What’s with the flowers on international women’s day? No, seriously! Why do I get a red rose from my employer on this day? That’s not meant as a rhetorical question. I really don’t understand the reasoning behind it.
Do they feel, like they need to court me? Does anyone have a romantic interest in me? We already are in a relationship. A professional business relationship that is, not a romantic one. So, what’s with the rose? A rose is a symbol of love and passion. Most people associate romantic feelings or aspirations with it. I am certainly no exception.
When I saw the HR manager on Thursday walk into our office with a bunch of red roses on her arm, I could not help but feel awkward. Every single rose was neatly wrapped in plastic foil with a small white bow around the stalk. You know, the kind old flower-ladies offer when you sit with someone of the opposite sex in a street-cafe or a cozy restaurant with a violin player? They then ask for a horrendous price and often get it, simply because everybody is intimidated by the situation. And then you’re stuck with the rose for the rest of the evening, carrying it around your sightseeing, on buses or taxis, in bars or clubs… You’ve been through that, I’m sure.
That’s not, what this day is all about. The reason for a special international day that honors women is the lack of rights and the discrimination, which women experience in most of the world. It is a day that should remind everybody that this is a serious issue and the way to equal rights for women is still long and needs to be actively pursued. It is a day that should remind us to honor women and respect them for who they are, to recognize achievements and contributions made by women. Moreover, it is a reminder to acknowledge the important roles women play and the impact we have, also when there are no outstanding accomplishments attributed directly.
Especially in this day and time, while the whole world is swept by the wave of “me too”, challenging a sexist-macho society to take a serious look in the mirror, there should be a more appropriate way to honor the women among the employees.
Instead, I smile with some embarrassment at the HR manager as she hands me the red rose, while all the men in the office stare at us. I am the only woman in the department. I enjoy the respect of my fellow workers, which I have earned, because of my professionalism and intelligence and because I know how to shut them up when they make sexist remarks. They do not shun from telling dirty jokes in my presence, making fun or getting into wordy arguments. I am not afraid to speak my mind, I have an opinion and will not back down when I know I am right. We speak about kids and cooking, about politics and philosophy, books and music, sports and cars. It has taken a little work to get there, but I do not feel any “less” than the guys in the office. Every now and then I need to remind them of it.
In this moment of being given a flower with romantic associations attached, I suddenly was singled out. I felt almost belittled. I was reminded, that women are viewed as objects of desire, that women are associated with emotion and romance. Women are allowed and expected to love and be passionate. That’s fine. But I can be that all year long. At home. And so can a man. I want to be equally respected when I am calculating, fact-oriented, competitive, ambitious, opinionated, and even aggressive at times, as is expected of a man in the professional world. All these are needed in order to succeed in a job, especially as one moves up the ladder.
We mustn’t let ourselves be reduced to romantic, emotional creatures. As long as that is the case, we need special days to remind everyone that we are more. Then why do women give romantic symbols to women on this day? If we keep putting ourselves in the role of the one who wants to be conquered and protected and romanticize the whole thing with flowers, that’s where we will stay: in the position of the object for desire. We can not win the respect we wish for at our workplace, as long as we honor ourselves with symbols of romantic desire instead of relating to our own selves with professional respect and addressing our own issues with the required sincerity.