Hurrah for Friday March the 8th, it was International Women’s Day. International Men’s day is on Tuesday 19th November, incidentally – so mark your calendars now. If you reside in England, the chances are that you carried on largely as normal last Friday however; catching an IWD sideline on the news or a mention on social media. Perhaps someone wished you a, “Happy Women’s Day” (more likely if you are female), but unless you sought out some specific activities it’s unlikely that you felt the whole proceedings impose.
The UK newspapers were torn between Brexit and knife crime. I looked out of my front door and nothing had changed. It was definitely there if you looked for it of course, but you may have had to look further afield than you initially planned.
It’s reminiscent of an interviewee I heard, commenting on her life in the flower-power heyday: “The swinging ‘60’s happened for 500 people in central London,” she said, “Everyone else just went to work.”
Located in the East Midlands, I would have had to travel 60 miles to reach the nearest event advertised on the International Women’s Day website and I suspect a similar situation to occur when we (the men) get our turn. That’s ok of course, I can live without either occasion.
The point of all this backstory is to highlight the colossal difference between our interpretation of IWD and the version that is experienced east of Europe. For starters; Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Mongolia all maintain International Women’s Day as a public holiday, China too; although the holiday only applies if you are female. So, the minute they plant their feet on the bedroom floor -over there- they know that something is different.
I heard from a frequent eye witness to the event in Moscow that the pre-gig warm-up on March 7th can be something of a trial in itself. He described urgent scenes of male consternation as boyfriends and husbands dash through town, flowers in hand, with eyes focused far away on today’s deadline and tomorrow’s inevitable judgement by their partners. Perhaps they needed to find those favourite chocolates or that extra-special cologne. Things had better be just so.
It’s not only partners that have to be catered for (often literally). “Women” unsurprisingly, includes mothers, grand-mothers, daughters, best female friends and perhaps others too -though the nature of their individual pay-off will depend upon the familial or emotional proximity to the man in question, in each case.
These are all symptoms of a shift in emphasis however, away from the original intent of the celebration. As with many things; it’s as if the ad-men won and love is expressed via commerce; a concept that we are all to familiar with in the UK of course. Originally it was dedicated to female equality and achievement -reminiscent of the western suffragette cause- today it’s more about being female, regardless. Tanya from Understanding Russia says of March 8th:
“(It’s)…a day, when every girl or woman is congratulated… on being a female. I personally find that extremely weird. I want to be praised for being an expert in marketing, a good skier, a good photographer or a good friend/spouse/daughter etc. Being born as a girl was not my personal achievement – it was just a 49% probability.”
Doing it properly
However you care to rationalise it, there are certain rituals and obligations that come with the territory; largely for the males to adhere to.
Flowers are a must; though not in even numbers -as this screams: “Funeral” in Russia (I’m naturally assuming that you aren’t trying to say “funeral” of course).
Throwing compliments around (to women, that is) is also the norm, without exception or prejudice to age or status. It’s women’s day and that means all of them.
Gifts are a must – and not just the flowers, neither should they be handy things to help around the kitchen or to keep that troublesome bathroom clean. You will still find “traditional roles” encroaching in some Russian households -even in younger minds- but it’s best not to take the risk.
Having said that, I was directed to a Russian language site that did include “making your beloved happy” and “home appliances” in the same sentence. For those who aren’t yet set on a gifting a new hoover: perfumes, chocolates, jewelry, and accessories are closer to the mark.
In a bid to relieve women of their household chores (traditional roles, again) men would step in and do her work for the day. Today, this has morphed somewhat into booking a restaurant table, ordering food in, perhaps staying at a pleasant hotel or taking a day out somewhere -all as a variation on a straight swap that may or may not work in some progressive families.
Bring back tradition
One great trait of Russian celebrations is the wheeling-out of traditional food – at the drop of a hat. It seems that any celebration will do: out come the copious salads and rich classic dishes. There’s something wonderful about their fondness for the simple joys of the past -that are still as much fun today. So, you can also expect a nod (at least) to culinary delights held over from former times. I’m sure it’s not just about the taste, but also part of the familial and social ‘glue’.
Russia’s first International Women’s Day celebration was held in 1913, incidentally.