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Students in Cape Town, UN Women, International Women’s Day, March 8, 2019


Today is International Women’s Day.

As we’ve pointed out at length before, most women, and most men, have no knowledge of the history of this day.

Its a day that went from one of protest creating historic change to one that is as much about corporate imagery stripped of its roots as about activism.

We’ll revisit the above in two pieces: International Women’s Day went from bloody revolution to corporate breakfasts in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation News and The History of International Women’s Day Isn’t What You Might Think in The Mary Sue (from Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective, Ohio State University and Miami University), both dated today.

The roots of International Women’s Day were in women demanding basic needs and rights for their children, themselves and for everyone over a century ago.

At the core of the activist element, it’s still the same.

Here’s a short list, excerpted from Why International Women’s Day Isn’t Going Away in The New York Times today, of reality on earth for girls and women as we write:

200 million

That’s the minimum number of women and girls on the planet who have undergone female genital cutting, the United Nations says.

More than 130 million

The number of women and girls around the world who did not attend school in 2016, according to the Global Partnership for Education, an international organization.

4.8 percent

That was the share of female chief executives at United States’ Fortune 500 companies in 2018 — 24, down from a record 32 in 2017.

5.7 percent

Between 1901 and 2018, 904 individuals (some have won more than once) have been awarded the Nobel Prize, with just 52 women winning the Nobel Prize and prize in economic sciences, according to the Nobel’s website.

750 million

This is how many women and girls alive today who have been married before the age of 18.

Twelve million girls marry before age 18 every year — 23 girls every minute, according to Girls Not Brides, a global partnership of civil society organizations that focuses on ending child marriage.

1 in 3

One in three women around the world have experienced either physical or sexual violence, according to the World Health Organization. (One in four girls or more are sexually abused as children.)

Over 50 percent

Women account for more than half of all people living with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. And AIDS-related illnesses remain “the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age,” according to Avert, an international charity.

23.7 percent

This is the portion of female representation in national parliaments in the world, according to the United Nations.

12.8 percent

The percentage of women agricultural landholders in the world, the United Nations says.

But now you can really get depressed.

In reading the article online, you will see, as often as not, ads still treating women as sexualized objects, with culturally preferred body images. Or, then, something seemingly somewhat more enlightened mixed in. The excellent article today in The Atlantic by Amanda Mull, There’s No Such Thing as a ‘Real’ Woman, covers these issues. And The Atlantic re-reruns today the absolutely necessary education of Megan Garber’s June 2015 piece, ‘You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby’: The Lag Between Advertising and Feminism.

It’s also not possible to mention Garber without noting another of her current articles in The Atlantic, an insightful commentary on the documentary Leaving Neverland and the vulnerability of boys and men as well as girls and women to the abuse of power.

It’s useful to remind what ending sexism means. Equality. Period. Equal rights and equal responsibilities.

Women abuse power too, with boys and men and girls and other women. The unequal distribution of, corruption by and abuse of power is in many ways the definition of the root of all evil.

One of the best reminders of this is another perceptive article in The Atlantic in October 2017 by Sophie Gilbert, What If Women Had The Power? Part of the introduction is unfortunate, as it too easily plays into the demeaning archaic sexist theology of the “weaker sex”—but the rest is brilliant. It’s a commentary on Naomi Alderman’s novel The Power. Women suddenly have the power in a complete turnabout, a moment of experiential justice impossible to overstate. Then they abuse power just as horribly.

Gilbert concludes, “There’s no sense in anything that anyone is doing—only the instinct to exert control. In that, Alderman’s thought experiment ends on a sour note. The abuse of power is integral to society, she argues, no matter who’s wielding it. The world of her book—richly imagined, ambitious, and propulsively written—isn’t any better than ours. It’s just different. People will jostle and scrap and sell out each other to get ahead, no matter their gender. But The Power, even if it doesn’t provide a roadmap to a better world, provokes questions with its conclusion. What kind of weight, you wonder, might it take to tilt the scale toward a more even balance? And what kind of pain would be necessary, and justifiable, to achieve it?”

As we put it in a post on the article at the time, “A useful and moral conclusion. The question pursued by the good.”

Bottom line, power, money, and those who control it, make the world go ‘round.

The women who a century ago demanded basic needs and rights and changed much of this equation for a time, were mainly socialists. We would quickly add, democratic socialists. Not the betrayal of the Soviet Union. Or dictatorships like Venezuela, which call themselves socialist, but are neither that in many ways nor democratic in any way, yet are convenient foils for those who think trying to make socialism a dirty word might have one last fling left in it in some limited circles that might provide a needed political life-raft. It’s also reinforced across party lines by some who have benefited from an unsustainable economic inequality. That inequality has created increased charge in words like capitalism or socialism, but as we’ve said before, the words have numerous meanings and don’t inform by themselves.

