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Intersections: A harmless comment that wasn't harmless

March 14, 2013|By Liana Aghajanian

On a sunny spring Sunday last year, I was walking throughout rows of sellers at a flea market with my boyfriend when I heard a voice call out to him.

"Has she been good today?" the male voice said. "Why don't you come over and buy her something nice?"

It was a seller, trying his hardest to peddle the items in his treasure trove on a slow day.

We both let out a laugh and walked away. It was an insignificant statement, an attempt to lure us over to buy something, a conversation-starter. It was nothing. Except it was something.

It implied something larger, something with a deeper meaning. It implied that I wasn't a decision maker, that when it came to finances, it wasn't my place to be in control, but to ask for permission. It implied that I was not equal.

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It was nothing. But it gnawed away at me. I remember the sun that was burning my back that day; I remember the stacks of Polaroids of strangers strewn across a wooden table on sale for $1; and I remember, so clearly, how it felt to be on the receiving end of such a harmless but deeply hurtful statement.

It also reminded me that the things he had implied were still true in our society and across the world.

That's why acknowledging International Women's Day, a global day of remembrance of various women's issues celebrated last Friday is so important. The very first Women's Day in the United States was observed in 1909 before the idea spread to European countries. Years later, the movement gained momentum in Russia, and was eventually declared an official holiday in the USSR.

More than 100 years after its celebration in the United States, the daily inequality and discrimination women face continues. This year, the United Nations' theme for International Women's Day was "A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women." It was an attempt to highlight a year of violent crimes against women that included a shocking gang rape that resulted in death, and young girls shot at close range for seeking an education.

A message from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon posted on the official U.N. website for 2013's Women's Day says it best:

"Look around at the women you are with. Think of those you cherish in your families and your communities. And understand that there is a statistical likelihood that many of them have suffered violence in their lifetime. Even more have comforted a sister or friend, sharing their grief and anger following an attack.

"This year on International Women's Day, we convert our outrage into action. We declare that we will prosecute crimes against women — and never allow women to be subjected to punishments for the abuses they have suffered," Ki-moon continues.

This is not a radical notion. It is not some fringe, dated idea that is set to cause a glitch in the system for no good reason.

It is a reminder that even in 2013, women still face an unimaginable spectrum of hurdles in the unlikeliest of places, whether it's a horrific, fatal gang rape on a bus in New Delhi or an insignificant, harmless comment aimed at striking up a conversation at a flea market in Los Angeles.

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LIANA AGHAJANIAN is a Los Angeles-based journalist whose work has appeared in L.A. Weekly, Paste magazine, New America Media, Eurasianet and The Atlantic. She may be reached at liana.agh@gmail.com.

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