The first thing that greeted me as I browsed Russian LiveJournal today was a story on Ukrainian politician Vladimir Litvin – and his address to Ukrainian women on March 8th, International Women’s Day. Despite the usual howlers on motherhood, femininity, and women’s “poetic souls,” I found myself thinking that “this one’s not so bad.”
I have gotten used to the fact that March 8th, in most former Soviet countries, is about flowers, and candy and the husband doing something heroic, like vacuuming the living room for once. It’s certainly not about rights, equality, or the challenges facing women today – be they sex trafficking or domestic abuse.
International Women’s Day has its roots in socialism, but where I come from – it has degenerated mostly into Valentine’s Day, minus fat-bottomed cupids. I appreciate indulgences as much as the next person, and (sincere) male courtesy besides, but it grates on even my flower-loving, frivolous soul that a day that originally centered female workers and female solidarity has degenerated into a ceremonial throwing-of-a-bone.
“It’s alright, ladies, if your salaries are crap, domestic violence rates remain high, and some of you aren’t even viewed as proper football fans anymore – here’s something pink to make up for it!”
One of my Russian friends – a largely conservative, Christian stay-at-home mom – recently ranted about the present futility of International Women’s Day:
“At least my husband realizes that I don’t WANT flowers and candy on one stupid day of the year. I just want a little respect on all days of the year. Anything else is tokenism. It means nothing.”
When I told her about how Engels viewed the traditional marriage as exploitation of women, she didn’t even bother to respond with a clever retort, as she normally does:
“What do I care about Engels? He’s just some guy who was supposed to help us all usher in a ‘bright future.’ A lot of good it did. Hah.”
Post-Soviet disillusionment is probably one of the main reasons why International Women’s Day is in such shambles across much of the former USSR. The earnestness of this day is a reminder of the crises and failures of the last twenty years – so it must be smothered in roses and champagne. Marx and Engels had us all bamboozled, as it turned out. Might as well pop a chocolate and forget the bastards ever existed.
March 8th-fatigue has been settling over many people I encounter nowadays as well. Last year, the popular Russian site APN.ru published a misogynistic yet oddly hilarious screed by a Russian Orthodox extremist who asked, among other things, that “Does the very sight of champagne bubbles not make one think of the sin of adultery?” [translation mine] as a way of discouraging the faithful from celebrating March 8th.
One can only hope that the vacuum of romance on this day is not going to be filled with foaming-at-the-mouth fundamentalism. If there’s one thing more annoying than advertisements for cheaply made knickers as awesome March 8th gifts, it’s some bearded guy excitedly comparing fizz to ejaculation and how it will bring on the tortures of hell (as opposed to the tortures of a really bad hangover).
I sense more hope in the manner in which women congratulate each other on this day. My inbox has overflowed with e-cards – pink, flowery, but honest and true wishes for a great spring, great sex, tons of love and money, and any success I can ever dream of besides – from my fellow ladies. This makes me happy. A great spring, great sex, tons of love and money, and any success you can ever dream of to you too, ladies.
May you be celebrated for your amazing personhood – on any day of the year. And may somebody *cough* finally bring me some chocolates, dammit.
(The sweetooth does not sleep – not even when it’s politically inconvenient.)