It's been a tumultuous 12 months since our last International Women’s day - much has changed and even more has been gained in the last year in terms of equality and women’s rights.
The day has historically been one to celebrate - its origins however were born of necessity rather than celebration, at a time when women were second class citizens and at a crossroads in their fight for equal rights.
In 1914 for example, IWD was held in Germany and England and was dedicated to women's fight for the right to vote. Women marched from Bow to Trafalgar Square in London. The noise was raucous and undeniable - women were desperate for change. In many countries it was indecorous for a young woman to go out in the streets without a male consort or female elder - the first World War would of course change this. Nevertheless it was a source of deep perturbance for women who were secretly plotting a female revolution the likes of which the world have never seen previously. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be for another four years that they would get the right to vote in both Germany and England.
Photo: The Week.
The very conception of a women’s day brought with it much difficulties, especially at a time when women were free from the shackles of war. Wartime accounts detail how “unaffected” the women were by the trenches, often demonized for their exemption from the fighting - even though of course they were barred from participation.
"There are so many occasions when a woman is in a tight spot which only she herself can face, that it is rather rare to find her trying to share her burden or ask for assistance on the ground that she is a woman" - Eleanor Roosevelt, My Day, 1939
It’s a day that has come to represent defiance, derision, unity and inclusion, a day that resembles for SWAAY, a Christmas of sorts, where we’re allowed a pause to reflect, not only on the merits of our female peers, but on those of our ancestors - on the women that began the revolution to get us where we are today. It's day that we can look forward to a future where perhaps a women’s day need no longer exist - because women and men will live equally - unburdened by ubiquitous differences that science and molecular biology determined we would have.
Change is a scary and mutilating concept - 1. because it is mostly irreversible; and 2. because life cataclysmically shifts.
Developing women’s rights became a cataclysmic, irreversible and inexorable change rang in by the twentieth century. And now here we are into the second decade of the twenty-first century and we are allowed the luxury to stand still and admire how far we’ve come.
Yet there are those, most recently perhaps in the European parliament that would still propose women as the inferior, more undeserving of the sexes. In order to belie my repulsion(and many of my peers) - I wish to very proudly announce the achievements of women in the past 2 months in possibly the most braggadocios way possible, while also gleefully regaling the tales of the women who got us here.
Katherine Johnson, pictured above, was the subject of one of the year's most celebrated movies Hidden Figures. Johnson was one of the 'human computers' used by NASA for Alan Shepard's record-breaking flight in 1961, for which she provided the trajectory analysis.
I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.
— Maya Angelou
After the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia, Vladimir Lenin made Women's Day an official holiday in the Soviet Union. Women participated in wartime efforts, and a figure much celebrated in Russian World War II accomplishments is that of the female sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko. She is credited with 309 kills and is perhaps one of the most renowned snipers in history. Wartime women have since become normalized because female participation in armies and warfare is a modern adaptation of the history we no longer have to abide by. While there still lingers a stigma attached to female soldiers, it is becoming normalized, especially in the past year with female legions forming to counter the patriarchal and consuming threat of ISIS.
Photo: Lean In
Marne Levine(pictured above) is Instagram's COO and is representative of a generation of women no longer accepting the demonstrable glass ceiling rule of thumb for women in tech. It has been a breakout few years for female executives in growing industries such as tech and design and Marne's achievements both at Instagram, and Facebook are a testament to the future of women in these industries that are finally realizing the benefit of female influence at the helm.
The demonstrations held by women across the world after the Inauguration in January were the largest ever by women in written history. Much has been said about the significance of the marches and whether or not they were merely tantamount to a fleeting anger with Trump's win and Hillary's loss.
This is not the case.
March 8th 2017 is not about the 2016 election and it is certainly not about protesting the man who currently holds the oval office. Rather, it is about where women can go from here - what we can do to ensure equality and how we can achieve it. So whether you're participating in 'A Day Without A Woman' strikes, abstaining from laundry or cleaning duties, calling your boss out on sexism in the workplace or simply wearing red and luxuriating in your feminine glow - enjoy the day. It's all yours.
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."