As we’ve noted before, democratic socialism has been a standard part of the global political stage for a long time, with many such governments being voted in and out and in again, etc. The socialist party in France ran the county for decades off and on until recently, after becoming too status quo, too conservative in many ways, for most people. In the US, FDR’s programs under the New Deal (which positively transformed social programs for the great majority, while issues such as racism and sexism remained as we’ve commented on at length previously) were called socialist by what he termed the “monied interests”, while he won landslide after landslide for four terms. Then LBJ’s programs under the Great Society (he buried Barry Goldwater and the Republican right-wing in the 1964 election, who called his programs virtually the communist takeover of America, and would have been a two and a half-term president with two landslides if not for Vietnam). In fact, they were a rational balance of what is often associated with both socialism and capitalism that led to the richest and largest middle class in history, supported in the main, and expanded, by three Republican administrations as well, Eisenhower, Nixon and Ford, because that became the mainstream political center. Who was, or is, going to tell people to give up “socialist” programs like Social Security and Medicare, etc.?

We’ll return to our ongoing commentary on these issues. The point here is that at the turn of the 20th century and for some time since, it was socialists and progressives of various kinds who created enormous positive change—when it was democratic and respecting human rights. And for women in particular, this was the context that created the basics of equality after millennia—such as the right to vote for half the human race.

Two years ago on the eve of International Women’s Day, our post emphasized the voice of bell hooks, who reminds us that most of the women of the world are women of color who are barely acknowledged much less joined by privileged feminists, mainly white, who have kept women of color on the outside far too often. The needs of feminist women of color are the basic needs of most people in the world.

Here’s an excerpt from our post on 3.7.17:

You know that feminist icons such as bell hooks have been pointing out for a long time the brutal sexism and racism of sexual objectification, and that:

“First World women in our society, mostly white, can impose our sense of what is important for women in the world. As such, that is a form of violence. Because we are not respecting the lives of the millions of women in the world for whom feminist issue is ending war, having food, ending poverty, ending disease.

In our society, we’re so privileged, we don’t have to think about those things as feminist issues. But in fact the three things that are causing the most death of women and children: war, disease and poverty. So let’s keep that in mind when we talk about imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. And what is the role of white women in perpetuating those things?”

Yet bell hooks believes in all of us working together to achieve equality.

To think further on these things, take a look at this instructive and inspiring article last week in The New York Times by By Min Jin Lee, In Praise of bell hooks.

Now, nearly all ideologies and institutions, and all nations, celebrate International Women’s Day, in one way or another.

The UN site at UN Women on International Women’s Day is a treasure trove of information, videos, photos, and moving stories.

One link notes the following about the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals:

By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and Goal-4 (obtaining a quality education) effective learning outcomes.

By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and preprimary education so that they are ready for primary education.

End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.

Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.

Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

And there’s a lot more.

So, let’s get at it.

The following are the articles referenced above.

International Women’s Day went from bloody revolution to corporate breakfasts

By Annika Blau, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, March 8, 2019

On a winter’s morning in Petrograd, women begin streaming onto the streets.

Two million men have died, food is running out, and women have reached breaking point.

By late afternoon, some 100,000 workers walk out of their factories to join them. On their way, women smash windows of stores, raid the shelves for bread and food.

Thousands make a dangerous dash across the frozen river to reach the city centre — police are firing shots at those using the bridges.

Another 50,000 odd workers join them the next day, overturning trams and carriages, occupying the river, and hijacking the enormous statue of Alexander III in Znamenskaya Square.

The sight of strikers scaling this icon of autocracy, nicknamed “the hippopotamus”, convinces the crowd the revolution has whirred into action.

The riot continues for four days despite the military opening fire: when it’s over, police find the word “hippopotamus” engraved on the statue’s plinth.

Seven days after International Women’s Day of 1917, the tsar is gone, and women win the right to vote.

From revolution to breakfast

While the first “Women’s Day” was held by American socialists in 1908, it was soon picked up by others worldwide. By 1913, it had reached Russia: one of its founders there was Lenin’s wife, Nadya Krupskaya (they married, quite literally, in Siberian exile).

Nadya was a formidable organiser — as Trotsky recalled, “in her room, there was always a smell of burned paper from the secret letters she heated over the fire to read”.

What would Nadya think of the business brunches, the fun runs, the branded IWD-themed T-shirts, scarves and mugs now?

