Monday, March 8, 2021

A Challenge


Today is International Women’s Day. How will you be celebrating?

Perhaps it’s not the sort of holiday one gears up for with a trip to Party City or with a catered spread from a fancy restaurant. Besides, so much of the labor for festive events is performed by women in the first place. If there were an actual “holiday” celebrating women, who would do the work?

So, no parties. We’ll stick to thoughtful observance instead. 

Today I’m thinking of three women whose worlds intersected at the Penthouse Club in Baltimore this week. As you may know, adult entertainment establishments in the city had been shut down due to the coronavirus but have recently been reopened. You can learn more in this article:

Baltimore’s Strip Clubs Reopen as Pandemic Peril Lurks, Emily Opilo, Baltimore Sun

Making the rounds on Twitter yesterday was the pull quote of all pull quotes:

“I hope it’s safe enough. I hope we’re all protected,” said one man who declined to give his name, saying his wife believed he was at Costco. Moments earlier, he had pulled a dancer close, puckered his maskless lips and planted them on her forehead.

“I hope we’re doing the right things,” he added. 


Woman Number One is the wife who waits at home for an order from Costco. Does she know the sort of fellow her husband is? We don’t know. We do know that his visit to an indoor entertainment venue, maskless, puts her and their family at risk for COVID.

Woman Number Two is the dancer, back at work and earning a living after being sidelined by the pandemic. Does she like her work? Does she dread it? We don’t know, but we do know that her health is jeopardized by contact with maskless patrons like Mr. Costco.

Woman Number Three is the reporter, Emily Opilo. Did she want to take this assignment? Did she find it uncomfortable or debasing? We don’t know. We do know that she has more agency than the other two women. She knows the risks and she was probably able to wear a mask and keep some distance between herself and those she spoke to.

Do you see yourself in any of these women? Could any of them be you?

So often on International Women’s Day I think of exceptional, well-known, celebrated women. But when Hillary Clinton declared in 1995:

If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights, once and for all.

...her statement was not meant merely to highlight “luminaries” but to lift up all women. 

Women like our three today. What kind of choices can they make? Do they have the kind of information they need to make the best choices for themselves? How much agency are they afforded and how does that affect their well-being? Is their work respected? Can they earn a living wage? Are they safe?

One thing of which I am convinced: we are more likely to see women on the receiving end of judgement and censure rather than as valuable humans deserving basic rights. Responses to the story in the Sun showed how willing many were to project their negative attitudes about women onto the narrative. We are so acculturated to judge women more harshly. Do we have less sympathy for the dancer than the wife? Or do we assume the wife is at fault if the husband is deceiving her? Even if we consider ourselves open-minded, our bias may lurk just under the surface.

On this International Women’s Day I invite you to lay down your judgement, challenge your bias, and use your influence to lift up all women. Even the most ordinary, even women numbers One, Two, or Three. Today is for them, too.

A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change.

So let's all choose to challenge.

How will you help forge a gender equal world?

Celebrate women's achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.

International Women’s Day, 2021

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