March 8—today!—is International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate the women in your life, or, in recent years, for brands and corporations to make a quick buck off cosplaying respect for women while chronically underpaying them and making their lives worse.
In one of the most iconic examples of this, McDonald’s, the fast food chain that was recently hit with a sexual harassment class action lawsuit by its workers, flipped its golden “M” to a “W” ostensibly to honor women back in 2018. Many were puzzled by the gesture, which, on top of being dumb for all the obvious reasons, seemed like a lot more work and perhaps even more money than simply paying McDonald’s workers—most of whom are women, and particularly women of color—a living wage.
The UK’s iVisit took this year’s International Women’s Day as an opportunity to promote the tourist attraction the London Dungeon with a tweet converting notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper (who murdered several women) to “Jackie the Ripper” for a day, because representation—including in the serial killer space—matters!
iHeartMedia announced it would honor women on IWD by exclusively playing female artists on its stations from 5 to 6 pm local time, which sounds like a great way to celebrate and empower women who are probably already rich and famous. Goldman Sachs observed IWD this year with a standard tweet and video tribute to its women workers, conveniently excluding how women reportedly earn 55.5% less per hour than men at Goldman Sachs International. Cool!
Of course, just a few short years ago as McDonald’s was flipping its golden “M,” the beer brand BrewDog released a “Pink IPA,” because women love pink. Every year, Google switches out its logo for art featuring women from around the globe, and it’s honestly lovely—but it becomes substantially less lovely when you recall the massive class action lawsuit against the trillion dollar corporation for underpaying women.
I could go on, but surely you get the gist. None of this is particularly surprising in a world where Raytheon Technologies and Shell Oil Company celebrate Pride Month, but the pink-washing of capitalism and corporate greed is especially cringe-inducing on International Women’s Day in light of the holiday’s deeply anti-capitalist, socialist origins.
Historically, the first official National Women’s Day was held in New York City on February 28 in 1909, and was proposed by Theresa Serber Malkiel. Malkiel, once a garment factory worker whose job had required her to work 18-hour shifts in highly unsafe working conditions and paid her half of what men earned, was the founder of a socialist newspaper called the New York Call and a leader in the Socialist Party of America, as well as a vocal advocate for women’s voting and labor rights. On the first National Women’s Day, thousands attended “various events uniting the suffragist and socialist causes,” per the History Channel, while feminist labor organizers addressed the crowd.
The concept of a women’s day then spread to Europe, where the first International Women’s Day took place on March 19 in 1911, marking the anniversary of the Paris Commune, a radical, socialist government that very briefly took power in France in 1871. Eventually, in 1917, International Women’s Day events in Russia coincided with a nationwide general strike that eventually led to Czar Nicholas II’s abdication. This victory prompted future International Women’s Days to be celebrated on the first day of the strike: March 8.
Since then, some form of an International Women’s Day has been celebrated around the world, and the United Nations formally adopted the holiday in 1975. While the holiday is primarily celebrated with empty corporate gestures in the US, 27 countries—mainly former Soviet nations—have adopted International Women’s Day as a national holiday; in China, women are given a half-day off work.
In the US, girlboss capitalism and the rise of the She-E-O have obscured the inextricable links between capitalist, patriarchal, and white supremacist oppressions. Because of the glass-ceiling shattering successes of a few often highly privileged women, and a golden M flipped to a W here and there, we’re supposed to forget that many feminist struggles are rooted in capitalism, and many labor and economic injustices rooted in patriarchy.
You’ll note that many women and particularly low-income women of color who are entrapped in abusive relationships rely on their abusive partner for health insurance or shelter, because they aren’t paid a living wage or don’t receive health benefits from their employers. Daily instances of sexual violence and harassment are endemic among service workers and domestic workers, who are predominantly women of color, and could lose their livelihoods if they try to protect themselves. Where reproductive rights are concerned, research has shown being unable to afford an abortion can push someone into poverty. And the race-gender wage gap as a whole, ranging from about 80 cents on the dollar for white women compared to white men, to 57 cents for Latinx women, is a direct consequence of sexist, racist devaluation of women’s labor.
So long as we live in a capitalist society, corporations could address any and all of these aforementioned issues just by paying their workers more, or improving working conditions to value diversity and support working parents. At the very least, they could simply say nothing today, rather than pretend their own greed isn’t a direct cause of sexist oppression in society. Instead, they opt for golden Ws and embarrassing tweets.