International Women’s Day has a surprisingly long history. About a hundred years ago, the events that brought about the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II in Russia started on International Women’s Day, with a strike led by women for “bread and peace”. International Women’s Day, known as la festa della donna, is a major celebration in culturally Catholic Italy, where all women are given a spray of yellow forsythia on this day.
But in culturally Catholic Argentina, as Inés San Martin reports, International Women’s Day has become the day on which to attack the Catholic Church. This goes beyond the exercise of free speech and has spilled over into acts of violence against Catholic churches. It is offensive, naturally, and also deeply depressing.
Here are a few reasons why.
First of all, the Catholic Church believes in dialogue with its critics, because, among other things, it rejects violence as a way of solving disagreements, and it believes in the sovereignty of reason.
Given that reason is, or should be, universal, it follows that reasoning should be able to provide a common language for the resolution of differences, at least in theory. However, in practice, as we all know, this is not the case, not because reason has failed, but because people mistake their subjective feelings for a reasoned approach.
The women who staged the “abortion” outside the cathedral in Tucuman (which Inés San Martin describes) presumably “believe” in abortion, but nothing about their performance expresses in a coherent way what the reasoning behind their belief might be. Indeed, this street theatre is a sign that public discourse has broken down, and reasoned conversation has ceased, to be replaced by the language of incoherent protest. This cannot be a good thing.
Secondly, the words about burning churches down, and the attack on the young man in the Plaza de Mayo outside the cathedral of Buenos Aires – in other words threats of arson and actual violence – are deeply dispiriting, as they show very little regard for history. (Or perhaps it is worse than that: perhaps these women know history, and wish to repeat it.)
In Spain before and during the Civil War, numerous churches were burned down, and numerous religious people, clerical and lay, were killed. This is a period of history to which no reasonable person should want to return and no one should want to celebrate. If one does, one really has to ask what merit one sees in the burning of churches? If one is opposed to the Catholic Church, is setting fire to its buildings the best argument that you can advance against it?
It seems that in Argentina there are elements who wish to replay the disastrous history of the Spanish Republic in the 1930s. Many people who would have supported the legal government of Spain at that time did not do so because that government seemed to allow the persecution of the Church: in other words the government failed to uphold the law. Let’s remember that arson is illegal. So is physical assault. So, are the women who marched in Argentina on International Women’s Day in favour of the rule of law, or are they not? If they are, they need to condemn these illegal acts.
All self-proclaimed revolutionary movements see legality as something they can set aside. But if we look to Russia 100 years ago, we see where that leads: tyranny. Feminists, like the rest of us, need to keep to the laws of the land and the laws of reason and the laws of civility. It would be good if the forces of law and order in Argentina made a few arrests following the excesses of International Women’s Day.