In 2019, International Women’s Day looks very different. Instead of striking for “peace and bread”, women are more likely to gather for platitudes and breakfast.

While it’s been a public holiday in Russia since it triggered the revolution, these days, it’s like a combination of our Mothers’ and Valentine’s Day, where Russians buy gifts to celebrate the women in their lives.

In the West, more than a century after suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested on her way to speak at IWD 1914, there are still marches in most cities but far more women take to social media than the streets, posting loving tributes to their favourite women.

In the countries where many women feel most compelled to protest, they’re often not able to. Tehrani police beat hundreds who were planning to rally in 2007, only releasing some activists from jail after a 15-day hunger strike.

In 2011, hundreds of Egyptian men harassed women who’d marched to Tahrir Square, while police and military watched.

Meanwhile, in the West, the very conditions that make it possible to protest leave many feeling confident they don’t need to.

‘More PR than politics’

While IWD may’ve lost its revolutionary edge, it seems it’s never been more prominent in our consciousness.

That’s in part thanks to a new set of champions: brands.

“Without sounding cynical, brands are seeing the commercial value of being involved”, says Business Chicks CEO, Olivia Ruello.

“It’s an opportunity for corporates and brands to demonstrate brand values in an overt way, and to stand for something that matters.”

It’s a curious turn for an event first organised by the Socialist Party of America, before being picked up by socialist powerhouses worldwide.

For feminist and UTS academic Eva Cox, IWD is now “more PR than politics”.

But Ms Ruello says that brands and corporates have the scale and influence to affect real change.

“Corporates can give women and men equal access to opportunities and the flexibility they need to run a home and have a career.

“Brands also have an opportunity to influence in very powerful ways, so I think joining the conversation is positive.”

But her confidence comes with a caveat: “I would suggest that corporates are probably better to spend time on the actual issues, rather than putting on events for one day a year and doing nothing for the rest. They should do both.”

Dr Lauren Rosewarne from the University of Melbourne shares this view.

“While we can be cynical about brands vying to be seen as “woke”, providing sponsorship money to enable hard work to be done is, at least theoretically, great.

“This becomes more concerning however, if corporations begin dictating the agenda for celebrations.”

Last year, Esprit was criticised for sponsoring IWD while engaging Bangladeshi women as sweatshop labour.

“This is often the problem with such corporations,” wrote Celeste Liddle.

“Their politics are performative while their practices are exploitative. As a result, the very real struggles of some of the most disadvantaged get white-washed via ribbons and cupcakes.”

‘Not-so-international women’s day’

A common critique of brands’ involvement with IWD is that their messaging is, necessarily, conservative. Women’s empowerment is spoken about in broad, general terms — there’s little reference to specific issues facing women, like sexual violence or reproductive rights.

“This is a watering down of any kind of feminist message and selling us a feel-good feminism, that encourages women to invest in their aspirations, be empowered and ‘lean in'”, says Catherine Rottenberg, author of The Rise of Neoliberal Feminism.

“This is a palatable and marketable feminism because it is non-threatening: it doesn’t address the devastation wrought by capitalism, misogyny and sexism.”

For some commentators, talking about “women” as a single group is also a problem, as it ignores the spectrum of women’s experiences.

Ms Liddle, an Arrernte woman, has argued along with many others that IWD must start with the issues facing disadvantaged groups first:

“IWD started as a working women’s movement”, she tweeted under the hashtag #takebackIWD.

“Working Aboriginal women are still waiting for the payment of Stolen Wages. Still experiencing a pay gap larger than 16 per cent. Yet corporations are using IWD as a profitable photo op.”

Meanwhile, Noha Aboueldahab from the Brookings Doha Centre told RN this week that “not-so-international women’s day” has been dominated by “Western narratives of women’s rights”.

She described a “crisis of solidarity”, where non-Western women’s experiences were either ignored or discussed in a superficial way.

“When you look at stories about women in other parts of the world, they’re mostly to do with image, for example, ‘these women are oppressed because they wear the hijab’. They significantly overlook how the plight of these women extends way beyond that.”

‘Very limited changes’

For Ms Cox, IWD is a symbol of how Western feminism is tinkering around the edges of real reform.

“In Australia, we are focussing on very limited changes, mainly to allow us to share more of male-defined benefits, like paid work and top jobs, rather than changing the structures to suit less gender-stereotypical roles,” she says.

On IWD 2016, she called for more ambitious reform: rather than pushing for women to gain a greater foothold in paid work, we should interrogate why caring and domestic work remains unpaid, she argued.

A year later, little had changed: “there were breakfasts to raise money, events to celebrate individual success and some interesting talkfests, but no political plans to implement the ideas,” she wrote.

“It seemed to be more social and celebratory than a political event, at a time when major changes and retro populism are threatening both what we have gained and an equitable future.”

For Dr Rosewarne, IWD might not be revolutionary, but it still serves a purpose.

“I’d like to think that every time I do any engagement on IWD, be it radio interviews or public talks, that someone might leave thinking about things a little differently than they did before.

“If we think of IWD more broadly as doing this — and not raise our expectations too disproportionately — I think it provides a key annual reminder for us not to trick ourselves into thinking the work of feminism is over.”

. . .

The History of International Women’s Day Isn’t What You Might Think

By Birgitte Søland, March 8, 2019, The Mary Sue, Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective

It was early March when an electronic greeting card dropped into my mailbox. The cover featured a colorful depiction of a young female figure playfully applying lipstick, surrounded by flowers and butterflies, along with the text, “Happy Women’s Day.” To be honest, I was a bit baffled.

The following day another e-card arrived, this one featuring a photo of a hot-pink box filled with matching tulips. This second card also wished me “Happy Women’s Day,” helpfully adding the date 3/8.

Only then did I realize that International Women’s Day, celebrated worldwide on March 8, seems to be emerging as an occasion for private rituals involving greetings, gifts, and flowers much like Mother’s Day. If that is indeed the case, it will be yet another transformation of a holiday that since its inception in the early 20th century, has undergone vast changes.

The first “Woman’s Day” celebration took place in Chicago on May 3, 1908. Organized by the U.S. Socialist Party, it brought together an audience of 1,500 women who demanded economic and political equality, on a day officially dedicated to “the female workers’ causes.” The following year, women gathered in New York for a similar celebration. Inspired by these American initiatives, European socialists soon followed suit.

At the International Women’s Conference, which preceded the general meeting of the Socialist Second International in Copenhagen in August 1910, leading German socialists Luise Zietz and Clara Zetkin proposed the establishment of an annual International Woman’s Day (singular) as a strategy to promote equal rights, including suffrage, for women. More than 100 female delegates from 17 countries unanimously endorsed the proposal.

What would seem a fairly innocuous gesture marked a significant break with socialist tradition. Though ideologically committed to human equality, socialists had long argued that women’s liberation would only materialize under socialism, and the only way for working-class women to improve their lot in life was to join working-class men in their struggle.

Feminism was seen as a cause for middle- and upper-class women with their own class interests in mind. Yet fearful that the feminist demand for female suffrage might attract too many working-class women, socialist leaders decided to embrace it. Still, they insisted that the vote was a means to an end, not an end in itself.

On March 18, 1911, the fortieth anniversary of the Paris Commune, International Women’s Day was marked for the first time. More than a million Austrian, German, Swiss, Polish, Dutch, and Danish women took part in marches and meetings. The Austrian-Hungarian Empire alone witnessed more than 300 demonstrations.

In the following years, similar events spread across the European continent. Generally spearheaded by socialist women, demonstrations called for women’s rights and female suffrage, and many feminists readily joined their socialist sisters.

The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 halted much of the international collaboration that had underpinned International Women’s Day, and sowed deep divisions among socialist women. Some supported nationalist sentiments while others protested the war and called for working-class unity across national divides. Eventually many of these women, including Clara Zetkin, would abandon socialist parties who rallied around the war effort and instead embrace Communist parties and organizations.

Yet, if International Women’s Day generally floundered during the war years, it was an International Women’s Day celebration that ultimately triggered the Russian Revolution.

Russian women had first celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8 in 1913. Four years later, on March 8, 1917 (February 23 on the Gregorian calendar then used in Russia), working-class women in Saint Petersburg, exasperated by rising food prices and rapidly deteriorating living conditions, led a demonstration calling for an end to war and political autocracy. Once unleashed, their cries for “Bread and Peace’” could not be quelled. By March 12, Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate.

The events of 1917 in Russia ended up setting the date for the celebration of International Women’s Day, not only in Russia but across the rest of Europe.

In 1922, Lenin established International Women’s Day as a communist holiday in the new Soviet Union. The same year, Chinese communists began to celebrate it, and after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, it was proclaimed an official holiday. Spanish communists used March 8, 1936 as the occasion to stage a huge demonstration in Madrid, demanding protection of the Spanish Republic against the growing fascist threat.

International Women’s Day would remain a communist holiday until the end of the 20th century, marked by carefully orchestrated, state-sponsored celebrations of women’s contributions to the state.

As women in the United States and across much of Europe gained suffragein the wake of the First World War, much of the momentum for International Women’s Day celebrations waned. During the interwar years, some European socialists and social democrats continued to mark “Women’s Day,” carefully omitting the term “international” to distinguish it from its communist sister celebration, but events rarely drew substantial crowds.

It was only with the emergence of second-wave feminism in the late 1960s, that International Women’s Day reemerged as a significant day of activism. Though the day never (re)captured much attention among American feminists, European feminists embraced March 8 under the updated name, Women’s International Day of Struggle (“Frauenkampftag” in German or “Kvindenes international kampdag” in Danish).

The new name signaled political radicalism and a resolute distance from organized party politics, both key features of the women’s movement in the 1970s and 1980s. Nonetheless, March 8 celebrations typically involved not only feminists, but a broad assortment of left-wing activists, women’s groups and labor organizations, calling for such issues as equal pay, political parity, reproductive rights and child care.

During the International Women’s Year in 1975, the United Nations first celebrated International Women’s Day. Two years later, in 1977, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace.

Eager to disentangle this new holiday from the socialist origins of International Women’s Day, the assembly noted that it was to be observed “on any day of the year by member states, in accordance with their historical and national traditions.”

Moreover, in contrast to contemporary feminist practices of casting it as a day of protest, the United Nations billed it as “a time to reflect on progress made” and “celebrate acts of courage and determination of ordinary women.”

In the decades since the 1977 resolution, The United Nations has in fact marked International Women’s Day on March 8 with events and activities centered around a particular theme such as “Empower Rural Women—End Hunger and Poverty” (2012) and “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture It!” (2015).

In spite of such institutionalization of International Women’s Day, and in following with its long history of competing traditions, March 8 is now marked in a variety of ways around the world.

In many (former) Communist regions, it is a public holiday. In Western Europe it remains an occasion for feminist demonstrations, and in many developing countries women’s rights activists take to the streets to voice their calls for gender equality. In Italy, men allegedly give yellow mimosas to women to celebrate the day. And in the United States, some people apparently send cards and flowers to honor the women in their lives.

Birgitte Søland is Associate Professor of History at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. She teaches European women’s and gender history, and the history of children and childhood in the Western world. Her research interests include the history of women, youth, and children, with special emphasis on children’s rights and children’s welfare. She is the author of Becoming Modern: Young Women and the Reconstruction of Womanhood in the 1920s (Princeton, 2000). She co-edited Gender, Kinship, Power: A Comparative and Interdisciplinary History (Routledge, 1996), and Secret Gardens, Satanic Mills: Placing Girls in European History, 1750-1960 (Indiana University Press, 2005.) In 2003 Professor Soland won the CLIO Award for Outstanding Teaching in History.

. . .

There’s No Such Thing as a ‘Real’ Woman

By Amanda Mull, March 8, 2019

Brands that promise to cater to authentic womanhood still leave out a lot of women.

In America, few things are more quintessentially 2019 than the frequent need to question whether something is real. Is the Twitter account that wants to argue with you about politics run by a real person or a bot? Does YouTube truly encourage kids to commit suicide? Has the viral video that everyone’s talking about been doctored? Things that many people would normally take for granted now feel slightly askew.

This unsure cultural footing brings with it a certain tension. You could be fooled at any time, or you could be passed information by someone you trust who’s been fooled. This is largely a problem of technology, both of how much it permeates everything about life and of how little time everyone has had to adjust to its changes. As we go further through the looking glass, the promise of finding reality feels only more powerful.

Marketers, to their credit, sensed this nascent shift before almost everyone else, and especially as it applies to the ways women view themselves. Since the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty spawned its first viral commercial in 2006 by taking viewers through the layers of digital artifice that go into making a single ad, personal-care and clothing brands have been lining up to sell people “real” products, made for real women to achieve real beauty in their real lives. The American retailer Lane Bryant calls its rewards program “Real Women Dollars.” Earlier this week, the British plus-size clothing retailer Evans launched a model search looking for “real women” with “real bodies” to star in ads.

It’s comforting to think that who we are and how we look is some sort of true north, or at least a brandable identity with its own product line. But it also brings up a question. If only some women can be categorized as “real,” what becomes of the women outside those boundaries?

Women can’t be divided neatly into models and “real” women. By “real,” these companies usually mean a person a little bigger or darker-skinned than those in the images they or their competitors traditionally have put forth, but being a model isn’t some divine status bestowed by a higher power. According to the definitions provided by consumer brands, we’re left with two categories of acceptability: those who are young, thin, and symmetrical enough to conform so closely to conventional American beauty ideals that they make a lot of women feel bad, and “real” women who, these ad campaigns suggest, are simply the most conventionally attractive of everyone else.

While brands like Dove market on their inclusivity, they still tend to go with flat stomachs and hourglass figures when choosing their larger or disabled models. The American clothing and lingerie brand Aerie, which celebrated five years of its #AerieREAL campaign in January and has built its public name on body diversity, still doesn’t make a true plus-size line. (A representative for the brand told me that it will soon be expanding its bra line by 50 percent, including larger band and cup sizes.)

Even for the brands that market to “real” women with more sizes, the result is still pretty clear. These ads wrest the mantle of cultural approval from one subset of women and bestow it on another, a transfer of power that will hopefully be met with grateful sales dollars. In doing so, the campaigns validate one set of people as the truest to a nonsensical concept. For “real women” to be a useful idea, people have to grant that it’s possible for a person’s womanhood to be fraudulent. You can remove digital retouching, but there is no objectively correct way to depict a woman in a photo, or for a woman to present herself in real life.

In a time when the idea of gender authenticity is often used as a cudgel against the human rights of queer and trans people, drawing lines of acceptability around any portion of the female population for the purpose of selling soap or loungewear can feel especially uncomfortable. The realities of being a woman in 2019 are just as messy and varied as everything else about trying to find solid footing in this cultural era. A woman in a full face of makeup is no less real than one who never bothers to apply eyeliner, and both of those women are real whether they fall outside a brand’s size range or fall within the traditional ideals of beauty that women have now been asked to reject.

On social media, you’ll find plenty of evidence that women who buy from these brands are ready to hear something else. The actress Jameela Jamil was forced to respond to blowback for taking part in the #AerieREAL campaign in spite of the brand’s lack of plus sizes. Evans apologized and quickly changed the wording of the model call on its website in response to criticism from Danielle Vanier, a prominent plus-size woman on Twitter. (Evans did not respond to a request for comment.)

Maybe that criticism contains a way forward. Instead of shifting or expanding the confines of beauty’s definition and the women to whom it applies, what might be more useful is a reconsideration of why we insist that physical beauty is a worthy goal for all women to pursue. If womanhood weren’t predicated on appearance at all, an interest in makeup and fashion could one day be something that inspires no more guilt or anxiety than being an avid golfer. In the meantime, brands can leave the task of defining a real woman to every woman for herself.

. . .

‘You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby’: The Lag Between Advertising and Feminism

Megan Garber, The Atlantic, June 15, 2015

Even at the height of ‘women’s liberation,’ products aimed to female consumers were actually marketed to men.

In July of 1968, Philip Morris released a spin-off of its popular Benson and Hedges cigarette brand. The modified cigarette, in design narrower and longer than Philip Morris’ previous offerings, was launched during a time that found many Americans newly aware of the dangers of smoking. It was meant, as a distraction from that, to evoke elegance—a certain daintiness. Which is to say that the new cigarette brand was marketed toward women. Virginia Slims, Philip Morris announced in its ads, were “tailored for your hands—for your lips.” And they were, in all that, “slimmer than the fat cigarettes men smoke.”

But the cigarettes also had, the company suggested, a deeper appeal. Virginia Slims were, in Philip Morris’ presentation of them, tobacco-infused celebrations of progress itself. And their marketing was broad in every sense of the word. Virginia Slims were aimed at the newly liberated (or, well, “liberated”) women of the ‘70s—women whose lives had been transformed by advances in politics and medicine, women who were newly able to think about “careers” as well as “jobs,” women who were able to consider divorce in a way that would have scandalized their mothers and grandmothers. These were women, essentially, who were able, for the first time, to think about their lives playing out on somewhat of an equal footing with men. And ads for Virginia Slims, the cigarette that celebrated this equality by contradicting it, spoke to those women as directly as they did breezily: “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

This was, of course, a promise about the world much more than an accurate reflection of it. Advertising, aimed so squarely at the public id, has a way of cutting through noise and niceties and reflecting what people really want. Or at least what advertisers have decided they really want. And what women of the ‘70s really wanted, the (mostly male, mostly white) advertisers of the time assumed, was similar to what many of them still want today, despite all the progress that has been made in the meantime: to be attractive to men.

Take, for example, these Lolita-esque ads for Love’s Baby Soft—“perhaps the most feminine of all feminine products to have ever existed on Earth,” as this cultural history of the product sums it up. Baby Soft, a scent that was a kind of proto-Axefor Girls, was developed by the pharmaceutical company Smith & Kline, and released in 1974. Its oooof-inducing slogan was, “because innocence is sexier than you think.” It was unclear, oooofingly, whether the innocence in question was being marketed to women … or young girls.

