decade has seen a wave in “girlboss” feminism that was pre-occupied with individual achievements, feel good empowerment, and cultural representation. This pays little attention to federal courts and state legislation. 


Many white, middle class feminists assumed reproductive rights were secure and convinced themselves that the power of cultural representation was equally as important as the winning of votes, seats, and the overturning and writing of laws. 


While mainstream feminists remain outraged that Margot Robbie wasn’t nominated for an Oscar, a recent Alabama Supreme Court decision ruled that frozen embryos created during fertility treatments can be considered children under state law, imperilling IVF.

 


It is also astounding how many western women are remaining silent about the ongoing crisis in Gaza. The atrocities that continue to be committed shines a light on our collective response to human suffering. Gaza is a feminist, humanitarian, racial and moral issue. 


However, many western women, both public figures and individuals, are completely silent when it comes to discussions surrounding the necessity of a ceasefire in Gaza.

 

Historically, women and girls have greater casualties during conflict, with UN Women estimating, based on data from the Gaza Media Office, that as of 5 March 2024 9,000+ women have been reportedly killed by Israeli forces in Gaza. 


Too many people, particularly those who are often vocal in their views on politics, gender, sexuality and race, are reluctant to voice their opinions when it comes to Gaza. This is because they want to remain neutral on a “complex” issue.

 

It should not be polarising or controversial to say that the systematic onslaught of rape and sexual violence used against women and young girls as a weapon of war is inexcusable. Yet divisive narratives continue to dominate the headlines, polarising public opinion.

 

Western women’s empathy and outrage is deliberately targeted and based on their individual personal identities and political affiliations, rather than being aligned with the universal tenets of feminism, respecting the diversity of allwomen’s experiences, identities, knowledge and strengths and striving to empower all women to realise their full rights, opportunities, power and autonomy. 


Their silence perpetuates a form of feminism imbued with colonial and imperial prejudices. This “colonial feminism” intertwined with imperial power structures, allows the rhetoric of women’s liberation to be co-opted to further the aims of the powerful, at the expense of the oppressed.

 

Relief Web published on 29 Feb 2024 that, “Control and brutality towards the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls in Occupied Palestine has always existed as a systematic concern. Prior to October, 94,000 women and girls already lacked access to sexual and reproductive health services according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). This figure has now risen to over 1 million in under five months.”


International Women’s Day should be a day of outrage. It should be a day to demand change. 


But, unfortunately, it’s not. It’s nowhere near that. 


It has become a day to celebrate the superficial achievements of a small minority, and not address the demands of the millions of women and girls around the world who deserve better.

 

Change won’t come if you ignore the fact that:


• Women are murdered by men in the UK once every three days (Femicide Census)


• Worldwide, 137 women are killed by a partner or family member every day (BBC)


• An estimated 1.6 million women in the UK experience domestic abuse every year (ONS)


• As of February 2024, women only make up 35% of the House of Commons and 29% of the House of Lords (House of Commons Library)


• 26.5% of Members of Parliament, globally, are women (Care.org)


• Women only make up 25% of national parliamentarians worldwide (UN Women)


• 59% of young women in the UK aged 13-21 have faced some form of sexual harassment at school or college in the past year (End Violence Against Women)


• Over 200 million girls are forced into marriage around the world each year before the age of 15 (UNICEF)


• Child marriages kill more than 60 girls every day due to childbirth related deaths (UNICEF)

•  Women are disproportionately affected by poverty, making up 70% of the world’s poor population (UN)


• Around 130 million girls worldwide are out of school (UNESCO)


• An estimated 155,000 women in Gaza are pregnant or breastfeeding, with 5,500 expected to deliver in the next month (UN Women based on data from UN Population Fund) 


• 37 mothers are killed every day in Gaza (UN Women)


Change won’t come from sharing a nice little infographic in pink about how much you love girl power. 


Change won’t come from complimentary company coffees, vision board making, Pilates classes, puppy yoga and 10% off pink trainers. 


Change will only come if we collectively move forward to strive for a world where women and girls have equality, respect, safety, and a life free of violence and oppression. A life free from harassment with equal pay and fairer representation.

 

So stop girlbossing and start speaking up.

 

As Audre Lorde once wrote, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”


Edited by Emily Duff

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