Marvin MillerSubmitted by Marvin Miller

As a male humanist I must be a feminist.

I once saw a bumper sticker that said “Feminism is the radical idea that women are people.” For most of history this idea was radical everywhere. It’s still a radical idea in a lot of places.

March 8 is International Women’s Day. Like May 1 as a labor holiday, it has American roots, but is not officially celebrated here. The idea to celebrate the day was formally proposed in 1910 by German socialists Clara Zetkin and Luise Zietz.  The two were inspired by American demonstrations the previous year for universal suffrage and the rights of women in the workplace.

In the years that followed, socialists in various countries demonstrated for the rights of women, especially women workers. March 8 was established as the date for such demonstrations a few years later. The revolutionary Leon Trotsky was quoted as saying that such a demonstration in Russia in 1917 triggered the revolution that forced the abdication of the Czar. When left-wing socialists, who called themselves Communists, won governmental power in what had been the Russian empire, they made Women’s Day an official holiday. In recent years it was adopted as an international holiday by the United Nations and other international organizations, without its socialist or radical character. In some places it’s just an occasion for men to give gifts to women, like Valentine’s Day.

Some countries where International Women’s Day had been a holiday  abolished that holiday because of its association with the Communists. The idea, perhaps, was that anything that the Communists advocated, like equality for women, must be bad. The same idea was used to justify the persecution of Martin Luther King Jr. by the FBI.

When the U.S. constitution was adopted, someone asked Benjamin Franklin whether we had a republic or a monarchy. His answer was “a republic, if you can keep it.”

International Women’s Day reminds us that the need to act for the rights of women as equals with men continues. Rights once won won’t automatically stay won.   Action is required to maintain them. The right of women to be free from government-mandated forced continuation of unwanted pregnancies has been lost in some states, and is under attack in others. The right of workers, including women workers, to join together to bargain with their employers for adequate wages, fair treatment, and decent working conditions has been eroded in this country and is currently under continued attack and will be lost if it is not defended by action.

A humanistic ethic favors the radical idea that women are people.