International Women’s Day or Positive Reinforcement?

Those of you who own a dog will surely be familiar with the concept of positive reinforcement. The principle is simple: Dogs learn good behaviour by being rewarded for doing well. Treats, toys, physical affection, verbal praise or a combination of any of those, rewards your dog for correct behaviour.

We women have been incredibly good and we’ve made astonishing progress in just the past century, on all social, economic and political levels. We’ve secured the right to vote and own property (Hooray!), we have seen ourselves become successful students, scholars, businesswomen, Prime Ministers and scientists! We have received Nobel Prizes and some have inspired millions by merely putting pen to paper. As a result of this, in 1914 we were given a Universal commendation day: International Women’s Day, March the 8th; a day of reflection on all the acts of courage and determination made by women in the fight for equality. The day on which all governments recognise the necessity of sex and gender equality in law for 24 hours straight and then go to bed and forget all about it on the 9th.

What happens if our behaviour results in a perceived negative outcome? Punishment. A technique designed to weaken and eliminate ‘undesirable’ behaviour. Having watched India’s Daughter last night I realised how woefully true this is. India’s Daughter tells the poignant story of Jyoti Singh, a 23-year-old medical student from India. On December 16th 2012, Jyoti went out with a guy friend to watch The Life of Pi. On their way back, around 20.30, they boarded an off-duty bus with six men on board. Jyoti’s friend was beaten senseless and then the six men all took turns, violently raping and sadistically torturing her using an iron instrument. Jyoti was then eviscerated, her intestines wrapped in a piece of cloth, and she was remorselessly tossed off the bus and practically left for dead. 13 days after, Jyoti died in the hospital from internal injuries. Speaking to BBC as part of the documentary, Mukesh Singh, one of the six rapists, opened his mouth and society’s low value of females was exposed

“A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night…” He nonchalantly said. “A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. Boy and girl are not equal. Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes. About 20% of girls are good.” “When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape.”

His comments, an ignorant, pitiful, filthy product of poor education, violence and poverty, showed no signs of remorse. What strikes one the most is the irony of how a bunch of illiterate, oblivious and unaspiring murderers took the life of a bright, ambitious and benevolent young girl, whose dream was to one day build her own hospital in her ancestral village. The rapists’ actions were defended by their lawyer: ‘In our society we never allow our girls to come out from the house after 6:30 or 7:30 or 8:30 in the evening, with any unknown person… The lady is more precious than a gem, a diamond. It is up to you how you want to keep that diamond, if you put your diamond on the street, certainly the dog will take it out.’

I refuse to celebrate the 8th of March, until stereotypes regarding the role of women and men at birth are eradicated, until women like Jyoti can go on to become doctors, scientists, Prime Ministers, scholars, businesswomen and not be celebrated. We are not dogs. We do not need positive reinforcement and most of all we do not need punishment.

Happy International Women’s Day.




3 thoughts on “International Women’s Day or Positive Reinforcement?

  1. This was a great article but I have to say I really think you should still celebrate!
    We need to highlight and jubilate all the successes of women across the world and more importantly encourage this to continue.
    In many ways, you could argue we shouldn’t celebrate when monstrosities like that you described occur.
    But I believe that IWD is not just about celebrating but about making aware that inequality that still exists in everyone country of the world.
    Again really enjoyed your article!

  2. IWD has never simply been about applauding women’s progress alone though- the day encourages serious discussion and activism about the issues still faced by women over the globe. WOW Southbank, for example, is hosting a talk on sexual abuse and violence with a particular focus on the Rotherham enquiry, which has always been surrounded by a disturbing level of silence or been completely misinterpreted. It’s worth remembering as well that a celebration of women isn’t something we should take for granted; seeing as in so many parts of the world being female is seen as inherently shameful, an event like International Women’s Day could never happen.

  3. To say International Women’s Day is equivalent to giving positive reinforcement to a dog is sweeping with such little to expound your point. You’ve used a horrific and terrible story that is angering beyond words to demonstrate why women’s day shouldn’t be a thing, which is something that needs to be expanded in order to properly be argued. International Women’s Day, as some of the above commentators have mentioned, is not simply about saying ‘well done’. It’s an acknowledgement of the inequalities women face which are ignored, disregarded daily, and a designated space for discussion and teaching etc.; it is a source of hope for many. If anything, the fact that it is a ‘designated space’ might be cause for concern because of course it should be recognised every day, but the point is that it is not and this is one step towards that day when being a president/doctor/etc. is celebrated for its inherent merit, not because we have achieved it AS a woman… BUT right now that celebration is VITAL when so many girls across the world cannot even go to school cannot even have a job of any sort not simply the ones we view as more valuable to society. You yourself are utilising the platform for discussion that this day provides in order to get your on view across – this is what it’s all about! You can really see your passion in the article though, which is inspiring 🙂

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