Not to turn this into a post about gender (which I am egregiously unqualified to write), but I am confused by the celebration of Women’s Day in Russia. Apparently even some Russian women are confused, according to a local blogger: “It is you, America, who should be celebrating this holiday. Seriously—you, not us. Because it’s supposed to be all about emancipation, equal rights, better quality of life, blah-blah-Nancy-Pelosi. While we, on the other hand, turned this day into a celebration of humility, inequality and very little logic.”
Since 1921, Russia has taken one day out of the year to celebrate its women, on March 8. This is technically the UN’s “International Women Day,” but anything the UN declares a holiday generally takes on the importance of something like Arbor Day—self-important, but not too popular. Not so in Russia, where it is now widely considered to be a kind of Valentine’s Day. Seeing as the holiday was originally intended to celebrate women’s liberation from the shackles of the paternalistic bourgeois family model, it is all the more ironic that it has degenerated into a capitalist bacchanalia of chocolate boxes and bouquets.
Everyone celebrates Women’s Day here, directly or indirectly. The day itself is a bank holiday, so businesses make up for it by celebrating their female employees on the previous weekday. And should March 8 happen to be on a weekend, the state will proclaim the following Monday holiday as well—just to make sure everyone gets a decent day off. As a result, Women’s Day can very easily escalate into Women’s Long Weekend, and—by God—those days can be messy.
First off, women (Russia’s demographic majority) expect special treatment today, and the day before. And they can usually accuse their menfolk of insufficient respect should the treatment wear off significantly the next day. The special treatment usually involves acknowledgement of all the effort women put into both their career and their family. Just like everywhere else in the world, even the most successful Russian career women are expected to take on the majority of housekeeping and child-rearing responsibilities. A male housewife in Russia is still a completely unfathomable concept, so it is a longstanding tradition for men to cook on this day, and (gasp) clean the kitchen and wash the dishes, even if they make a mess doing so. The “Opposite Day” attitude surrounding this ritual makes it all the more insulting to the concept of equality it was originally intended to promote.
But back to the capitalist orgy: like Valentine’s Day, presents are a must. Except instead of just their significant other, guys must go all out for female relatives, friends, co-workers, etc. Flowers are the typical standby, with prices launched into space accordingly all week. A rose any other day of the year is $2-3 in St. Petersburg. But the week leading up to Women’s Day? Yeah you’re looking at about $10 apiece. And because you only given even numbers of flowers in Russia at funerals, the starting price on a bouquet is $30. Also, any appliances that insinuate housework are definitely off-limits as gift, since the metaphor of making the woman’s life easier doesn’t work in this case. Based on the items stocking the local department store shelves, I’d guess most Russian guys go with jewelry, teddy bears, heart-shaped photo frames, porcelain collectibles, and DVDs starring Adam Sandler.
Happy Women’s Day!