In 1911, when the first International Women's Day was celebrated, it was still illegal for women to vote in most parts of the world. The suffrage movement was met with scorn and ridicule, even from many women, and the labor movement was seen as something akin to treason.
It was the labor movement that helped prompt the first International Women's Day. You can read about its history here. Women and men campaigned for women's rights to work, vote, and hold public office, among other things. We are right to congratulate them and ourselves for having accomplished these rights throughout a great deal of the world. These were historic impossibilities, till they became possible.
Then again, there is that old saying, "A woman's work is never done." A saying that continues to be infuriatingly accurate when it comes to fighting for women's genuine equality.
Take the labor movement. While the current Republican war on labor was presumably not planned to coincide with the centennial of International Women's Day or the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, it is striking that such attacks are coming now, when we might be most attuned to the historical correlations. The push for organized labor began with people who were marginalized. The sweatshops are now mostly overseas, but teaching, a profession historically dominated by women – and commensurately underpaid and under-respected – is now being marginalized in a manner that should be appalling to all observers.
Labor unions are comprised of both men and women, but the impetus remains the same: strip a group of its voice, and you strip it of its power. Historically, you'd be hard-pressed to find a government that was willing to give women power, much less equality. Even after the American Revolution, when Abigail Adams exhorted her husband John to "Remember the ladies," he basically said, "Yes, dear" and then participated in the creation of a new government that hung out a sign saying "No Girls Allowed." This, even after women had thrown their efforts into the fight for independence.
Some things don't change – after the terrific uprising in Egypt, a committee to create a new constitution is comprised solely of men. Jordan's Queen Noor notes here that women's rights are often among the first things to be compromised on when a new government is establishing itself. We, and our concerns, are still seen as frivolous.
To say nothing of worthy of derision. Time and again, when women have spoken up for themselves, the male response is to laugh. Note the jeers and "comic" insults hurled at women marching for suffrage in 1913.
Maybe this is why feminists are accused of not having a sense of humor?
Then again, we've proven that not letting the jeers stop us is one way to gain our point.
So this is what we have to remember – don't let the derision get us down, don't forget our past, and don't stop fighting for what we still need to achieve.
And finally, as "M" puts it to James Bond, but really to us all – don't stop asking if we are equal: