Companies have outdone themselves
Today is International Women’s Day, and once again I find myself overwhelmingly underwhelmed. International Women’s Day, a global event designed to celebrate the cultural, political and socio-economic achievements of women, has been transformed from a feminist focal point to the equivalent of a Hallmark holiday: contrived, commercialised, cynical claptrap.
At best, the nods to International Women’s Day are benign but random; for example, why did e-scooter company Tier feel the need to email this morning to reassure me that they are committed to making women ‘safer and more confident on their journeys’? I’m not sure hiring more e-scooters is the answer to that particular problem.
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At worst, these PR opportunities are fundamentally hypocritical. For example, Pornhub has updated its logo with the female gender symbol in honour of the day, as if that somehow atones for the fact that they directly profit from female and child sex abuse, rape, trafficking and revenge porn. Pornhub is a fundamentally dangerous platform that fetishises humanity’s worst impulses (its new category of ‘Ukrainian girls’ being a prime example) and the thought that anyone could consider it an advocate for women’s rights is laughable.
There is something deeply embarrassing about companies competitively clambering to suddenly show off their feminist credentials. Twitter has become a pageant of PR-pruning, an endless enumeration of virtue-signalling made all the more reductive by their air of desperation. There is even a whole new Twitter account — Gender Pay Gap Bot — dedicated to revealing pay discrepancies in companies that tweet about International Women’s Day, and it is full of glib stories of companies trying to #BreakTheBias while simultaneously underpaying their female employees.
For instance, law firm Shearman and Sterling tweeted a video with ‘inspirational’ quotes from partners pledging to support women in their careers. Yet why are all these promises only from female partners? It may want to ‘spotlight’ its female members, but it is evident from just a quick glance at their website that there are far more male partners than female ones, and so the responsibility shouldn’t fall solely on their shoulders.
Women don’t need a pedestal for a single day; they need commitment to equal opportunity everyday. Perhaps my social media feed of statements of solidarity and inspirational infographics feels particularly grating because of what is happening in Ukraine. Yes, there are plenty of articles released today admiring Ukrainian women’s bravery, resilience and contributions, but the fact these are written on the 8th March doesn’t strengthen these sentiments, it undermines them. It makes the recognition tokenistic because it implies that their fortitude is only worthy of front page news because it’s International Women’s Day, when the reality is that it is brave regardless.