Happy Women’s History Month, y’all! While we haven’t worked out all our feelings on designating a single month to delineate and “celebrate” certain groups, we at With Love Lenny will always jump at the opportunity to uplift those who reshape our world towards beauty, justice, growth, and love. And seeing as it is literally International Women’s Day, we thought we’d begin by taking a journey into the past.
Let us say outright that any celebration of IWD needs to be intersectional. As Dr. Jasmine Syedullah says, “accountability is a contemplative practice,” one that requires us to look at the intersections of identity and how they produce unique experiences and expertise, engaging honestly with the ways in which our systems categorize and subjugate folks into discriminatory hierarchies. This isn’t about shame, guilt, or punishment. This is about collective contemplation and accountability, and looking through lenses that will allow us to acknowledge truth, and move beyond these limitations and oppressive systems together.
What we now know as International Women’s Day got its start in early 20th century America, when the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) unionized and “drew together educated women reformers (mostly white, Protestant and native-born) and young women workers (many of them immigrant Jews, Italians and Irish).” Social movements work better the more people they empower, and the ILGWU crossing class barriers was pretty revolutionary for the time, the first steps of what was to become a larger movement.
In February 1908, “The Uprising” began, when ~20,000 badass women – most of whom were white garment workers – went on strike, marching through NYC in protest of the low wages, dangerous working conditions, and sexual harassment that had come to define their (now our) industry. “The Uprising” itself lasted for weeks (!), and similar strikes continued throughout that year. On February 28, 1909, the first National Women’s Day was launched, with the Socialist Party of America at the forefront.
At the second International Conference of Working Women in 1910, a push was made to turn the day into an “international movement,” with German socialist Clara Zetkin at the helm, uniting women in the demand for suffrage – women from India, Japan, and across Europe were in attendance. The first International Women’s day was held on March 19, 1911, with crowds topping 1 million people worldwide. Even as WWI began in 1914, women “continued to march and demonstrate on International Women's Day,” because, you know, women. In 1975, the United Nations officiated March 8th as International Women’s Day, and today it is celebrated in more than 100 countries, an official holiday in more than 25.
Now, that’s a very quick and minimalistic rundown of what was a seriously significant time. Similar to Second Wave Feminism, this was a moment in which women began to see themselves outside of the minuscule boxes assigned to them by patriarchal dominion. And though the effects of this movement were impactful and important, the women mobilizing for their rights were actually cultivating a very similar experience for their non-white counterparts, leaving behind Black women and women of color in their quest for “equality.”
It seems that the vision of that time, not unlike certain movements today, was lacking a truly liberatory framework, opting instead for a future that envisioned equality on the singular and binary track of sex, ignoring race, and ultimately viewing “freedom” as elevation to the status of the oppressor, that is, white men.
The Socialist spirit behind IWD defied class barriers, but specifically jilted Black women, who were consistently “segregated into the dirtiest and most unpleasant part of” any work they encountered. Many Black women were not “allowed” to work in factories, and “[t]he few who were ‘fortunate’ to become employed as factory workers worked longer hours and made less than white women.”
The same can be said for the suffrage component of what would become IWD – it did culminate in the right to vote across continents (the 19th amendment to the US constitution was signed on August 18th, 1920), but that extended almost exclusively to white women. As historian Martha S. Jones notes, “many Black women faced the beginning of a new movement for voting rights in the summer of 1920… a struggle they will wage alone because now the organizations that had led the movement for women’s suffrage are disbanding,” having seen what to them was a victory despite clearly leaving out swathes of women. Many white women of the time “aggressively sidelined” Black suffragists (some icons to Google: Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin, Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee and Nina Otero-Warren) in the struggle for voting rights, and that extends to the labor movement that spawned IWD. Black women did not secure the right to vote until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Now, we certainly aren’t here to defend or excavate the experiences of early 1900’s women – and there are infinite nuances to explore, as no group is a monolith – but without highlighting the racism and discrimination that have marred our social movements, we are contributing to the erasure of millions of women across history, continents, and issues (come back for more 🙌).
Okay, we’re a little all over the place today; the suffrage movement and International Women’s Day are not the same topic, nor are they going to be the focus of our blog posts during Women’s History Month. They are, however, connected, much like the issues we face today.
To talk about the history of International Women’s Day – the celebration of women, what women have accomplished, and how to best honor who and what have come before – we must look beyond the frameworks of white supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity that tell us all progress and evolution came from a small sect of white people (mostly men, but in this case women).
So, for the month of March, we at With Love Lenny invite you on a contemplative journey2, where we will be highlighting kickass women who reshape our world. Seeing as we are a denim company, we have chosen to focus specifically on those babes who have contributed to the sphere in which we ourselves operate: FASHUN, BABY! Not to worry, though – as mentioned, our world is one of interconnectivity and intersections, so we will cover more than just “fashion.” (And though the movement was imperfect, we thought it was pretty interesting that IWD has some of its roots in the fashion soil, too.)
Check back in to learn about some of the heros who have changed the course of the fashion industry, past, present and future. They are queens amongst us and we would be nowhere without their contributions, insight and truly revolutionary spirits.
With Love, Lenny
PS thank you for reading allllla dis, we promise our future posts won’t be quite so long 🙌❤️