International Women’s Day in Krakow: One Female’s Perspective

If you don’t know, now you know: the International Women’s Day game was strong this year in Poland, especially in the city of Krakow. Whether you chose to celebrate, protest, support, or ignore it—the options were plentiful for you to choose from.

So, How Did You Spend International Women’s Day?

In true Krakow spirit, there was no shortage of related conferences and events being held across the city, like the Małopolski Kongres Kobiet (Women’s Congress) on the 5th, as well as various locally-hosted internal and external corporate events, such as Cisco’s Women of Impactheld on the 8th. The Women’s Business Network also held an open networking event in the evening, featuring high-profile special guests and a facilitated networking session, complemented with a fine selection of wine and appetizers.

Alternatively, if passively taking in knowledge and networking at social events wasn’t your thing, you could join thousands of women and their supporters in mass protest at the Main Square.

Additionally, if you just wanted to kick back and relax, you could head to the movies, where you could take your pick of which way you’d like to reflect on femininity. Options here ranged from biopics describing the stories and notable contributions of historic Polish female pioneers, such as Marie Skłodowska-Curie, or Michalina Wisłocka. Of course, if drama is more suited to your tastes, you could always fall back on the 50 Shades of Grey sequel. While the latter isn’t as “grand-scale-contribution-focused” as the former two, it still opens up an important conversation about sexuality, as well as the nuanced roles women and men play in the dynamics of submission and dominance.

International Women’s Day: Not Just for Women…

One aspect of Women’s Day worth mentioning—and which is not inherently obvious in its title—is many of our male counterparts were also being observed in terms of their response to this day. Some had expectations placed on them (by their peers, colleagues, or partners—either subtly, or, in some cases, overtly); others acted on a sense of duty to show their appreciation for the key women in their lives—an inherited ripple effect of the customs and narratives underscored during the Communist era in Poland.

International Women’s Day: Valentine’s Day 2.0?

If you were a flower shop patron on March 8th anywhere in Krakow, you were likely slammed with a long wait line and a shop filled with just as many tulips as anxious boyfriends, husbands, lovers, and partners in their attempts to fulfill one of the most time-tested gestures of romance, kinship, and appreciation.

So, while Valentine’s Day celebrates love and romance, Women’s Day celebrates a deeper acknowledgment and appreciation of women; the roles they play in our lives, the contributions (big and small) they have made to society’s greater narrative, and the advancements they have made through history. Either way, flowers and a touch of chivalry are (for the most part) a welcome cherry on top.

The One-Up: “But What About Men’s Day?!”

If you survived the trials, tribulations, and celebrations and floral explosions International Women’s Day brought you, and you made it through to the end of the work week, you may have learned of another significant observance on Friday, March 10th: Men’s Day. Confusingly, this is not related to the official International Men’s Day, which is observed on November 19th.

Of course, it is unquestionable that there is an inherent benefit and value to the implementation of a Men’s Day. There are many aspects of masculinity that warrant being cherished, acknowledged, and appreciated—and we all know the power of setting aside specific days in the year devoted to celebrating or raising awareness of specific issues, concepts, groups of peopleGender-equality-wise, we must reap what we sow. Fair is fair; if there should be a Women’s Day, it only makes sense to have one for men as well. (NB In Poland, we also have a Children’s Day, Grandmothers’ Day, and Grandfathers’ Day, in addition to the comparatively “basic” Mother’s and Father’s Days.)

This particular Men’s Day had me a little confused, as I’m not sure where this particular “March Edition” of Men’s Day came from, and how it differs from the International Men’s Day observed in November. What makes me wonder (just a little) concerns the underlying message sent by (i) now having apparently two Men’s Days to keep track of, and (ii) the particular timing of this specific edition.

But why two days after Women’s Day? Because one day would simply be too obvious? 

Some people prefer to ignore or protest the idea of a day devoted to women. Others say, “Okay, you want your day? Fine. But men should have theirs too. And it should be right after yours, so your day can consistently live in its imminent-storm-cloud-shadow.” Either way, instituting a Men’s Day is a valid response to Women’s Day—the question is, do we implement it with class, or with some kind of resentful, “tit for tat” timing on the calendar?

One Day, 50 Shades of Gaze

As a woman, I certainly felt eyes on me in terms of the route with which I decided to “honor” this day. In trying to align my own spot on the “celebrate-support-protest-ignore” spectrum of possible response, I was pulled in opposite directions, jerked around from one end of the spectrum to the other, specifically by my female friends and activist colleagues. For weeks, I had been receiving invitations and messages to present myself at the women’s march in the Main Square. And for weeks, I had been conflicted about the idea of attending such a march, layered with the symbolism of it being on International Women’s Day. (Not to mention that for weeks, I had also already been booked to hold a workshop as part of an internal corporate conference dedicated to women—which made my questioned presence at a mass protest impossible, regardless of whether or not I wanted to be there. But did I want to be there?)

