The boy and I had one of our long-winded conversations last night.
"I have to go for a panel discussion on Saturday," I told him.
"Fer wot," he replied, getting, as is his wont, to the crux of the matter without much ado.
"It's a Women's Day event," I said, hoping he would leave it at that. But I should have known better. He is after all, my son. He has learnt at my knee all about telling the truth and asking an insane number of questions, and letting his curiosity never feel fettered no matter how badgered the party being questioned feels.
"Why we have women's day?" he asked. "Just like we have mother's day, father's day, and children's day?"
I must confess that the question had me a bit stumped, given that I've been grappling with my own inner dichotomy over the need for a women's day, but had quietly resigned myself into accepting that it existed, and yes, there was an international men's day as well, and wondered why they don't make such a hoopla over it as they do for women's day. Such questions apart, I sat there, in our pre-sleep-time conversation, trying to explain to my son-this little manling I had birthed, who was now too big for my lap-why we have a women's day.
"This is a day," I told him, "To celebrate women."
"Why do women need to be celebrated?" he asked. It was a valid question.
Why do women need to be celebrated? I asked him back. He stared at me, confusion writ large in his eyes.
Why would you celebrate me? I asked him. He thought for a moment, and began to put his thoughts together.
"Because you're my mother. And you take care of me. And you're pretty. And you're kind. And you laugh more than you cry. And you don't get frightened of anything. And because I love you."
He probably got it right, most of it.
But there's more. And he's probably too young to realise it right now, but there are many other reasons I want him to celebrate me for. More reasons than I can probably list out here.
Nonetheless, I began by telling him a bit about why women's day came about in the first place. "Once upon a time," I told him, as all good stories begin, "Women could not vote, they could not own property, they had no right to decide if they would like to have children or not, they weren't educated… Many brave women fought for the right to vote and the right to receive equal pay as men and all the other rights that women now have. This is why the UN declared March 8 as International Women's Day." This was as succinct a response as I could give him.
"But now everything is fine and equal, why do you still need to celebrate it?" he asked.
"We still have miles to go," I replied, "We need to celebrate to remind us of how far we've come and how far we still need to go."
And this is not the 'far' of the Hallmark card celebration, the WhatsApp inspirational greetings forward, the 2-minute tokenism towards the cause of gender equality and gender rights, but that is a lesson for another day, another year, when he is older and perhaps, wiser.
Today I want him to celebrate me, his grandmothers, his aunts, his cousins, his friends who are girls. Today I want him to know that women hold up half the world and they have to have men standing right beside them. I want him to realise that he needs to grow up to be a man who stands alongside the women in his life, without quibble, without complaint and without a sense of entitlement.
I want him to celebrate my story, a story he half knows and half doesn't, a story which is where he begins from, which is also his story, because like a wiser person than me once said, "Everyone's story begins with their mother's story". The battles his mother has fought, the wars she has won, those she has lost and those she continues to fight, regardless of whether she will win or lose, because she must fight them. I want him to celebrate that his mother has lived her life in such a way that she can look anyone in the eye and never flinch. I want him to celebrate that his mother draws her strength from her own mother, a woman who has redefined what strength in the face of adversity means, and done so with such grace and compassion that she made it look effortless.
I want him to celebrate the fact that I chose to have him and at a time I was ready to have him, and to understand that Women's Day is a celebration of the fact that I am lucky enough to be born in an age that allows me and most women that right of choice.
I want him to celebrate me, because if he learns to do so, he will celebrate the women who will come into his life. The girls he will date, the woman he will marry. He will cherish and respect them; he will know that they have fought battles he can only imagine, and that they will fight more battles with or without him by their side, simply because they are women.
I want him to celebrate Women's Day because he knows that the women in his life deserve to be celebrated. Not just on Women's Day, but every day.