The National Today

Feminists take to the streets for International Women's Day protests

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: International Women's Day, teen interest in musical theatre and the use of virtual reality in hospitals.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

Spain celebrated International Women's Day with a women's general strike and countless protests scheduled throughout the day across the country in defense of their rights. (Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

TODAY:

  • Some come bearing placards, others buy flowers: How International Women's Day is playing out around the world.
  • The success of Dear Evan Hansen and Mean Girls proves it: the young folk love musical theatre.
  • Can virtual reality help alleviate the pain and stress of medical procedures?
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.


Women (and workers) of the world unite

The rallying cry — "if we stop, the world stops" — is crystal clear.

And for the second year running, women in Spain appear to be living up to its promise, bringing life to a virtual halt via a nationwide strike to mark International Women's Day.

This evening, streets across the country are filling with hundreds of thousands of people taking part in some 500 planned protests in support of greater gender equality. Trains, buses and other services have been shut down as members of the country's two largest unions have walked out in solidarity. And the left-wing government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called it a day's work after a morning cabinet meeting.

The ultimate goal of organizers — "subverting the world order and the pervading hetero-patriarchal, racist and neoliberal rhetoric" — is unlikely to be achieved in a single day. But the movement, which claims 5.3 million Spaniards participated in last year's work stoppage, is spreading to other European nations.

In Italy, solidarity strikes have shut down public transit in Rome, and much of the country's rail system, while flights and ferries were stopped for two hours in the afternoon. Tens of thousands of women in France left their jobs at 3:40 p.m. — the point at which an average 26 per cent pay gap (compared to their male colleagues) sees them working for free. A feminist strike in Greece drew protesting crowds across the country.

Further afield, International Women's Day was marked by marches in India and Pakistan, while 4,000 people gathered outside the presidential palace in Manila, Philippines, to decry Rodrigo Duterte's past jokes about rape and abusing his family's maid.

Protesters gather as Turkish police block Istiklal street, the main shopping street in Istanbul, during the International Women's Day. (Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press)

South of the border, the U.S. women's national soccer team grabbed the headlines today by suing the United States Soccer Federation for "institutionalized gender discrimination." The proposed class action seeks compensation for unequal pay cheques and damages for second-class treatment when it comes to coaching, training facilities and travel.

(FIFA, soccer's international governing body might want to take notice. The prize pool for this year's Women's World Cup in France will see the 24 teams share $15 million US, compared to the $440 million that will be on offer to the 32 men's teams in Qatar in 2022.)

Some locales embraced the progressive spirit of the day.

In Berlin, International Women's Day was declared a public holiday for the first time, giving close to four million residents a day off work. In Japan, the country's cabinet approved new legislation that will ban all forms of workplace harassment and force private firms to promote more women to senior positions.

Other places failed to rise to the challenge.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison sparked a backlash after his International Women's Day address in Perth seemed to focus more on the feelings of men.

"We want to see women rise," he said. "But we don't want to see women rise only on the basis of others doing worse."

But nothing really compares to Russia, which has marked the day as a national holiday since the 1960s, but seems to have transformed it into a quasi-Valentine's celebration, filled with flowers and compliments, as evidenced in this bizarre video posted by the country's ministry of emergency services.

Vladimir Putin captured the mood in his annual Women's Day speech this morning.

"This spring day is always full of flowers and gifts, lit up with the joy of our women and your shining smiles," the Russian president said, praising women as "reliable workers and responsible leaders."

"You manage to do everything, both at work and at home," Putin marvelled. "And you remain beautiful, brilliant, charming, the centre of gravity inside the family."


Breathing new life into Broadway

Deana Sumanac-Johnson takes a look at Broadway's surprising popularity with the teen set.

As far as I can tell, the kids are alright. Some of my favourite pieces that I've worked on have revealed surprising things about teens, who tend to be such a frequent target of our societal freakouts. ("Screen time!" "Fortnite!" "Momo challenge!")

Today's teens are such big readers, they're practically keeping the publishing industry afloat. They also tend to be less racist, less homophobic. And, as demographic studies and the runaway success of Dear Evan Hansen and Mean Girls proves, they love musical theatre.

If you run away at the sight of jazz hands, this may not be a positive development — but you have to admit it's a surprising one.

People line up outside the Lyceum, one of Broadway's most storied theatres, for a showing of Be More Chill. (Nigel Hunt/CBC)

Our story this week focuses on Be More Chill, a musical whose journey to Broadway is proof of the growing interest among teens and young adults in musical theatre. The story of a kid who pops a microchip-implanted pill to make him act more cool, the show opened and closed unceremoniously at Two River Theatre in New Jersey before young fans gave it a new life. The cast recording became a hit on Spotify (150 million streams) and funny, poignant teen anthems like Michael in the Bathroom inspired hundreds of YouTube covers — most of them by kids who had never seen the show. Producers took notice, and after a sold-out off-Broadway run, the show is about to open at the Lyceum, one of Broadway's most storied theatres.

"The way that we have gotten here, to the Lyceum on Broadway, is a path that I didn't know existed," said 30-something writer/composer Joe Iconis, who wrote the music and lyrics to the show. We were sitting at Broadway's legendary hangout Sardi's, a beloved "old man bar" that Iconis likes to frequent.

As we sat there, with caricatures of theatre stars up on the wall and the voice of Harvey Fierstein warbling from the other room (the cast of Kinky Boots was having a party), it very much seemed like time had frozen for Broadway, and things were as they'd always been.  I had some anxiety that maybe I overestimated the Broadway-teen trend, and that we would get to the show and see the usual pearl-clutching, middle-aged set.

But when we got to the Lyceum, teens were there in full force. Some travelled from as far as Houston, Tex. "It's so relatable … Jeremy is just like me," said a tall 17-year-old boy with glasses, referring to the show's protagonist. After the show was done, they huddled outside for more than 20 minutes on a surprisingly chilly night, waiting for the cast to come out and sign autographs.

Deana Sumanac-Johnson speaks to Joe Iconis and Joe Tracz, the creators of the musical Be More Chill. (Nigel Hunt/CBC)

Iconis joked that other musicals will now try to manufacture Be More Chill's viral-success route to Broadway, but that he'll be immediately able to "sniff them out."

"We weren't trying to write something that was going to be, like, a hit with kids or a hit with tweens. I think that's why it is a hit with kids and it is a hit with teens — because it wasn't a cynical enterprise."

  • WATCH: Deana Sumanac-Johnson's story about teens and Broadway tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

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Virtual reality, real medicine

Doctors in B.C. are doing research aimed at using virtual reality to help patients, reporter Briar Stewart writes.

It's incredible to think how quickly virtual reality technology has morphed from something expensive and exclusive to a headset you can buy online for less than $20 and an app you can download for free.

Dr. Amir Behboudi with Peace Arch Hospital in White Rock, B.C., straps VR goggles over his children's eyes whenever they get their annual flu shots to distract them. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

Given that, it's no surprise that VR is becoming more commonplace -- and showing up in some interesting places.

There's a growing body of research underway, for example, into how virtual reality can help alleviate the pain and stress of medical procedures.

Dr. Amir Behboudi with Peace Arch Hospital in White Rock, B.C., straps VR goggles over his children's eyes whenever they get their annual flu shots to distract them, and has also started using them in his ER.

I watched as he and and a nurse put an air-cast on a 10-year-old with a broken toe. She was essentially oblivious to what was going on around her, and instead was turning her head side to side, looking around at the virtual rollercoaster ride she was experiencing through the goggles.

Behboudi calls VR a powerful distraction tool, and admits that while you don't want children immersed in technology all the time, it should be used more widely in hospitals.

A nurse puts an air-cast on a 10-year-old with a broken toe, while the patient is looking at a virtual rollercoaster ride through VR goggles. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

Soon, it will be. Vancouver's B.C. Children's Hospital will be rolling VR headsets out to every department this month, and doing more research to figure out which headsets and apps work best for children of different ages, with the goal of helping to make painful and unpleasant procedures more tolerable.

- Briar Stewart

  • WATCH: The story about how doctors are making innovative use of VR technology tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

    A few words on ... 

    Why Canada owed the Inuit an apology.


    Quote of the moment

    "On International Women's Day and always, we – and especially the men and women among us with the power and influence to make a difference – need to stand with the women human rights defenders who are leading the struggle for a more equal and just world. The power of our collective voices should never be underestimated. #IStandWithHer. Do you?"

    Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights and former president of Chile, issues a call to action.


    What The National is reading

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    • Canada added 56,000 jobs last month, blowing past expectations (CBC)
    • U.S. economy adds just 20,000 jobs in Feb., well below expectations (Washington Post)
    • Thirty ways men can make women's lives easier (Irish Times)
    • SpaceX Dragon crew capsule makes successful return from test flight (CBC)
    • The Simpsons withdraws episode featuring Michael Jackson (Guardian)
    • Toilet equipped tank: Russia installs latrines in Armatas armoured vehicles (Tass)

    Today in history

    March 8, 1978: Wrestling's Gene Kiniski stirs the pot

    "At times I have been known to be quite violent," explains West Coast wrestling legend Gene Kiniski, going on to tell the tale of how a hostile Toronto crowd once tried to set him alight after a bout with "Whipper" Billy Watson. He also shares the secret to cooking "perfectly golden" pork sausages.

    The West Coast wrestling legend holds forth on the "God" of wrestling, how to cook pork, and cops on the take. 5:57

    Note: The National Today has had enough of -15C mornings and is heading south for a week. We will return on Monday, March 18.


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    About the Author

    Jonathon Gatehouse

    Jonathon Gatehouse

    Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.