happy international women’s day!

i’ve only celebrated this holiday for real twice—both times in italy, where it’s an official holiday. the first time, i was an exchange student my junior year of high school in palermo, sicily and i think i got flowers, as did all the women i knew. all day long the men were very quiet and complimentary to the women, and it was nice if a bit weird for me, i kept wondering ‘what’s the big deal? why are the men so strange today?’ (i was 16, just barely, and a little clueless.)

the second time around, however, answered that question. i had just finished high school and was really not ready for college yet so i took advantage of my older sister going abroad for her junior year of college and tagged along to perugia, italy. that year, when march 8th rolled around, some female friends asked us to go out and celebrate.

apparently in italy, not only are women supposed to receive a bouquet of mimosa flowers that day as well as special attention and basically thanks from men, but they also take over the city streets, bars, restaurants, you name it. no man who is smart will go out in public that night unless he wants to get cat-called and whistled at by large groups of roving women.

i remember we went out to a dance club that usually had a 3-1 ratio of men to women but that night there were just a few unlucky men who had forgotten what day it was. after dancing, we went out to eat very late—same experience, with almost all male waiters however, and we really teased the poor guys. then out into the street. that was the best part—it was really late but i didn’t feel a single bit of fear or worry as i usually would have about the dark corners and shady alleys. we stayed out for hours, laughing and singing and running around, bumping into others groups of women and generally just having a great time.

international women’s day has more meaning than just making men feel uncomfortable for a night or even making women feel comfortable for a night, i know that—but it was such an amazing feeling for me: no fears or worrying about men who follow, no avoiding deserted streets, and most of all, knowing that if i yelled out at any moment, i would be immediately surrounded and protected by women. so for me, women’s day since then has meant safety and community—something that women should feel and experience every day of the year.

so, happy women’s day all of you incredible women – may you feel safe and loved today of all days.

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