The campaign’s print ads were accompanied by a TV spot that was approximately 1,000 times more disturbing, by today’s standards, than the still images. The ad, narrated by a man whose voice alone evokes Burt Reynolds’ mustache,  promises that Love’s Baby Soft offers the scent of “a cuddly, clean baby … that grew up very sexy.”

Women, buying products based on what ads tell them men want: This, of course, is a tale as old as Madison Avenue, and also as old as time itself.

Sometimes the campaigns were explicit about that. Take this ad for Weyenberg Massagic shoes, published in (yep) Playboy in 1974 and submitted to Ms. Magazine’s “No Comment” section:

The ad was, unsurprisingly, controversial—not just because of its slogan or its bare-chested model, but also because of its core assumption: that the way to keep a woman “where she belongs,” if that is indeed your goal, is to buy her things. Captivation by way of consumerism.

Weyenberg, Jerome Rodnitzky notes in Feminist Phoenix: The Rise and Fall of a Feminist Counterculture, reveled in the controversy. “Weyenberg is taking the first positive stand for masculinity,” the brand declared, expressing a sentiment that will feel faintly familiar today, “against the influences of the women’s liberation movement.” The brand, it explained, was trying to target the men who rejected “effeminate and women’s liberation appeals.”

In response to this logic, the National Organization for Women gave Weyenberg a mocking prize: the “Keep Her in Her Place Award.”

N.O.W.’s nominating committee might have also enjoyed this gem, first issued in 1969 but extant into the ‘70s:

As Stanford’s School of Medicine notes, in its Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising project:

Tobacco companies know as much as the next guy—sex sells—and they have no qualms with objectifying women to sell their product. As early as the 1930s, cigarette advertisements featured sexy women to lure men to the brand, and by the late 1930s, pin-up girls were frequently used on cigarette advertisements to appeal to male audiences. The Tiparillo advertisements in the “Should a gentleman offer a Tiparillo” campaign (1968) are shameless in their objectification of women, with the models showing cleavage (plus) as well as intense eye contact. As expected, recent advertisements of the 1990s and 2000s are no better, as such images become more commonplace in modern times. These ads target youth explicitly. Though they primarily attract young men, they also manipulate young women into believing that a certain brand of cigarette might make her sexier and more attractive to men.
 Ads of the era made use of yet another tactic that will feel familiar today: body-shaming. The ad below concerns itself with “girls with too much bottom and too little top.” Yet it brings good tidings: Warners, the ad announces, can take your misshapen body and remold it into something socially acceptable! Why suffer in pear-shaped silence, when you can buy your way to an hourglass?

What’s striking, seeing ads like these through the lens of the 21st century, is—in spite of everything—their familiarity. Feminism may have, in the decades that intervened between the ‘70s and today, solidified into a set of conventions and norms. The women’s movement may have become absorbed into the culture—into our conversation and our media and our habits of mind. We may take for granted the idea that women’s bodies and lives are much more than playthings for men. We may assume that if the arc of history bends toward justice, that goes for matters of sex and gender, too. But pop culture also has a way of lagging behind political movements. And many ads today—be they for underwear or footwear or baby-powder-scented body spray—are in their way as retrograde as these specimens from the ‘70s. They can assume that women’s consumer decisions are based on conceptions of male desire. They can assume that the key decision-maker in a commercial transaction, regardless of who spends the money, is a man.

We may well have come, in the words of Virginia Slims ads, “a long way, baby.” But we still have far—very far—to go.

. . .

Why International Women’s Day Isn’t Going Away

By Iliana Magra, March 8, 2019

For all the progress women have made, they are still a long way from true equality.

A rally marking International Women’s Day in Madrid, the capital of Spain, where women’s rights have become a pivotal topic in campaigning for national elections due on April 28.CreditCreditEmilio Naranjo/EPA, via Shutterstock

LONDON — After a series of historic firsts and long-overdue breakthroughs, 2018 was called “the Year of the Woman.”

A record 36 women won seats in the United States House of Representatives in midterm elections in November. Ireland voted to repeal one of the world’s most restrictive abortion bans. Ethiopia appointed its first female president. And women in Saudi Arabia were not only allowed to attend a public soccer match for the first time, they were also permitted to drive legally.

But it was also the year when there were fewer female Republicans in the United States Senate than men named John in the same chamber.

International Women’s Day, observed on March 8, was made a public holiday in Berlin, the German capital, in January. It has always been a way to celebrate women’s achievements and to call attention to all the work still left to be done on a global scale. (The theme for 2019 is “Balance for Better”: seeking gender balance in the boardroom and elsewhere.)

