According to their website, International Women’s Day (March 8) is a “global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. In some places like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, International Women’s Day is a national holiday.” The day was established to honor the work of the suffragettes who campaigned for women’s right to vote. (Note that the word “suffragette” is derived from “suffrage,” the right to vote. Today some women prefer to lose the “-ette” syllable, which diminishes any word it’s added to, and say “suffragist.”) “Great unrest and critical debate,” the website continues, “was occurring amongst women [at the beginning of the 20th century]. Women’s oppression and inequality was [sic.] spurring women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change. Then in 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.”
On March 19, 1911, the site continues, “more than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination. However less than a week later on 25 March, the tragic Triangle Fire in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working women, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants. This disastrous event drew significant attention to working conditions and labour legislation in the United States that became a focus of subsequent International Women’s Day events.”
Two thousand years earlier in Rome, the month of March began with the Matronalia, or Festival of Women, when the Vestal Virgins entered a sacred grove and hung offerings of their hair on the oldest tree. Some historians say that Roman matrons served their female slaves at this feast. For every baby born in Rome, a coin was deposited in the temple of Juno Lucina, “Light,” to give thanks to the goddess for a safe birth.
Because Juno is the guiding light of women of all times and ages, let’s have our own International Women’s Day Matronalia and invite mothers and daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters, aunts and sisters and girlfriends. Why do we need a new Matronalia? Because men—the phallocracy, as Mary Daly calls ’em—have been wrestling women to the ground for thousands of years. Because during the Age of Pericles, when Athenian men were inventing democracy, married women weren’t allowed to leave the house. Because in Victorian England, it is said, a law decreed that the stick a man beat his wife with could be no bigger around than his thumb. Because the Taliban took every possible human right away from women and other extremists keep kidnapping schoolgirls. Because the nuns on the bus are still metaphorically on that bus and not in positions of power in the Curia. Because in the 21st century women’s jobs still have lower status and pay than men’s jobs. I’m not writing a feminist rant, though. Of course we love our husbands and adore our sons, but it’s our girlfriends we turn to when we need attention and support. That’s why we have an International Women’s Day and a Matronalia and a reason to celebrate.
First, decorate the room with garlands and sprays and bunches of flowers and green plants and blooming plants in pots. Because we’re honoring Juno Lucina, illuminate the room with masses of beeswax candles or lamps with beautiful, beaded silk shades. Put pale pink bulbs in the lamps. (That pink light does wonders for our looks. Yes, it’s OK to be vain.) Let’s decorate ourselves, too and wear our most colorful, most fantastic outfits.
This is a feast day. Find out what the girls and women coming to the Matronalia really like to eat. Like, when they’re not on diets. If it’s pepperoni pizza and chocolate cake and tacos and fried rice and crudités, that’s fine. Order take-out food so no one has to cook or wash dishes, but if someone wants to cook, honor her (and help her clean up). Before you eat, give a bite of food to another woman and say, “May you never hunger.”
How do we spend our day together? Let’s tell stories. Let’s talk about the springtimes of our lives, when we still had invisible friends and thought we could do anything. Grandmother can tell us what she did to have fun in the days before computers and social media. Mother can tell stories about the succulent things she did before…..well, before she had to get serious about motherhood. Granddaughter can talk about her dreams, about what she wants to be when she grows up. Girlfriends can tell stories about the wicked, wicked things they’ve done together and how they’ve come to each other’s rescue. And loaned each other clothes and jewelry. Every story, of course, should receive tremendous applause. Plus promises to help your girlfriends when help is needed.
Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic. Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations. When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.