Skip to main content

Why are the billionaires always laughing?

Because they know the corporate media will never call bullshit on their bullshit.

Why are the billionaires laughing?

It’s easy to laugh when the corporate press treats you as a glorious success instead of the epitome of a broken social order. Billionaires laugh because they know the corporate media prefers to fawn over them rather than hold them to account.

Today, we ask you to support our nonprofit, independent journalism because we are not impressed by billionaires flying into space, their corporations despoiling our health and planet, or their vast fortunes safely concealed in tax havens across the globe. We are not laughing.

We are hard at work producing journalism for the common good. With our Fall Campaign underway, please support this mission today. We cannot do it without you.

Support Our Work -- Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Every donation—large or small—helps us bring you the news that matters.

A 2020 Royal College of Nursing study found nurses are underpaid because they are mostly women. (Photo: Ernesto rogata / Alamy Stock Photo)

A 2020 Royal College of Nursing study found nurses are underpaid because they are mostly women. (Photo: Ernesto rogata / Alamy Stock Photo)

International Women's Day Should Reflect a Record of Direct Action, Not Hollow Gestures

COVID-19 is the enemy of us all, but to women it has felt like a meteor made of pure misogyny, shattering our lives on impact.

Marisa Bate

The International Women’s Day we know today bears little resemblance to what German socialist Clara Zetkin instigated at the beginning of the 20th century. Zetkin had watched an eruption of the labour movement as women workers, specifically garment workers in the US, went on strike. Women demanded better pay, safer working conditions, fairer treatment. In 1910, at the International Women’s Socialist Conference, Zetkin suggested a 'Women’s Day' was needed to recognise this struggle, and International Women’s Day (IWD) was born.

More than a hundred years later, and now supported by the UN, IWD has lost most, if not all, of its roots of class and struggle, hijacked by corporations presenting a sterile, shiny and safe version of women’s fight for equality. Rather than IWD being a record of direct action, often the only ‘action’ is a hashtag and the purchasing of ‘fempowerment’ merchandise. bell hooks wrote that she dreamed of seeing feminism proudly displayed on T-shirts or bumper stickers, but I don’t think she could have envisioned the hollow corporate nightmare that dream would become. Or indeed have imagined those T-shirts being made by underpaid women and girls in unsafe factories enduring terrible working conditions.

In recent times, this soulless charade has worked hard but failed to completely eclipse the good work that women’s charities and organisations try to showcase on IWD. In amongst the tsunami of hypocrisy and box-ticking, if I’ve looked hard enough, I’ve always managed to find a shimmer of hope. Each year I look on in awe at grassroots groups creating real change, the young women organising themselves, the schoolgirls demanding to know more about their herstory.

Yet today that feels harder to do than ever. Even if we can see past the legacy of 'Lean In', the controversial 2013 'feminist manifesto' by Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, and TV and magazine writer, Nell Scovell, and try to focus on the positives, this year, a day of webinars and tweets is teetering on the absurd. It’s like offering a child’s watering can to extinguish a forest fire.

Women are being forced to drop out of the workforce. Domestic abuse has risen. The majority of frontline workers and 95% of single parents are women.

COVID-19 is the enemy of us all, but to women it has felt like a meteor made of pure misogyny, shattering our lives on impact. Women are dropping out of the workforce, having been forced to pick up more of the caring responsibilities. Incidents of domestic abuse have rocketed. Women have been disproportionately impacted by the collapse of the retailand travel sectors. The majority of frontline workers are women. Some 95% of single parents are women. During this economic crisis, Black women are twice as likely to be in insecure jobs. Women of colour and women with disabilities fare even worse on every account. But a meteor is the wrong metaphor. This hasn’t come out of nowhere; this has come off the back of a decade of austerity.

And in response to this unprecedented crisis, the chancellor's Budget failed to even mention care, despite the benefits it could bring to the whole economy. The Women’s Budget Group has found investing 2% of GDP in the UK care sector, a sector of mostly women, would generate twice as many jobs as the same investment in construction. The Budget’s offering to domestic abuse was described by women’s groups and advocates as a “drop in the ocean”. A 2020 study by the Royal College of Nursing found nurses are underpaid in status and pay because they are mostly women. The 1% pay rise from the government would attest to that. This is, of course, the same government that produced an advert so staggeringly sexist, some assumed it was a parody, until it was eventually removed. Meanwhile, the prime minister has been busy forming a charity to raise funds for wallpapering his home.

Against this backdrop, and divorced from its own important genesis, when women are doing everything, and have been given nothing, what is a day? When the number of women dying each week because of male violence is rising, what is a day? When everything feels on fire, is there even a hashtag for that, anyway?

When women are doing everything, and have been given nothing, what is a day?

Now is not the time for symbolic gestures; a Home Office panel here, a press release there. Women’s safety, mental health, economic welfare and equality are all under threat, and I haven’t seen as much as a road sign, let alone a road map, to address any of it. Only hearing about it on the one day a year dedicated to women's equality reflects precisely where it sits in the government's, or indeed any organisation’s, priority list.

International Women’s Day is an important part of women’s history, and women’s history is too easily forgotten. Clara Zetkin and her peers fought hard for a fairer workplace. In the age of COVID, that fight continues. In order to understand the inequality of today, we need to know the fights before us. For that reason, I don’t believe it’s time to scrap IWD entirely. Moreso, there are tireless and essential campaigners who help women all year round and deserve a moment of solidarity and joy. I wouldn’t take that away from them.

But this year, more so than ever, I will take no gratitude or pleasure from seeing ministers and big business and brands talking about women’s rights. Women have been fundamentally let down during this crisis. They need commitment 365 days a year, as well as sustainable funds, gender-led policy and far better representation in the places that make these decisions. Much like how banging saucepans on summer nights now looks like hollow propaganda, women don’t need applause or platitudes, they need solutions. And they need far more than a day.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Marisa Bate

Marisa Bate is a freelance journalist. She has written for the Guardian, The Times, The i Paper and Vogue.co.uk, amongst others. She is the author of 'The Periodic Table of Feminism'. You can follow her at @marisajbate.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'It's Not Coming Out': Bernie Sanders Stands Firm on Medicare Expansion

"It's what the American people want and, after waiting over 50 years, what they are going to get."

Julia Conley ·


'When We Organize, We Win': Ocasio-Cortez Joins India Walton at Rally in Buffalo

The two progressives joined striking hospital workers on the picket line at Mercy Hospital after the early voting rally.

Julia Conley ·


Fatal Film Set Shooting Followed Outcry by Union Crew Members Over Safety Protocols

"When union members walk off a set about safety concerns, maybe 'hiring scabs' isn’t the solution you think it is."

Julia Conley ·


New Whistleblower Sparks Calls to 'Crack Down on Facebook and All Big Tech Companies'

Hours after another ex-employee filed a formal complaint, reporting broke on internal documents that show the tech giant's failure to address concerns about content related to the 2020 U.S. election.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Catastrophic and Irreparable Harm' to Wolves Averted as Wisconsin Judge Cancels Hunt

"We are heartened by this rare instance of reason and democracy prevailing in state wolf policy," said one conservation expert.

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo