International Women’s Day – March 8. A day. One day a year to celebrate women. To commemorate the ongoing struggle for women’s rights. For equality.

This is not some new public relations idea. Women have been marching and demanding a voice for over a century. Making the world see them. Making men see them. The men who have the power need to see women. To realise the world is better when shared.

In the early 1900s, the modern workplace was formed. It was “increasingly constructed in a male idiom” (Simonton 2006:261). Masculine structures were hierarchical, yet women claimed a place in them – it was “the arrival of women in the offices which was the beginning of the real social revolution” (Sampson 1995:53).

This revolution was a communicative one – the recently invented telephone and typewriter became women’s weapons of power. And their shackles. These empowering technologies were deemed particularly suited to the skills of women (Simonton 1998). Condemning both woman and machine to the lower floors. Often hidden from view in the telephone exchanges and typing pools.

But it was in the factories where the real subjugation of working women took place. Still takes place.

The London match girls went on strike in 1888 challenging their working conditions and treatment. Their activism generated publicity and political action. The Uprising of the 20,000, the New York shirtwaist strike of 1909, stood up for immigrant working women in the garment industry. Invisible women taking to the streets to demand change. These stories have been repeated over the decades, across the world.

Matches and shirts – small things. We depend on small things.

Equality is important. Having the power to change inequalities and inequities is important. When you don’t have power from being an ‘important person’ (as women often don’t) then power can be found in the combined efforts of many, many individuals.

Women are activists, agitators and social reformers for change. I believe this work is both an antecedent to modern PR practice and an integral part of it.

Activism is directed beyond the rights of women. For causes that may be unseen and for voices that are often unheard. For children and animals. For the homeless and vulnerable. For the planet and peace. For bodies, minds and souls. For access and control. Activism isn’t solely for women, by women or about women. It is inclusive power.

On International Women’s Day, female humans become visible, talked about, celebrated.

Yet we are here every day. We may not be equal in numbers in positions of power – as politicians, industry leaders, judges, and so forth. But look around and you’ll see women.

Women do much of life’s dirty work. We dominate in shadow work – unpaid and unseen jobs. We are invisible workers and virtual workers.

This should not be devalued but celebrated.

It is not the top of institutions that truly matters. Yes, women need to be there – but not to be representatives or as a balancing calculation. That’s not how men are seen in such roles.

All women matter. No matter our role as workers or without work. As people with a voice and power or without.

We do the important jobs and the little jobs. We are everywhere.

Image: ‘The Fearless Girl’ by artist Kristen Visbal installed by State Street Global Advisors. Branded art as activism. Photo by Federica Valabrega.

Some of my other relevant writing:

Yaxley, H., 2012. Exploring the origins of careers in public relations. Public relations review. 38 (3), 399–407. [Above referenced sources are cited from this paper]

Yaxley, H., 2013. Career experiences of women in British public relations (1970–1989). Public Relations Review, 39 (2), 156–165.

Yaxley, H., 2013. Dissent PR – the women’s perspective: From suffragettes to slutwalks. Dissent and public relations seminar series, October-December 2012. Bournemouth University. Available from: https://research.bournemouth.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Dissent-and-public-relations-Bournemouth-University.pdf.

Yaxley, H., 2016. How to reach special publics – the woman publics. Available from: http://www.prconversations.com/2016/03/how-to-reach-special-publics-the-woman-publics/

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.