Friday, March 9, 2018

Belated Thoughts on International Women's Day

I don't have much fondness for holidays, thinking as I do that what is worth commemorating by such a grand gesture is worth remembering more often than once per year. Too I think that celebrating something once a year has less the effect of drawing its value into focus so that we vividly see its meaning than it does of giving license to forget about that meaning through the rest of the year.

That said, I have more faith in some holidays than others. I prefer those steeped at least in tradition, if not religion. Easter reigns supreme, mostly unscathed by modern culture because its preparatory period of abstinence and the ineluctable element of suffering at its heart are unpalatable today. I'm most skeptical of modern, secular, international holidays, as they mostly seem cooked up for contemporary appetites, concocted out of whatever elements happen to be at hand.

It's probably so, though, that many holidays and festivals which today are solemn have an inglorious origin, sometimes pragmatic and others simply expedient. I am reminded of two accounts from Livy, one of my favorite Latin authors and one not remembered well enough as a masterful storyteller, that remind us of what gets lost in the years of retelling.

The first regards how the Lupercalia, a Roman festival of purifying and fertility that included a nude trot along the Palatine, was begun even before the founding of Rome when two youths ran around naked for "sport and wantonness" (per lusum atque lasciviam), in honor of Pan. The second tale concerns the passing of Romulus, who was either carried away on a cloud during a sudden storm on the Campus Martius or, some say, torn to pieces by the senators.

Much like being torn to pieces, International Women's day is hard to like, and not just because I don't have faith in it, a modern, secular, international holiday if there ever was one. Rather it is the spirit of antagonism that never seems to have dissipated from its socialist origins. The first march was organized by socialist-suffragist-activist Theresa Malkiel in 1909 and caught on among the communists until in 1977 that uncorrupted body of wisdom, The United Nations, enshrined the celebration in History for every March 8th thence until the breaking of the world.

Despite my reservations, though, I forestalled this mild condemnation because I saw some good women posting good things, which was enough to give me pause. In my further considerations of the day I was reminded of the reaction I had roughly a decade ago upon opening a philosophy book written by a professor of mine in college.

It is the book's inscription to which I refer. First, it was dedicated to her sister, sadly deceased before the age of thirty. Second, that dedication is to "all women who, being great of mind and heart, are denied the life of one in the pain of the other."

My first thought upon re-reading this today, as a stay-at-home dad, was, I confess, one of crudest obscenity. I may not be great of mind but I have a few marbles rolling around up in my head and I spend some days rolling around actual marbles with my daughter. Equally, I will miss these months at home with her terribly when the day comes that I daily leave for the working world. Why should anyone "of great mind and heart" in such a situation, not be regarded?

My first reaction to that line a decade ago, however, was a profound sense of exclusion. Even then, with so little experience, I could not understand why one would narrow one's embrace like that, especially in preface to a book on philosophy. What more could bind all minds and hearts together than the pursuit of wisdom? Did Goethe overreach, and Beethoven when he set to music, Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt! ?

But then, though, something pricked my conscience, or I maybe I pricked my own conscience. . . at any rate it occurred to me that women were indeed excluded from many things, in many places, for a long time. Surely many felt excluded, but many surely never even conceived of a life other than what was evident around them.

Still, many and various people were excluded from the many and various things, and continue to be, so I'm not sure just how moved to be by the plight of any one group in particular, more than the plight of unfortunates everywhere and at every time.

In the end, I don't begrudge my old professor her dedication, for all honest emotion starts not in universals but in relations, often suffering, with our loved ones. I do, though, doubt the wisdom of factionalizing sympathy, and wonder whether it might do more harm than good. Perhaps when such sympathy is shared, it is best expressed through that which speaks to all. I am more moved to be a good husband, father, and son, by Shakespeare, for example, than by leftwing ideology and pink-stained influencers, less by hashtagged bromides than by the Bard's plainest, most haunting words, "I might have saved her; now she's gone for ever!"

Still I don't begrudge women their day, but when I weigh the socialism and antagonism I see associated with and brought out on the day, it seems to me that like most recently concocted holidays it has done and continues to do more harm than good. To its organization's credit, though, the website for International Women's day urges us to "Make IWD your day! - everyday!" #Progress

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