Jonathan Starling On International Women’s Day

March 8, 2013

[Written by Jonathan Starling]

A Short History

The idea of International Women’s Day has its origins in the 1908 New York garment workers strike, where women protested against working conditions. The day was first celebrated in 1909 by the Socialist Party of America in honour of that strike, and in 1910 the Socialist International adopted it to help focus the struggle for women’s rights and universal suffrage.

Throughout WWI the day served as a rallying point for anti-war protests. In 1917 the women of St Petersburg (Petrograd, then the capital of the Russia) went on strike, demanding ‘Bread and Peace’. This led to the collapse of the Russian Empire, in the February Revolution, a precursor to the October Revolution (forming the Soviet Union), and ultimately helped inspire the 1918 German Revolution, a key moment leading to the end of WWI.

International Women’s Day continued to serve as a rallying point for women’s rights and universal suffrage, and grew in popularity, with the United Nations celebrating it in 1975, as part of the International Women’s Year. In 1977 the UN General Assembly passed a resolution declaring March 8th as an international day for women’s rights and international peace. Each year the UN declares a particular theme; this year the theme is:

“A promise is a promise – Time for action to end violence against women.”

Violence Against Women

International Women’s Day has its origins in opposition to violence; violence in the form of exploitation in the workplace, and violence in the form of imperialist wars and militarism in general.

Today, half of all sexual assaults are committed against girls under the age of 16, and almost three quarters of all women in the world report having experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime.

In Bermuda, women are overwhelmingly the victims of domestic and sexual abuse. Beyond violence in the conventional sense, the on-going inequalities in wages between men and women, and the continued disproportionate burden of house-work that falls on women (despite improvements!) in our society could be seen as a form of violence towards women.

Anyone walking down our streets can hardly be blind to the violence of the sexist imagery that confronts one, be it in the objectification of women in magazines, shop windows or posters, let alone the ‘low-level’ harassment of women in the form of cat-calls, whistles, the ‘male gaze’ or patronising comments.

Despite the advances of the last century, and the shining examples of women in leadership roles in our society (such as Lois Browne-Evans, Barbara Ball, Jennifer Smith, Paula Cox, Pamela Gordon), we continue to live in a sexist society, one dominated by patriarchal concepts of women and patriarchal concepts of violence (despite the incidents of matriarchal-led households, these do not generally negate the patriarchal nature of our society).

Patriarchal concepts of violence are based on the belief that it is acceptable for a more powerful individual to control others through various forms of coercive force. This force is not limited to the physical; it can be economic, it can be psychological-emotional, it can be social pressures to conform, verbal in the way men may dominate discussion, or even spatial in the way men display their maleness in space.

Patriarchal violence is not limited solely to violence against women by men; it can also be male against male, adult to child or even female to male. Violence is not the preserve of males alone, although it is central to the maintenance of a sexist, patriarchal society.

It is no accident that in the recent spate of gun crimes the perpetrators and victims have been overwhelmingly male.

The gun violence does not occur in a genderless vacuum (or a racial and class one at that), and in many ways speaks to a form of masculinity that represents, in crude terms, the raw nature of patriarchy.

The cult of ‘respect’, of the ‘tough man’, of violence as a way of expressing ones masculinity, of owning women’s bodies and ‘defending’ them from the ‘other.’ While in many ways cliché, the gun, and the cult around it, can be seen as a phallic symbol – as a representation of masculinity (it is no accident that pro-gun lobbies in the USA complain that attempts for gun control are ‘emasculating’).

Ending Violence

Ending violence against women must move beyond simply raising awareness of physical and/or sexual assault against women in our society, as important as this is in itself.

Ending violence against women must look at violence in the wider sense of patriarchal violence and society as a sexist, patriarchal society, where women are systematically disadvantaged compared to men, where all men benefit from male privilege, and where patriarchal concepts of violence have now manifested itself in gun crimes.

To truly end violence against women we must, as a society, engage in a national discussion about what is violence, and how the sexist, patriarchal nature of our society reproduces itself in our families, in our schools, in our places of worship, in our media, in our stores and in the State.

It requires reflection on what masculinity is, or what it could be.

It requires a commitment from our males to acknowledge how the patriarchal nature of our society, while benefitting them with male privilege, also limits their development as full human beings and serves as an obstacle to forming deeper relationships with others, male or female.

The patriarchal nature of our society commits violence not just against the females of our society, but also against the weak (children) and fuels the self-destruction of us all, most explicitly in gun violence, but also in the ecological destruction that our way of life involves.

Violence against women in our society extends beyond the glass ceiling and into an invisible labyrinth that affects every aspect of our society. Gender equality in wages, in work opportunities, in representation (be it corporate, union, party, boards or parliament) and house-work, these are all things we should be fighting for.

But we must also go further and question the very nature of our patriarchal society itself.

- Mr Starling has degrees in Ecological Economics and Urban and Regional Planning, and is well known in the online community through his Catch-A-Fire blog, which he has maintained since 2007. He ran as Independent candidate in C#20 Pembroke South West in the 2012 General Election.

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Comments (15)

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  1. Vulpes says:

    Jonathan, I think I know what you are not getting enough of.

  2. LaVerne Furbert says:

    Thank you for giving your perspective Jonathan. For the 5th year running, the BIIU will be celebrating/recognising International Women’s Day on tomorrow by hosting a tea. Our guest speaker this year will be Judith Hall-Bean, Assistant Cabinet Secretary.

    The BPSU celebrated/recognised International Women’s Day last evening with a forum where the guest speakers were Cheryl Packwood and Venus Memari.

    I’m noticing that more and more women’s organisating are recognising International Women’s Day, although I will say that the AME Church has been celebrating Women’s Day almost since its inception.

    • Petra says:

      Ms Furbert, is the BIU tea an invitation only event? If not, could you please post with how I could get details?

      Many thanks

      • LaVerne Furbert says:


        Our invitation to our 5th Annual International Women’s Day Tea was included in the last two issues of the Workers Voice. Additionally we circulated the invitation to other unions. If you are interested in attending, please e-mail me at

  3. Secret Troop says:

    Starling, is there anything you are not an apologist for?

    First being white. Then being heterosexual. Now being male.

    Who’s next? Apologizing to the handicapped for being able-bodied? To our fish neighbors for being able to survive on land??

  4. DBH says:

    a·pol·o·gist (-pl-jst)
    A person who argues in defense or justification of something, such as a doctrine, policy, or institution.

    Quite the opposite of what he is doing.

    Also, I would like to commend a young white man for recognising and taking steps towards reconciliation for some of the wrong doing in our “civilised” societies.
    Keep speaking out!

  5. When is International Dog’s Day? I would like hear Starling’s run down on that please.

    • Vulpes says:

      Dogs? Surely you mean Felines? As I recall, the Cat Fancier’s Show (which at one time was at No 1 shed) is usually held this month – perhaps Jonathan could be entered.

  6. mangrove tree says:

    Spare us the Communist lecture.

    A quote from ” A Fist full of Dynamite ”

    Juan Miranda: I know what I am talking about when I am talking about the revolutions. The people who read the books go to the people who can’t read the books, the poor people, and say, “We have to have a change.” So, the poor people make the change, ah? And then, the people who read the books, they all sit around the big polished tables, and they talk and talk and talk and eat and eat and eat, eh? But what has happened to the poor people? They’re dead! That’s your revolution. Shhh… So, please, don’t tell me about revolutions! And what happens afterwards? The same f#@king thing starts all over again!

  7. Ross says:

    So I take it that since some commentators seem to focus their comments on the author, and ridicule international women’s day by calling it apologism and comparing it to fish, cats and dogs, they have nothing positive to say about equality, human rights and violence against women? I like my freedoms, and I expect everyone else to have the same, regardless of race, gender, sexual preference, or disability. Regardless of whether they are different from me, they should be treated equally. That’s not an apology for anything. It’s the kind of civilised society I want. And having a day to highlight that we’re not yet living in a world where everyone is treated equally clearly isn’t enough to make some people realise that our own rights came at great cost to people who were ridiculed by those (white, male, heterosexual, able bodied, aristocrats) in power at the time. International Women’s Day exists because some people still don’t seem to understand that it’s not OK to treat women like second or third class citizens, just like it’s not OK to treat people differently because their skin is a different colour, or they are disabled. Protecting their rights is the same as protecting my rights, your rights, your family’s rights. I don’t understand why anyone would have a problem with someone writing an article to remind us of this.

  8. 1234 says:

    Women are beautiful beings, and should get so so much more respect than given. Im not going to lie, when i see a beautiful woman walking down the street, im not going to look away, if anything she should be complimented on her appearance + effort of keeping her body/appearance very nice. I reckon there should be an Intnl Womens day every month! Women are here to be loved, respected, and cared for!

  9. Common Sense says:

    Thank you Jonathan for an excellent, incisive and throught provoking article. I happen to agree with you 100% on just about every point you have raised.

  10. Common Sense says:

    Just one additional point to add to Jonathan Starling’s article – here in Bermuda we have inculcated our young boys and adolescents with this pervasive “macho” culture to such a degree that we have raised a generation of homophobic males. Just check any school and see how boys who are considered by their peers to be sensitive, studious, musical, intellectual, interested in the arts etc. are constantly bullied and put down as “sissies”. The result is that it’s not “cool” to be a good student if you are male. Our females are generally thriving and surviving in school while our boys are being left behind.

    As Starling so eloqently states, “The patriarchal nature of our society commits violence not just against the females of our society, but also against the weak (children) and fuels the self-destruction of us all, most explicitly in gun violence, but also in the ecological destruction that our way of life involves.”

    It’s time to change attitudes but judging by just a few of the vicious and obnoxious posts above, this will be an almost insurmountable hurdle.