A simple pen and ink sketch – the outline of a loaf of hearty bread, speckled with seeds and a single rose, just barely opening laid alongside – transfer it to the mylar – cut ever so carefully – adhere to the screen – add the ink and pull – Voila!! This is how we made silk screened t- shirts – we, being the left leaning, counter-cultural crowd I ran with in my early twenties – and this design in particular - that we made for International Women’s Day one year. Other times we crafted small individual loaves of crusty wheat bread and fashioned pink and red ribbon roses to put on the wrapper as gifts. I still have one in my box of keepsakes! We were, in part about the business of raising awareness around alternative holidays; steering away from the Hallmark usuals; digging into the origins of many that we celebrate today and exposing their roots. Culture shift through education and celebration! It remains in my bones still today. Our opening hymn this morning, “As We Come Marching, Marching” written by James Oppenheim, was inspired by the 1912 walkout of textile workers in Lawrence, MA. The textile industry was booming there, employing mostly immigrants – women and children – whose wages were never sufficient and whose death rate saw most leaving this life by age 25. When state laws reduced the number of hours those women could work to 54 per week, the millowners responded by reducing their pay. There was an initial strike, but the following day between 10 and 25,000 largely women textile workers in Lawrence took to the streets. In the talks that followed they demanded pay increases, a reasonable work week, and overtime pay. Union organizers showed up, one woman was killed in the melee, and martial law was imposed. Accusations and blame were traded back and forth between organizers and public officials and some of the children of strikers were sent off to foster homes in New York. As the general public became more aware of these atrocities, and the federal government intervened, some two months later the millowners relented. This is often referred to as the “Bread and Roses” strike because one protester’s sign declared that the women were fighting for both bread and roses – sustenance and beauty. Bread and Roses became the title of Oppenheim’s poem and a rallying cry for the suffrage movement, and for women textile workers across the nation. International Women’s Day has its origins in the early 1900’s in the Socialist Party of America which organized a Woman’s Day in New York in 1909 after which German delegates proposed an International Socialist Women’s Conference. When Russian women gained suffrage in 1917, March 8th became a national holiday there and was mostly celebrated by the socialist movement and in communist countries. It was adopted by the feminist movement around 1967 and the United Nations began celebrating it in 1977, advocating for women’s rights and world peace. While the day is promoted now as more of a feel-good holiday to celebrate women, its origins speak of something deeper. This glossing over of the root causes and obvious inequities with regard to women in the work realm is both patronizing and all too common place. And so much hasn’t changed. I recently read an article stating that feminism has failed women; that a feminism grounded in solidarity as opposed to success might be a better way to go. The feminism that tells me ‘as a woman I can have it all’ – that translates to - ‘all that men have’ – without creating systems that support my having it – things like healthcare for all, paid leave for those caring for infants, and a
universal basic income for anyone raising children in the home - is actually a trap. The pandemic has shone a bright light on what women have known all along: All women are working women. As women struggle to work from home where there is already a level of assumed work given that moms are disproportionately the default when it comes to childcare; and on top of this have become homeschoolers as well, we see the layers of work pile up, rapidly burying them. Progressive solutions require us to think about the value of infant care and childrearing; about the communal nature of this responsibility; and about the overall benefits to children, individual women, and families. Equity in the workplace means leveling the playing field in terms of the dignity we ascribe to all forms of work. The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is “Choose to Challenge,” challenging inequality, calling out bias, questioning stereotypes, and helping to forge an inclusive world. The United Nations is focusing on women in leadership; on achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world, highlighting the impact that girls and women worldwide have had as health care workers, caregivers, innovators, and community organizers. Listen to this video by spoken word poet Anisa Nandaula. IWD: IWD 2021 campaign theme: #ChooseToChallenge (internationalwomensday.com) These powerful words show us a much bigger picture of the inequities internationally that women face today. What she suggests is that the book is not yet fully written; that there can be more to the story, that we can choose to challenge outmoded understandings of the role of women as they interact with their world. One aspect of women’s work that I have discovered over time is that so called women’s issues become the work of women to dismantle. Maybe you think that, well, they are the ones struggling, why wouldn’t it be their responsibility? But the truth is that it takes the collective efforts of the powerless and the powerful together, to actually fashion a difference. We need to listen to what effected women need and then to respond from a place of means. It takes collaboration – the creation of new solutions based on the input of all involved. The Biden administration has resurrected a Gender Policy Council first envisioned during the Clinton administration which will this time have a seat in the main office. Its focus will be those “women’s issues” previously relegated to women to figure out – the pay gap, sexual harassment, reproductive health, and childcare. This is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t guarantee change. And while it is geared to the inequities here in the US it does nothing to address international issues – things like those Ms. Nandaula articulated – child trafficking, gender stereotyping, lack of education, to name a few. Unitarian Universalism asks us to challenge inequities based on gender; to educate ourselves about the intersections of marginalization and to lend our voices to movements advocating for gender equality. Did you know that in Massachusetts there has yet to be passed an act to end child marriage or to support parents who choose to run for office (Read: “women” here) so they can afford to do so? Our faith asks us to look at our own systems locally; to weed out and to challenge disparities we find right here on Cape Cod as we look at our tourist economy and its impact on immigrant women and children. What are we doing to ensure a living wage, adequate housing, and healthcare for the very people we rely on for services? Can we choose to challenge right here at our Meeting House when we envision our future, putting in place
mechanisms that provide for equity in decision making, staffing and focus? I chose a long time ago to challenge, at first out of necessity for my own survival, but then because I have never forgotten my journey. There are things I can’t “unsee.” And it seems to be a part of me and of my ministry always to encourage others to challenge as well. May we take this International Women’s Day and its theme to heart. May we each explore and uncover our own niche – the thing that means the most to us when it comes to gender inequity – and challenge the systems that support it. May we be challenged ourselves and courageous enough to challenge others. May we work toward a future that promises both bread and roses. So may it be and Amen.