An interesting side effect of International Women’s Day is its ability to temporarily morph the existing concept of the male gaze into a far greater idea of a “public” gaze. Men and women are watching, observing, judging—and simultaneously being watched, observed, and judged in how they respond to a day that blatantly spotlights the gender differences characterizing modern-day life.

To Protest, or Not to Protest: That Is the Question

To me, protesting on International Women’s Day is a little bit like getting into a fight on your wedding anniversary. Or, spending your birthday wallowing in self-pity about all your imperfections. While on the one hand, I understand the meaning behind doing a protest such as this on this particular day over any other, as well as the (uncomfortable) necessity and importance of it in general (you know, towards evolution and positive change and what not); on the other hand… well… we get one day.

And while I respect, often personally support, and acknowledge the necessity of organized protests in inciting change—I am also highly aware of the shortcomings involved in the act of such a protest itself.

I am highly aware of the aggressive undertones communicated via the act, and the possible dangers of group psychology that come along with it. I am also frustrated the erroneously popular belief that protesting is at once the least—and the most—an individual can do to incite change. And finally, I am frustrated with the common misconception that showing up to a protest in solidarity with like-minded people is an end-goal in and of itself. There are many ways to lobby for issues you care about and to incite change—protesting is just one of them.

In case you haven’t noticed, women are trained to consistently minimize and criticize all aspects of their femininity, especially those which are perceived as “weak” traits. Rest assured, we know very well that we have the other 364 days of the year to criticize and spot all the negatives, holes, and unfulfilled needs in society’s treatment of women, and to work tirelessly towards improving upon them. So, with that in mind, can’t we afford one day to look back on our milestones? To celebrate our achievements as women? To appreciate what we have, and express gratitude for it? 

Why reduce all the steps forward taken throughout history down to aggressively pointing out all the work that is still cut out for us? And, above all, if we must (and I suppose, we still must) do so, must we do so on the one day where we should be celebrating and appreciating the positive contributions, legislations, and changes on which we so firmly stand? Let’s not forget all that it took to get us here.

In this right, I think back to examples of strong female leaders—Polish ones, to boot—like Marie Skłodowska-Curie and Michalina Wisłocka. Their contributions to the greater narratives of society and academia are unquestioned and unwavering. They managed to push up the glass ceiling in ways that hadn’t previously even been considered for a split second—in their respective domains, in academia, and in history. How? Through their work. That’s right. For many years, through many hardships and obstacles, and through being subjected to various shortcomings in the system, they put their heads down, buried themselves in the work that gave them meaning, and devoted their lives to achieving their goals, as they were aligned to their own ambitious agendas.

Their work was at once their protest and their contribution.

Marie Skłodowska-Curie

They Say, “Choose Your Battles Wisely…”

Part of me wonders what would have happened had the women’s march been on the 10th (“Men’s Day”), rather than on the 8th. Because part of me bubbles up at the thought that fighting for women’s rights on Women’s Day is the definition of preaching to the choir. We are carving out time from a day which is de facto already dedicated to us.

From what I’ve learned, the women’s movement didn’t arise from staying in our place, from doing as we are told, from staying within defined gender roles while our blood boiled on the inside. Change was not created by staying within the box that made everyone comfortable. It was created by women who were willing to step outside of that box, in whatever uncomfortable, yet productive way that was. Why stop now?

So, What Did I Do on Women’s Day?

I contributed to something greater, with work that I love and which gives me meaning. In turn, the work I did served to empower a group of women, and (hopefully) I was able to create an impact on their lives that will have its own ripple effect.

I soaked up knowledge from keynotes, workshops, and presentations, and I was inspired by the strength and power of the women who led them.

I networked, I met great women and men with inspiring stories. I swapped opinions, experiences, and best practices over wine and appetizers.

I felt cherished when I received a beautiful bouquet of tulips from a key person in my life.

Most importantly of all, I celebrated. I celebrated my right to choose how I wanted to celebrate. To me, this is what the power of International Women’s Day is about—uniting under one umbrella of mutual support and admiration, and reminding ourselves to push forward towards our clearly defined goals. Every response is valid, we just have to choose wisely—and know that our choice communicates a deeper message.

What message are you communicating?