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Won’t you Celebrate with Me

March 8 is recognized as International Women’s Day around the world.  Originating in the early 20th century as a socialist public demonstration in New York City, IWD celebrations in the U.S. have largely abandoned this activist past.  Instead, celebrations often entail naming the hard-won gains of various feminist efforts to make justice possible for all women, youth, families, and communities, as well as highlighting the ongoing struggles for dignityequityinclusion, and freedom being waged by women and gender nonconforming persons.  IWD celebrations range from protest marches that draw on the deep local history of feminist organizing to address the pressing issues of the day, to the mainstream flowerful celebrations of hegemonic femininity.  A lot takes place in between two poles, of course. What we definitely need more of: celebrations that center the histories and stories of those who are still fighting for justice, but also name the victories, setbacks and visionaries who are helping us to move forward together.

And yet, a tension persists in contemporary media about how to treat International Women’s Day: Should the celebrations be presented as an annual reminder/update on the many decades-long demands for just wages, health, right to bodily autonomy, and recognition for the contributions that women make to helping humanity thrive? Or, should IWD be about holding up particular women as “role models” and championing individual success as an example of “female empowerment,” while downplaying the need for structural and cultural change? Depending on the media sources one consumes, one perspective or the other will hold sway.

I think there is a third option, of course.  There can be recognition of the “wins” of individual women by noting how they navigated the structures and barriers which tried to keep them on the margins, the larger movements into which they speak, and from which they benefit. Otherwise, to present successful women as heaven-sent and solely a product of chutzpah so as to deny the omnipresence of patriarchies (there are several kinds) is to tell half-truths.  Our students may ask questions about who benefits from that approach.  After all, they can see the inequalities that advantage some women over others. They are going to ask reasonable questions: Why do these injustices persist, and what can we do to address them now? They can be more direct: What part can I play in helping to make things different and better for my generation?  In turn, we—as faculty, administrators, advisors, mentors—can help them answer these questions in creative and transformative ways that give them direction as well as hope.

This week at UIC, we have created a few opportunities to celebrate:

On Thursday, March 9, UIC’s Gender and Women’s Studies Program is celebrating its 50th anniversary!  As a member of that community since 2012, I am proud and honored to call so many GWS faculty, staff, and students—current and former—colleagues and friends.  As an academic program, GWS models for all of us how to create an intentional community that is deeply invested in cultivating a critical and loving feminist space for students to grow, learn, and become the best possible versions of themselves. GWS is a UIC treasure, and we need everyone to know that!  WLRC sends its heartiest congratulations on this milestone and looks forward to working in more and even bolder ways with the program in the years ahead.

Also on Thursday, March 9: Aram Han Sifuentes, renowned Chicago artist and creator of the Protest Banner Lending Library, will be visiting Gallery 400 as part of the VOICES lecture series.  WLRC is a cosponsor of the talk.  Aram has been a friend of WLRC for many years. Her UIC talk is especially fitting for this day given the impending visit of a rightwing organization to campus.

And, on Friday, March 10, two MFA students—Sarah Whyte and Ashley Dequilla—will be in conversation about how their creative practices are informed by as well as bring visibility to Asian American social justice movements.

If you haven’t marked your calendar already, please do so for next week’s event, “Sovereignty Is in the Body: Indigeneity and Reproductive Justice” on March 15.  The panel features Indigenous healers, advocates, practitioners, and artists, along with UIC’s Dr. Cindy Tekobbe.  You won’t want to miss this installment in our ongoing series about the ways that marginalized groups in the U.S. engage with reproductive justice.

May your International Women’s Day celebrations be filled with words of inspiration and visions of justice.

Won’t you celebrate with me 
Lucille Clifton

won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

Do you have a favorite poem for IWD?  Please share it with

Take good care of yourselves and each other,
Natalie Bennett