Beyond McFeminism: The Socialist Origins of IWD in Canada

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Beyond McFeminism: The Socialist Origins of IWD in Canada

Joan Sangster

When a California McDonald’s marked International Women’s Day (IWD) in 2018 by inverting its big M to a W, some happy meal consumers tweeted that it should stick to hamburgers not political correctness, but the media also zeroed in on the rank hypocrisy of a corporation that did not pay a living wage or provide healthcare to its precarious, racialized, female workforce. “McFeminist” initiatives by the private and the non-profit sectors to cash in on international women’s day, a time to “celebrate that special woman in your life,” as one hospital fund raiser put it this year, are... routine. Even Netflix has joined the festivities, offering a montage of “women firsts” in the movies, a gloss on Hollywood’s history of sexism and racism.

Examples like McDonald’s are easily denounced, and to be clear, feminism has long been commodified by business interests, though feminists have also pushed back, no more so than in the 1960s and 1970s. In Canada, protests of “ad-man idiocy” marketing that played on the ‘liberated woman’ trope made their case through word and deed. The “Feminist Fighting Force” crashed a Macdonald Tobacco event at Toronto’s tony Hyatt Regency Hotel in March, 1974, registering their disgust with sexist “Contessa” cigarette promotion.

But a more subtle trend than crass McFeminism has been the incorporation of International Women’s Day into a liberal politics that lacks a meaningful critique of neoliberal capitalism and colonialism, and downplays the historic link between IWD and socialism. The buzzwords associated with these events include references to “leadership, empowerment, achievement,” as well as a vaguely-defined “inclusivity and diversity.” Some at least reference “women’s equality” as important, but many events package IWD as a liberal, achievement-oriented notion of progress. One of the more jarring events, “Women & Wealth Gala” put on by “Women & Wealth Inc.” celebrates and “empowers” women on their way up to becoming leaders in business, governments and other sectors. Clara Zetkin would surely turn over in her grave. Perhaps it is time, not to lay Zetkin to rest, but revive something of her vision.

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