Who is supposed to celebrate Women’s Day, and more importantly, what’s the point?

Sonam Nair, the director of ‘Masaba Masaba’ and ‘Gippi’ talks about the irrelevance of Women's Day and the banality of 'women-first' campaigns in a world inching towards gender-fluidity.

Harper's Bazaar India

Smack in the middle of rush hour last week, my car indicated to me that it needed petrol. Luckily, the gas station was a minute away. As luck would have it, every station had an eight-car pile-up. I joined the tail of the one that looked the shortest, begrudgingly accepting my fate. What other option did I have? I couldn’t let the car shut down in the middle of Linking Road, Khar (in Mumbai) and have every passerby mock me for being the woman who thought she could drive a giant SUV but obviously failed. No, this is better. It should be done in 10 minutes, maybe 15. I was deep into my Pamela Anderson interview podcast anyway. But then... a miracle! 

Off to my left was an empty station with a pink feminine silhouette, and it read “Exclusively for Women”. Could it be? Could being a woman finally mean jumping the queue and going straight to the front? With a triumphant smile, I left my line and went to the empty station, blessing my womanhood. And then I waited. And waited some more. All the cars in the other line got their petrol and left, new cars came in, got their petrol and left. There was no one to attend the women-only station. And there was no way for me to back up and get in the main line again. I had to wait till the entire crowd dissipated and awkwardly reverse while the station agents sneered at me, and then finally, I got petrol. All this just to be reminded that if I wanted to get anywhere in life, I had to stay in the men’s lane. Women getting a shortcut to anything is a myth. Don’t fall for it, ladies.

We get Women’s Day, though. The most special of days, celebrating goddess energy and all things feminine... by giving women a 5 per cent discount on all skincare products that societal beauty norms have forced us to get addicted to. Or go a step further/ahead by generating a whole cycle of revenue for advertising agencies forcing Women’s Day integrations into their usually sexist campaigns or by getting desserts for all female employees who are paid 40 per cent less than their male counterparts. Or by arguing on social media about why there isn’t a Men’s Day (that’s every other day) or why every day can’t be Women’s day (because that’s Men’s Day)? This year it coincides with Holi, so women can celebrate getting their consent violated on the same day. It’s a win-win.

As a female filmmaker, and yes, I’m constantly reminded of my gender because every call I get is because they want ‘a woman director for a women-oriented project’, Women’s Day is a prolific time for me. People want me to direct brand films, be featured in articles, give interviews about being a woman in the entertainment industry, and many such glamorous things. I’m always awkward, almost hesitant to put my womanhood before my personhood. If personhood is not a word, it should be. I’m tired of being a woman first, and then a human being. I never think of myself in those terms, and it continues to shock me how much time and energy the world continues to give to gender. So a ‘Women’s Day’ to me feels like another way of othering, drawing more lines than necessary, especially if you’re not a Cis-gender heterosexual woman.

I do feel a shift in the air. Gender fluidity is sexy now. Sometimes it feels like celebrities are appropriating the LGBTQIA+ community, sometimes it feels like support and visibility for those who don’t want to be defined by the gender spectrum, but there is growing representation of transgenders and the non-binary community in the media. We all read about the transgender couple that paused their transitions to have a baby, challenging the very notion of what makes someone a man or a woman. So then... who is supposed to celebrate Women’s Day, and more importantly, what’s the point? To me it’s just a capitalistic gimmick, like the “Exclusively for Women" petrol station, and just as much of a waste of time and energy. Imagine if all this energy was spent on making policies that benefit women, reducing the gender wage gap, ensuring safety protocols, educating young girls about sexual harassment... the list is endless. But till then... I’ll just like your Instagram post celebrating your mother, sister, and girlfriend.