And still we rise!
It's International Women's Day!
No, this isn't like Drink Wine with your Cat Day, or Pancake Day. It's a real thing that's been celebrated for more than a 100 years around the world. https://www.internationalwomensday.com/ In the U.S., there’s a pretty good chance you had no idea this day exists even though the first one was celebrated in NYC in 1909 as "Women's Day". In 1911, it was celebrated in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland. Women demonstrated in the streets for full equality and suffrage. It was adopted as International Women's Day in Russia in 1917, and China picked it up in 1922. In 1967, second-wave feminists in the U.S. shed new light on it, and in 1975 the UN celebrated March 8 as International Women's Day, and in 1977 the UN General Assembly invited member nations to recognize it as the UN Day for women's rights and world peace.
Today, around the world, women will be given flowers, have meals prepared for them, and just generally celebrated. For all I know, there’s a matress factory in Bogotá running a Women’s Day sale.
For almost two decades, I had the privilege to help organize Int’l Women’s Day events on the UND campus. Through the UND Women’s Center, first under the direction of Nancy
Nienhuis then Donna Oltmanns, and later Kay Mendick we hosted lunches and talks. One year, when Clinton was President, Sharon Rezac-Anderson, director of the UND
Int’l Center, read us a letter of greeting from Hillary Clinton in celebration of the special day.
I helped present readings of plays by members of the International Center for Women Playwrights, and one year (2011?), at the Fire Hall Theatre we even Skyped performances of plays by women taking place simultaneously in 3 countries and on two continents.
Last night, Feast of Nations was celebrated in Grand Forks, but I don’t know if there were events last week specifically focusing on women. I have not heard of anything happening today, either, but it’s possible I missed it as I mourned the loss of yet another woman
candidate who was deemed unworthy by the populace to run for president.
But that was last week.
Today International Women’s Day and just as we move our clocks forward we, too, must continue to move forward.
However – however, sometimes it’s important to look back and remember how we got to where we are today.
I ask you, in the spirit of International Women’s Day, to take a few moments to reflect on the women who have made a difference in your life. Light a candle for them, say a prayer of thanks, smile at their memory.
Perhaps your first thoughts go to your mother, but not everyone got the mother they deserved. The psychoanalyst and storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estes (Women Who Run with the Wolves) writes that we can find our mothers in many people in our lives. I know this to be true. I had a fiercely loving mother. She was a mama bear, and I think I am, too. But mind you, a mama bear isn’t a teddy bear. I admit, it’s not always easy having a bear for a mother.
So, sometimes we are nurtured by women who are not our biological mothers. I am grateful for all my teachers, but particularly I am grateful for Elaine Faller who passed away last year (my 5th grade teacher), and Cathy Palmeiri (my 5th grade math teacher and cheerleading coach), for Billi Bernstein who welcomed me into the theatre tribe in 10th grade, and Naeemah Perry who further encouraged me and taught me theatre craft and continues to be a role model. Later, there was Jan Cohen-Cruz at NYU who planted the seed that theatre could be used as a political act. There were graduate school professors who inspired me - Sherry O'Donnell, Sandra Donaldson, and Susan Koprince. Everyone at the UND Women's Center, who changed the course of my life, Nancy and Kay, in particular.
Then there are the blood relatives; I’ve mentioned my mother, my first
love, and but there were also her three sisters (Helen, Grace, and Sarah) -- my dear Aunt
Helen who took me in when I was a prickly 15-year old and let me live with her for 2.5 years. I am pretty sure I would not be writing this today had she not been in my life.
There is my sister, Carol, who showed me by example that college was an
option for a couple of girls whose parents did not go beyond 8th grade in their schooling.
There are the friends who have laughed with me, danced with me, held me up, urged me on, picked me up, dusted me off, and set me back on the path again.
There are the artists and the poets who inspire me with their vision and their poetry. Thank you for bringing color, and light, and words into my life.
There are the radicals who pushed and hollered when others said, “Act like a lady!”, told them to pipe down, that they were making a spectacle of themselves. I say bless the radicals because nothing would get done without them.
I celebrate all these women, as well as my daughter and my daughter-in-law, who are the future and touch lives everyday.
If you identify as woman, I celebrate you today with this poem by the incomparable Maya Angelou. She wrote it for you, and you, and you, and you, and – you.
Still I Rise
Maya Angelou - 1928-2014
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
From And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou