Letter to the Editor: Rethinking Rethinking International Women's Day

Last week, senior Sachith Joseph Cheruvatur wrote an article that argued against celebrating International Women’s Day. Though I empathise a lot with ...

Apr 11, 2015

Last week, senior Sachith Joseph Cheruvatur wrote an article that argued against celebrating International Women’s Day. Though I empathise a lot with what Cheruvatur said, I humbly disagree with his core argument.
Before I start outlining why I disagree with Cheruvatur, I’d like to remind everyone that I am a man speaking about this issue. It is critical to note that I have not lived through the experience of being a woman. And while that does not mean that the arguments I’m about to make are any less relevant or valid, it does mean I am an outsider speaking about issues I cannot completely comprehend.
Coming back to the article, perhaps the biggest issue I have with it is the idea that celebrating the legacy of women in the past and the present means reminding women of their weaknesses. I agree that it can be patronizing to tell a woman that her accomplishments are only special because she is a woman. But, and Cheruvatur recognizes this in his article, it is because women still face immense challenges today that we acknowledge their feats. We congratulate women like Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, who was the first woman to climb the world’s 14 highest peaks without extra oxygen, not just for their extraordinary accomplishments, but for achieving their successes in fields dominated traditionally by men. We congratulate such women for changing the status quo and making it possible to inspire other women to achieve such feats. It is not perpetuating the status quo, as Cheruvatur claims. Rather celebrating women for what they have accomplished is recognizing that women can do everything men can do, even when they have to deal with the patriarchy.
Perhaps the example that most people would immediately understand is that of Barack Obama. Obama is a smart, accomplished politician, but as an African American, he has faced challenges that other people didn’t have to. Part of his legacy is that he is African American. Instead of it being a weakness, it shows his resolve and character. The same applies to women. Why shouldn’t we recognize the fact that women have to face extraordinary hurdles to do things like going to school in some areas? I hesitate to bring up Malala Yousafzai because of how her image is used, but Malala’s famous story is special because she is a girl. That doesn’t show that she is weak, but that she might be one of the strongest and most determined of us all.
As for Cheruvatur’s point about celebrating Marie Skłodowska-Curie as a scientist first, I think that instead, we should celebrate Skłodowska-Curie as a pioneer in a field that is hostile to women. We need role models like Skłodowska-Curie to inspire girls to go into STEM fields and to reiterate to them that engineering and computer science are not just for the boys.
Lastly, I’m against the idea of a World Gender Day replacing International Women’s Day because the point of having a International Women’s Day is to focus specifically on women’s issues. This sort of sentiment is echoed whenever some specific group tries to highlight their plight. This can be seen every time someone starts a trend about black lives or black women, and someone else attempts to replace it with all lives or all women. Inclusivity is great, but not when a group is trying to highlight the obstacles it specifically has to face.
Muhammad Usman is editor at large. Email him at
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