Olivia Jones explores the tradition of giving flowers on International Women’s Day.
International Women’s Day has been celebrated for over a century globally; it observes the duality of women’s achievements whilst continuing their fight for equality. Over the years, the day has been commemorated with protests, competitions, donations and traditions. In Italy they celebrate the day with the Festa Della Donna, a tradition which sees italian women don yellow, leave the kids at home with the men and have a night out with their closest friends and relatives. They truly celebrate being women by dining out, drinking wine and eating the customary Mimosa cake, which was created as homage to the Mimosa Flower, the symbol of International Women’s day. The act of buying another woman flowers on International Women’s Day is a sign of respect and appreciation. Since its inception in 1946, countries all over the world have carried on the tradition; in Russia they sell over 150,000 roses on March 8th every year. I had never heard of the tradition until Rachel Horne, Doncopolitan co-founder, told me about it, but it really resonated with me. We live in a society where women are pitted against each other all of the time yet here was this simple act of kindness and consideration, started by women for women. I loved it.
The more I researched the tradition, the more I thought about how flowers and women have always been synonymous. Why was that? What made them so similar? What even defined a woman in the first place? Then I realised; there are hundreds of thousands of types of women, just like there are hundreds of thousands of types of flowers. They may fall under the same category but they are each unique and complex. They have their own needs and beauty and their own ways of thriving in the world. I began to see how the mimosa flower was actually a perfect representation of the women we look up to and that inspire us; the feminists of days past. The Mimosa flower (Mimosa Scabrella) was chosen as the official flower of International Women’s Day because it represents strength, sensibility and sensitivity. It is typically the first flower to bloom in spring and when it blooms it is a brilliant, golden beacon, leading the way and signifying change to come. It was the only possible choice to symbolise that kind of woman but then I started to look at what other flowers there were and how I thought they would represent the women in my life.
As a daughter and granddaughter of immigrants, I have watched women like my mother, grandmothers, aunts and “aunties” breathe new life into their surroundings, bringing with them beauty from their own cultures whilst adding to an already distinguished landscape. Much like Peonies (Peonia) which originate from China and Japan, and Roses (Rosa) which originate from Africa, they have become recognisable staples of British culture. In Japan the Peony symbolises bravery. I find this example so fitting because through all of the hardships of starting a new life in a different country; immigrant women remain true to their heritage whilst becoming unmistakably part of the environments that they cultivate.
I often think myself very fortunate to be surrounded by amazing women at different stages of their lives. It allows access to many different views, outlooks and opinions; it also allows me to challenge myself and not settle on one secular ideal of who I should be. For some of my friends, life is about being independent, self sufficient and free; I like to think of them as Violets. Violets (Viola Odorata) are wildflowers that flourish when left to their own devices, they can take over their landscape as they have the ability to self seed. Violets will carve out their own space, surrounding themselves with flowers just like them and do it all with an eruption of unabashed vibrancy. For other friends their aims focus around settling down and having kids. These friends are similar to the Geranium (Pelargonium); they are often cultivated as companion plants for roses as they release a chemical that protects the roses from beetles and aphids. A geranium is beautiful on its own but there is something remarkable in the way that it naturally creates a mutually beneficial relationship with another flower to build a harmonious environment. It’s easy to see how both convictions encourage inspiration.
Sometimes when we think of flowers we think of them as fragile, in the same way that we may think that of victims of abuse. When I stumbled across the Moonflower (Ipomea Alba),a plant that blooms long into the night and endures in soil far too cold and harsh for other plants, it instantly reminded me of the strength and resilience of the women who manage to survive the least
forgiving of climates. The angel orchid (Habeneria Grandifloriformis) is a stunning flower that’s petals look like the kind of angel you would put on top of your Christmas tree. Even though it doesn’t take on the traditional form of a flower it’s still a flower nonetheless; the same could be said for trans women. According to a Stonewall survey, 41% of trans people say that they had been victims of hate crimes or incidents in the last 12 months; it becomes apparent that there is another fight for equality that our women need help and support with. Sarah Lennox founder of AllaboutTrans.com wrote “being transgendered should not be seen as an attempt to invalidate or diminish womanhood (or indeed) any more than being gay should be seen as an attempt to diminish heterosexuality – they are just different experiences deserving equal acceptance and respect”.
Earlier I asked what defined a woman. Some might try to exclude the trans community by saying a vagina or a uterus, but does that mean a woman born medically without one of those things is any less of a woman? No it doesn’t. Being a woman is indefinable; its strength, its fragility, its vibrancy, its subtlety. It’s something ingrained in who we are and it is the reason we need to support each other. So whether you wear yellow, or eat cake, or join a march this International Womens’ day. Don’t forget to give her her flowers.
Olivia Jones is one of the organisers of BLM Doncaster, and is a popular feature here on Doncopolitan. We’re working with her over the next year as a Writer in Residence, so keep an eye out for future pieces from her.
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