When I was 18 years and browsing through a used bookstore in Ontario, a man walked behind me and touched my bottom. I put it down to accidental touching in the row between low shelves but when he walked by me again, and I felt my bottom grabbed a second time, I knew it was deliberate.
My mother was at the counter paying for her books and I went to stand beside her but I didn’t say anything, not to the man, not to my mother, not the owner of the store.
Don’t cause a scene. Don’t embarrass your mother. It’s your word against his.
I remember thinking these thoughts as I stood there, knowing what he did was wrong, that it was a violation of my space and my body, but I kept silent. At 18, I already understood there was no point in speaking up.
I wish I’d been bold enough to holler at the man, “Stop touching me, you creep.”
I share this story as one reason for why we need International Women’s Day, held every year on March 8. It’s not because women hate men and it’s not because women think we can do a better job than men.
We simply want fairness and respect, and to live and work without fear.
Women in politics receive far more abuse online than their male colleagues, including threats of rape, violence against their family, even death.
A man posted a crude and demeaning comment on the Facebook page of a vocal proponent of women’s rights, only to be called out for celebrating the birth of his daughter in a post a week earlier. “Do you want strangers speaking to your daughter this way?” he was asked.
When a woman speaks out – in a column, in a song, in a speech, through poetry, on social media – she opens herself up to the worst kinds of attacks, often being called the worst names and threatened with rape, even death.
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day celebration is “Be Bold for Change”.
Like bossy and bitchy, “bold” is a word that takes on negative connotations when associated with women. People (that general, meaningless denomination that holds so much sway) don’t like bold women; they are forward, mouthy, demanding, and persistent.
Until women can speak up without worrying about being ignored, dismissed, or denigrated, we need a day set aside to celebrate the achievements of women in all areas (social, cultural, economic and political) because this awareness, this public standing up to say, “Hey, look at what we’ve done so far,” helps motivate other women to speak up for themselves and for each other.
My friend Jane and I recently saw the movie, “Hidden Figures,” about three black women who worked as mathematicians at NASA. They were bold, even as they had to defer to the white people who employed them. They spoke up, even when it put their jobs at risk. They changed the world by helping put a man on the moon.
Nothing changes if we don’t speak up. We go nowhere without boldness.
Oxford holds its International Women’s Day celebration this Saturday, March 4, while Amherst’s is Friday, March 10. The first step towards boldness is showing up.