Opinion

#BalanceforBetter this International Women's Day and beyond

For over a century, International Women’s Day, on March 8, has stood as a reminder to people in every country to fight for equality between men and women.

Women have fought for the right to vote, to work, to hold public office. They continue to fight for equal pay, to end discrimination, to be believed when speaking out about sexual assault, for adequate health care and maternity leave, and dozen of other issues that can’t all be listed here.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2019 is hashtag #BalanceforBetter. Internationalwomensday.com explains that the theme derives from grass roots activism to worldwide action. “We are entering an exciting period of history where the world expects balance. We notice its absence and celebrate its presence,” they write on their website.

Southeast Iowa is lucky to have had many influential feminists pass through its towns.

The first female lawyer in the U.S., Belle Babb Mansfield, took the bar exam in the Union Block building in Mt. Pleasant. She graduated from Iowa Wesleyan University, where she later became a professor.

In fact, the Iowa Organization of Women Attorneys will hold their an annual meeting this year at the Union Block Building to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Mansfield’s admission to the Iowa bar in the very room where it happened on April 30.

I’ve been told Sojourner Truth, a former slave and outspoken advocate for abolition and women’s suffrage in the 1800s, once spoke at that same Union Block building.

Truth’s “Ain’t I a woman?” speech given at an Ohio Women’s Convention in 1851, continues to ring true today by criticizing feminists for focusing on the experiences of white women, Aamna Mohdin wrote for Quartz.

In 2017, 1,500 people joined a march in Sacramento, Calif., called “Ain’t I A Woman,” a black women’s rights march organized in response to the overwhelming whiteness of the Women’s March on Washington in 2016, Mohdin wrote.

Audrey Murrell, contributing writer for Forbes, poses the question: “How can we move toward a more gender-balanced world?”

She argues that on International Women’s Day and beyond, it’s important to recognize the intersectionality of women of color and include that perspective in efforts to solve the problems of gender gaps in pay, differences in educational outcomes and persistent disparities in health care.

Other women, like “The Good Place” actor Jameela Jamil, are using their influence to campaign for body positivity. On her social media platforms, Jamil speaks out against narrowly defined beauty standards and asks women to find value beyond “flesh and bones.”

Jamil attacks unrealistic beauty standards — from diet pills, laxatives and fad diets to Photoshop, body shaming and fat-phobia.

“When you filter a woman’s photo, you are legitimizing the patriarchy’s absurd aesthetic standards, that women should be attractive to the straight, male gaze at all costs,” Jamil wrote in an Op-Ed for BBC.

Every one of these issues is just as important as the other in creating a more balanced world that sees women as just as valuable as men.

Women in southeast Iowa continue to be progressive feminists.

Annie Guldberg, of Mt. Pleasant, whom I had the privilege of interviewing last week, is creating a stripe to represent Iowa in a national art project that celebrates the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.

Vicky Bergstron, who lives at Sunnybrook Assisted Living in Mt. Pleasant, is one of the oldest women to have played high school girls basketball in the 1930s. She began playing basketball in eight grade in Olds, a little over a decade after the first girls basketball tournament was held in 1920.

Bergstron was honored at the Iowa girls’ state basketball tournament, which is the oldest girls’ high school state tournament in the U.S., on Saturday, March 2.

I’m proud to live in southeast Iowa, where there is a rich history of progressive and outspoken women. I hope women and men here will continue to speak out against sexism, call it by name, and find ways to balance the scale.