Brian's Blogs

Do We Men Get A Raw Deal, I Have To Ask Myself

Last week’s International Women's Day seemed to get an exorbitant amount of coverage in the world’s press. Even China Daily gave it thorough coverage even though I am not aware that the women of China are really that disadvantaged in comparison to their male counterparts.

I have to say that I am not a great fan of international days. Mothers Day; Breast Cancer Day, World Peace Day, World Whisky Day, World Towel Day….. a quick glance through Wikipedia lists practically every day as having some special commemoration attached to it. I mean, there is even an “International Day of Lucid Dreaming” and a “World Toilet Day” can you believe!

Not happy just with special days, the marketing and PR gurus of charitable functions then turn their hand to weeks: “International Epidermolysis Bullosa Awareness Week”, for example (you probably need the week to work out what on earth that is); or months: did you know that October is “International Augmentative and Alternative Communication Awareness Month”?

And do you care?

So why should we stop to think about women on March 8th?

The fact that this particular day has been going for a century might give the clue that it is not just a piece of frippery dreamt up by some ad-executive. Its roots actually lie in the socialist, rather than feminist, struggles of the early 20th century when a German communist, Clara Zetkin, proposed a special day for women’s rights.

Zetkin’s political views were focused on class, rather than gender, but her campaigning highlighted the raw deal that women of that time received across Europe and the west in general. She represented the German Communist Party in the Reichstag from 1920 until 1933 (when the party was banned by Hitler). Her election to the Reichstag in 1932 made her its oldest member, and tradition dictated she opened the parliamentary session. She did so with a 40 minute attack on Hitler and the Nazi party.

The fact that 100 years on, women in many countries celebrate the day as a holiday with the sentimental status of days like Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, show how much has changed. For instance, there are currently 17 countries with female heads of government, or heads of state, or both, which, according to the UN, has more than doubled since 2005.

Some countries such as Armenia, Burkina Faso, Mongolia and Kazakhstan celebrate the day as a public holiday, while in countries such as China, many women are given the day off, but not their male counterparts.

In some countries, too, free cupcakes are given to women; but, it appears, the recipients are not always too happy about this. One blogger, for instance, wrote “Cupcakes are just so twee-ly, coyly, ‘ooh no I really shouldn’t'-ly, pink and fluffily, everything that I think feminism is not. It’s feminism-lite, feminism as consumption and ‘me time’ (grr), rather than feminism as power and politics and equal pay.”

Seems you just can’t please some people!

So spare a thought for women in some countries whose “culture” is based on treating them very much as second class citizens. For some years, I lived in Saudi Arabia where women are not allowed to drive; they are not allowed to mix freely with men they are not related to; and they even have to ask permission from a guy to travel anywhere (even if that means asking a pre-pubescent son!).

I well remember regularly seeing boys who couldn’t have been over 10 years old, struggling to control a car on the open highway with what was presumably their mother in the back, since she would not have been allowed to drive anywhere by herself, and some husbands insist that their wives must not take a taxi as she would otherwise be with a non-related man in the same vehicle.

I even have a criminal record from that country for having given an American woman a lift in my car. (Somewhere in the bowels of the ‘Muttawah’ – religious police - headquarters in Riyadh are filed a copy of my fingerprints, which they took from me as I sat in a jail cell while they lectured me on how I would surely get 20 lashes for such “lewd” behavior!)

Across the Moslem world in particular, women appear to get a very raw deal. Last week Egyptian women protested in Cairo to demand more representation in the constitutional assembly. According to one newspaper, “eight women elected and two appointed women make up less than 2 percent of the 508 seats in the People’s Assembly.” The female activists’ demonstration called for far higher numbers, anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent. But with the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism in that country, their hopes look a long way from being realized.

Meanwhile, though Afghanistan used International Women’s Day to reveal that it is opening up a female-only Internet cafe in central Kabul, the Afghan government was on the receiving end of a heavy backlash after it recently welcomed advice from Moslem clerics that women and men should remain segregated in public, and that husbands should be allowed to beat their wives under certain circumstances.

So perhaps when women around the world use March 8 as an opportunity to fight for political freedom, equal pay and equal rights with men, we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss their aspirations.

But giving women flowers and cupcakes and days off? Hey isn’t it about time we instituted an International Men’s Day to campaign for equal rights with our female colleagues? I, for one, have never been given flowers at work, nor presented with free cup cakes. It just isn’t fair!

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