In fact, more than 30 female leaders — past and present — recently warned in an open letter that progress was eroding, with Susana Malcorra, the former Argentine foreign minister, telling The Guardian that some countries led by “macho-type strongman” leaders are a factor.

It was a reminder that global gender parity still remained out of reach. Here are some numbers that tell the story.

Afghan artists working on a mural on a wall of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Kabul as part of a campaign to promote the achievements of women in the country.CreditRahmat Gul/Associated Press

200 million

That’s the minimum number of women and girls on the planet who have undergone female genital cutting, the United Nations says.

More than 130 million

The number of women and girls around the world who did not attend school in 2016, according to the Global Partnership for Education, an international organization.

4.8 percent

That was the share of female chief executives at United States’ Fortune 500 companies in 2018 — 24, down from a record 32 in 2017.

A soldier handing out carnations in Berlin, the German capital, which made International Women’s Day a national holiday this year.CreditCarsten Koall/Getty Images

5.7 Percent

Between 1901 and 2018, 904 individuals (some have won more than once) have been awarded the Nobel Prize, with just 52 women winning the Nobel Prize and prize in economic sciences, according to the Nobel’s website.

Migrant women marching in Athens on Friday.CreditLouisa Gouliamaki/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

750 million

This is how many women and girls alive today who have been married before the age of 18.

Twelve million girls marry before age 18 every year — 23 girls every minute, according to Girls Not Brides, a global partnership of civil society organizations that focuses on ending child marriage.

Child marriage, any formal or informal union where at least one of the parties is under 18, can be a result of traditional practices, gender inequality, poverty and illiteracy, experts say.

In Ethiopia, for example, 40 percent of girls were married in 2017 before they were 18; 14 percent had become wives before the age of 15.

Women in Minsk, Belarus, taking part in a “Beauty Run” to mark International Women’s Day. CreditTatyana Zenkovich/EPA, via Shutterstock

1 in 3

The #MeToo campaign was a watershed moment in the movement to fight gender violence, as women from all walks of life publicly shared their own stories of rape, sexual harassment and other kinds of assault.

One in three women around the world have experienced either physical or sexual violence, according to the World Health Organization.

One in five women and girls ages from 15 to 49 have reported being victims of physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner, the United Nations said, adding that 49 countries have no legislation protecting women from domestic violence.

Yazidi women attended a ceremony at Lilash Temple in Shikhan, Iraq, to remember women who were killed by Islamic State militants.CreditAri Jalal/Reuters


This is about how many women are murdered globally every year for having “dishonored” their families.

In 2017, the United States Defense Department received 6,769 reports of sexual assault involving service members as either victims or subjects of criminal investigation — 4,193 were from women, according to a statement released in May.

On Wednesday, the first American woman in the Air Force to fly in combat, Senator Martha McSally, Republican of Arizona, revealed in powerful testimony before a Senate committee that she had been raped by a superior officer and sexually assaulted multiple times during her career.

Thousands of Bangladeshi women took to the streets of Dhaka on Friday demanding safer lives, as well as an improvement in their social conditions.CreditMunir Uz Zaman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Over 50 Percent

Women account for more than half of all people living with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. And AIDS-related illnesses remain “the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age,” according to Avert, an international charity.

23.7 percent

This is the portion of female representation in national parliaments in the world, according to the United Nations.

12.8 percent

The percentage of women agricultural landholders in the world, the United Nations says.

Both Koreas marked the day. In the South, women wearing black cloaks and pointed hats marched against what they call a “witch hunt” of feminists in a deeply conservative society.CreditChung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

23 Percent

Governments have passed laws to fix the gender wage gap, and some companies, such as PwC and Shell U.K., are making an effort to narrow the discrepancy. But globally, women still earn 77 percent of what men do, the United Nations said.

Women may make up almost half of the world’s population, but more than 2.7 billion of them are legally restricted from having the same choice of jobs as men.

Men in 18 countries even have the right to legally prevent their wives from working. And some jobs, such as domestic work, are entirely unpaid.

“The global value of this work each year is estimated at 10 trillion U.S.D. — which is equivalent to one-eighth of the world’s entire G.D.P.,” according to Oxfam.

Over all, female participation in the global work force remains low compared to that of men — 26.7 percent lower, according to figuresfrom the United Nations.

Another 1st

Finally, as women break barriers — NASA is planning the first all-female spacewalk on March 29 — no woman has ever been known to hold these jobs:

Secretary general of the United Nations; archbishop of Canterbury; Catholic priest; prime minister of Belgium, the Netherlands or Spain; governor of the Bank of England; and president of the United States.

. . .