Swing a pillow for women everywhere with James at [email protected]

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On March 8, 1917, thousands of working women in the Russian capital of Petrograd took to the streets to protest the leadership of Czar Nicholas II. Their sentiment of bitterness and frustration soon spread throughout the city and a general strike ensued. Soldiers sent to quell the uprising joined the mob. In a week’s time, the czar was forced to abdicate, making way for the coming Bolshevik takeover.

Despite the 80-year downward spiral into Soviet good times that followed, those footsteps of unrest were a major feat in the history of women.

In their honor March 8 became the official date of International Women’s Day, which is still celebrated in Russia and around the world.

While Petrograd’s rebellious observance kicked off the Russian revolutions of 1917, this day’s roots lie in our political backyard. American Socialists established the first National Women’s Day in 1909 in a push for suffrage and improvement of deplorable labor conditions. Party members abroad took the rallies and meetings staged as a cue for something greater, and a global commemoration was born.

Its first observance took place in Germany, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland, with rallies drawing over one million people. By its 50th anniversary, the Women’s Day conference in Copenhagen, Denmark drew delegates from over 70 countries. In 1975, the holiday earned recognition by the United Nations, sounding its message to the rest of the world.

Yet, the existence of a day for all women remains an item of obscurity in its land of origin. Americans, stuck with the cloying pain of Valentine’s Day and the quaint oddity of Mother’s Day, have little awareness that a universal celebration of women’s progress once owned the streets of Manhattan, where 25,000 women of over 15 nationalities marched against the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in 1911.

In Mother Russia, the holiday has softened into a mix of Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and its former Socialist self. March 8 now signals a time for men to compliment all the women in their lives. They are encouraged to give gifts to and perform traditionally feminine duties for their mothers, wives, girlfriends and children in a domesticated celebration of a oncemilitant push for progress.

Indeed, interpretations of International Women’s Day have diversified. While left-wing groups maintain the spirit of revolution, the United Nations takes the more accessible approach of highlighting continued progress toward equal status. In much of the former USSR, it is a hokey holiday of romantics, but in some countries it is derided as an echo of Soviet propaganda. And in America, Rich Uncle Moneybags bellows with laughter at the idea of female solidarity and forecloses on Baltic Avenue.

In a world still largely lacking in female empowerment, this celebration could not be more relevant. While feminists in the U.S. concern themselves with Roe v. Wade and upward mobility in professional and public office, more fundamental problems run rampant elsewhere in the form of second-class citizenship. Some scholars argue that as “bare branch” legacies grow in developing countries, the absence of women will lead to an increase of aggressive behavior among young men with no prospects for a mate, thus paving potential shortcuts to crime, war and further sexual abuse.

Taking all of this into account, why not pay our respects to women’s progress? Today, vanguards of International Women’s Day can attend a screening of the award-winning Israeli film “Keep Not Silent” at 145 Dwinelle Hall at noon, stop by the International House for Tea at 5:00 p.m. or attempt to crash a sold-out launch party of the International Museum of Women at San Francisco’s Hotel Nikko at 6:30 p.m. More events can be found online.

It may not be much, but I’ll do my part for women of the world by bumping Mr. T’s “Treat Your Mother Right” out my car windows, giving away homemade cards, and making more crossover references to the Industrial Workers of the World in conversation.

It sure beats buying another gift my mom will never enjoy or spending Valentine’s evening at a historic mass pillow fight in San Francisco.

Oh. The pillow fight. Never mind.


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