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International Women's Day 2024

I have had mixed feelings about International Women's day for the past several years. The surface level acknowledgement can raise awareness, but many days the fight still feels so unjust and the odds impossible. In the US, many celebrate IWD while still voting to strip our civil rights. I saw one post in my Facebook feed joking that she wished she could "go back to the fifties, when women didn't have to work." and it stung. Many forget that women couldn't legally have a bank account in the US until 1974, and while they were able to file for divorce much earlier, how would they live independently without their own finances?

I saw a "put a finger down" challenge on Tiktok recently about whether or not a person now would have qualified for a lobotomy in the 1940s - According to a New York Times article from 1937, people with the following symptoms would benefit from a lobotomy: Tension, apprehension, anxiety, depression, insomnia, suicidal ideas, delusions, hallucinations, crying spells, melancholia, obsessions, panic states, disorientation, psychalgesia (pains of psychic origin), nervous indigestion and hysterical paralysis.

According to a cursory internet search, Wikipedia claims at least 60% of lobotomy patients were women. The symptoms lobotomies aimed to treat were also often labeled as "hysteria" which Freud and others studied at length.

Mid 2023 I finally started listening to an audiobook that my therapist had been recommending for years - Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman. In the beginning of the book she makes a point that is applicable across so many situations happening in our world right now: Academic understanding and study of trauma can only progress when society at large openly acknowledges and holds space for it.

In terms of western women's mental healthcare; Freud first determined that those experiencing symptoms of hysteria had some history of sexual violence. Unfortunately when he published these findings in The Aetiology of Hysteria in 1896, the medical community ostracized him. His theory also caused him so much cognitive dissonance, that he decided there must be another reason so many women experienced these symptoms. It must somehow be their fault - our fault.

It's hard to look fully at our past and sometimes our current realities. It's almost always easier to silence and discredit those living the stories that highlight uncomfortable truths. I don't say this to convey shame. When we lack the tools as a society to hold space for our collective shadows and our collective love and joy, we will keep finding chances to look away.

Some countries are very forthright about their expectations for women's silence.

This year on International Women's Day thanks to the Yale affinity groups, I had the opportunity to go hear a moderated discussion by Homiera Qaderi, an Afghan writer, advocate for women's rights, and professor of Persian literature, who is currently a writer in residence at Yale. She is the author of Dancing in the Mosque, a riveting memoir about her fight to have contact with her son, and her experience growing up and fighting for women's autonomy in Afghanistan.

Listening to her talk about her life and her passion for storytelling was deeply healing and inspiring. It was one of those moments that reminded me why I am so passionate about what I do, whether it's writing, creating art, or taking photos.

I mentioned earlier that we as a society have a hard time holding space for the collective shadows of our world, and especially the hate and violence against women. I'm speaking for myself here too. I have a hard time looking at the facts without feeling deeply unsafe, and losing hope that real equity is possible. Many of my friends have enjoyed the book and TV show The Handmaids Tale and while I did read the book, I can't bring myself to watch the show, because I have a visceral fear of those events happening in real life. This fear is part of why I have a hard time holding space for our collective shadows. When asked about how she fuels her activism without burning out, Dr. Qaderi shared three things that I now remember every time I feel that fear sitting in the bottom of my stomach. She said she kept speaking up and going against the social expectations of her country and community because she knew too many quiet women who died of heart attacks in their homes. This seems a potential result of staying silent and having no outlet while living under extreme patriarchy. She keeps going, because so many of her friends only recourse in times of war and oppression was self immolation. She said their names. They visit her in her dreams. It's her mission to tell their collective stories. And she believes that what kept her from sharing their fate was storytelling. The stories her family told her as a little girl to distract her from bombs dropping and machine gun fire. The stories she writes, and the stories she teaches others to write. I've believed our stories matter for years, but lately I've forgotten how powerful they really can be. And for once, International Women's Day was galvanizing and hopeful, even in the face of an uncertain future.

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