It's a funny coincidence that now, everyone should be looking back to the past all things considered.
TikTok has been talking about ancestors lately, and it's gotten everyone doing some critical re-examining, looking at the fraught stories of history we're spoon-fed from our youth. Although I may not exactly practise ancestor veneration, it doesn't mean I cannot participate in taking some offense at the more flippant and painful jokes that were made at the expense of those that came before (slavery).
That doesn't mean these videos aren't seeped in celebration and sweetness, especially as femmes reflect on styles, pastimes, and advancements they've made in honour of the people of our past.
International Women's Day has passed, and it brings a more bitter taste to its celebrations than the feel-good content discussed. Google Doodles, as uplifting as they are, don't do much for these subjects. As conservative politics are enacted on a broader scale at an ever-increasing frequency, the climate of our current year has precipitated a weird vision of all form of social backflips regarding women and their agency.
Maybe it doesn't seem so bad in the broad scheme of things; after all, everyday life hasn't been largely impeded for anyone, right? So we can keep celebrating Women's Month per usual! And probably get some light-hearted jokes in, snarking about suffragettes calling us 'scandalous' for wearing tank tops (so we can then remind them of their inability to govern themselves and their lives! It's funny, guys).
what were our ancestors up to?
Women's rights, on a global scale, carry a history that's long and complex; a journey that has taken decades, even centuries, of struggle and sacrifice by countless individuals who have challenged patriarchal norms and advocated for gender equality. The struggle for women's rights began in the late 18th century- fitting, since this was the Age of Enlightenment- when feminist thinkers, like Mary Wollstonecraft, started to argue that women should have the same rights as men, including the right to education, property ownership, and suffrage.
In countries populated and influenced by English law, women were incredibly restricted in their personal rights, especially as colonists began to spread across the world. Colonialism enabled land and law to become even more embittered regarding sex and equality. Pre-colonial evidence shows regions in Africa having long histories of female chieftaincies, with nations that tracked dynastic rulership through a matrilineal bloodline. The same can be said for many Indigenous peoples, who had women leaders that were important in making decisions regarding health, wealth, and war in their communities.
Obviously everything changed as settlers began to come in en masse.
This only serves to underline how in other communities and countries, women did enjoy benefits of power that were practised for centuries. These, thankfully, weren't eradicated in full, resilient still against these colonial forces.
Even if I really came from people who were living like monkeys in trees, it was better to be that than what happened to me, what I became after I met you.
The Seneca Falls Convention is marked as a watershed moment for the true, big start for the suffrage movement in the United States. It was credited with the eventual ratification of the 18th Amendment in 1920, granting women the right to vote. But having a predominantly American lens on can distort the view of how sweeping suffrage was on a global scale.
It's not going to be a total shock and is probably one of the most unoriginal statements of our current day, but the hits are hits for a reason, baby! So, let's repeat:
The United States is not the only country in the world, nor are the nations considered a part of "The West" the only countries in the world. People can and often do have wide-reaching political movements before the States, England, or who-and-whom.
A prime example is about the right to vote specifically. New Zealand is actually credited as the first country to certify a woman's right to vote, and that was in 1893. Australia and Finland followed in second and third respectively a few years later. Great Britain itself had a sweeping success in voting rights. Led by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, they'd lead the way in assuring women over 30 could vote in 1918 (with all women over the age of 21 following in 1928).
From the Declaration of Sentiments being signed by men and women alike to the 1920's ratification, so many triumphs happened in between.
Voting rights aren't everything, but they are a big step in countries that purported to support democracy and freedom. But what about social and cultural barriers? The fight for education and work opportunities continued, the war over the site that was a woman's body never seemed to wane.
This is where we see the rise of a new wave of feminism in the 1960s and 70s, and another era that gave us cornerstones for our current understanding of modern feminist achievement.
In 1979, the international treaty, CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) was adopted by the United Nation. CEDAW requires nations signed on to do what it states pretty clearly: eliminate discrimination against women socially; monitor for discrimination in education and employment; prevent and amend discriminatory healthcare; provide access for women in politics.
This was a landmark international move for women's rights, coming off of a strong decade in the fight for equality. The first UN World Conference on Women took place in 1975 in Mexico, legislation and court cases had been passed continuously reaffirming women's rights in workplaces, in marriages.
So what fell apart?
Opposition against women's rights has never ended. Making strides only means massive efforts have been made, creating distance from the start point to the present. But it also insinuates that progress is the active state; there's no conclusion and now, we're seeing how much pending outrage has resulted in the recent backslide.
Numerous factors still hinder gender equality in the 21st century, ones we know well. Women in the workforce still suffer massive gaps in treatment and pay, beauty standards are out of control, and bodily autonomy has taken a massive hit. People have written a lot about this.
Problems still extend beyond that, though. There has been no facet of women's lives that has been fully spared from being continuously marred by discrimination. Whether reported or not, women still have the burden of proof for everything, and it's only gotten more severe.
Internet culture has had several booms in mainstream news since its inception, with one of the largest and most affecting one in recent memory being Gamergate. The specifics of the story aren't wholly important; the real totality of Gamergate is not its core narrative beats, but the responses by and to online commentators. What was easily spun as people speaking out against 'journalistic integrity' quickly spiraled into a misogyny-laden cultural battle.
Is it possible to cite Gamergate as the inciting incident for our current gender-politics?
No, not solely. But it is a massive turn. It bred bad actors in abundance, anti-SJW Youtube channels and political commentators, which have evolved now into alt-right "alpha" personalities and "pro-traditional, anti-woke" pundits. Just like back in 2014, this is a male-dominant realm with its special thrones to seat minority players who can mask a lot of the rampant racism, homophobia, and anti-women sentiment with persuasive smiles and funny edits.
We expect the internet to stay in a separate 'over there.' When our phone screens are dark, when the computer is asleep, the badness and the rot are locked away (and hopefully not keeping us from sleeping because of blue light exposure). But as mentioned, these things are insidious and have blown up into proportions that spell danger for femmes everywhere.
In the United States alone, legislation is under works- or has already been passed- that completely disrupt rights we fought so hard for in the first place. Here's a taste of what some plan to do: ban gender-affirming healthcare for trans minors; ban drag; gut protections for same-sex, inter-racial, inter-faith relationships; reintroduce Jim Crow segregation and racist execution practises; determine abortion as legally punishable; ban and heavily restrict books taught in classrooms and made available in schools; punish people for calling others racist, transphobic or homophobic through lawsuit; and more!
It's not just legislative either. Again, it's hard to take note of these things in the everyday. It's much easier to only realise when it hits your home, ruins your doorstep. But what about if it ruins your timeline?
There's a redemption arc happening for abusers. It's always been that way, but particular outrage and confusion is following new, up and coming artists like Chloe Bailey and Doechii. Both are under scrutiny for collaborating with demonstrable people from a large portion of their progressive, women audiences. Gendered violence is widespread; we know that. But this is like a PR campaign, attacking victims and absolving monsters.
Online, we see the abuse and manipulation of multiple women at the hands of their partners; we've seen the ripple effect of the spectacle during and after the Depp v. Heard trial, and how easy it is to monetize content decrying women. Alongside that, Twitch streamers have been caught watching deep fake porn of their fellow content creators, transwomen creators are routinely dogpiled, and alongside that... there's the previously discussed legislation outlined above.
This pays heavy attention to the United States, Canada, and other "major" Western nations, to be clear. Millions of women are still under attack, online and off. The heyday of celebration and process we view charitably from the 70s and 80s was rife with its own drawbacks. There are even less illusions about the grip that racism had on the original suffragettes. But across the world, many countries felt a degree of improvement in how women were viewed and treated. It could be seen in filmmaking, it could be heard through music, demonstrated in industry action.
If the Web's toxicity has eroded through the black mirror and caused fractures to be felt deep down into the bones of our societies, who knows. If the pendulum swinging should be blamed on 'too much' progress, on needing to overcorrect to fix an abundance of liberation- well, I think we can all say that's probably untrue and very suspicious as a viewpoint.
We cannot destroy the internet or go back in time to try and do more, push more for progress. We can continue to work towards an equal world.
If there's a rise in tradwives, alt-right speakers, and weird podcasters on your YoutubeShorts, in your TikTok feeds, it isn't a stretch to see how the world is mimicking the same display. This March, celebrate the history of your fellow women, but remember there's still work to be done, protests and marches to look out for, causes to support.
Hopefully next yeae can have a little more cheer amongst all the shouting that we're doing for ourselves and our communities.