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March 8 in Russia: Appreciation of Women or Sexist Holiday? Posted by on Mar 9, 2017 in Culture

Yesterday Russia and several neighboring countries celebrated International Women’s Day (Международный женский день). However, as I was reading coverage of the holiday in Russian-language media, I was reminded that the controversy surrounding the holiday remains. So why do some people think this holiday is outdated or a sham?

young woman

Image from Unsplash

Background

The holiday started as a commemoration of the fight for women’s rights. It may, therefore, be surprising that over the Soviet period, the holiday has all but lost its political and social “punch” and has evolved into a fairly “vanilla” holiday celebrating women. Most celebrations these days center on giving the women in your life (relatives, colleagues, teachers, and classmates) presents, throwing them a party, or cooking a meal for them. There are a few reasons some people think this holiday needs to be re-assessed.

Criticism

Hackneyed Token Holiday

One of the most common criticisms of the holiday is that it has moved away from its original social-justice roots and turned into a feast of consumerism, with women receiving (and exchanging) chocolates, flowers, perfume, and other gifts. As one woman in St. Petersburg said, “Праздник потребления. Круговорот тонн шоколада, духов и колготок” (“A consumerist holiday. A whirlpool of tons of chocolate, perfume, and tights.”). Detractors believe it is facetious to only appreciate the women around you one day of the year instead of advocating gender equality all year round.

Communist Past

There has been talk in Ukraine of making March 8 a working day as part of the effort to distance the country from its Soviet past. A commentator has noted, “Это абсолютно советский праздник тортиков и букетиков” (“This is a totally Soviet holiday of cakes and bouquets”), meaning it does not do women’s rights justice.

Reinforces Gender Roles

As Yelena pointed out on this blog before, a lot of March 8 celebrations in Russia tend to emphasize “traditional” femininityенственность), centered around motherhood, submissiveness, and beauty. This Yekaterinburg woman commented:

Нас поздравляют с тем, что мы милые и женственные, что украшаем мир своим внешним видом. А ещё мы вдохновляем, ублажаем и за наш счёт можно самоутверждаться и чувствовать себя сильнее.
(We are congratulated on being cute and feminine and making the world prettier with our looks. We also inspire, pamper, and you can raise your self-esteem and feel stronger at our expense.)

Redeeming Qualities

buckets of flowers

Image from Unsplash

Appreciation of Women

At the same time, many women support celebrating this holiday. One said that it was needed:

Для того, чтобы обратить на себя внимание мужчин, получить кучу подарков и поздравлений от коллег и близких. А также сказать маме, как я ей благодарна за всё.
(…to get men’s attention and receive a ton of gifts and holiday wishes from my co-workers and loved ones. And also to tell my mother how grateful I am to her for everything.)

Spring and Renewal

Not everyone thought March 8 had to do exclusively with gender roles. One respondent in the St. Petersburg interview said, “Этот день ассоциируется у меня с запахом весны и первыми лучами весеннего солнца” (“I associate this day with the smell of spring and the first rays of spring sunlight”).

Opportunity to Talk About Gender Equality

Another respondent in the Yekaterinburg interview used the holiday as an opportunity to talk about women’s issues:

Я люблю 8 Марта, потому что в этот день говорю о неравенстве в зарплатах, несправедливом разделении домашнего труда, стеклянном потолке в профессии, когда женщины не допускаются до руководящих должностей, сексуальной объективации в рекламе, литературе и кино.
(I like March 8 because on this day, I talk about the gender pay gap, inequitable division of housework, the glass ceiling at work, when women are not allowed into management positions, and sexual objectification in advertising, literature, and cinema.)

Have you celebrated March 8 in Russia or elsewhere? What were your impressions?

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About the Author:Maria

Maria is a trained Russian translator. Originally hailing from Russia, she now lives in Western New York. She is excited to share her fascination with all things Russian on this blog. When she's not at her computer, she is dancing, out taking photographs or practicing German or Spanish at local language meetups. Maria's professional updates are available on her translation site and on Twitter at @intorussian.


Comments:

  1. David:

    In the UK hardly anyone had hear of it until a few years ago, but that is changing. It’s not a public holiday but there is lot more awareness of it these days – mainly in the context of issues like womens’ rights and role in the workplace.

    Despite some people in Russia seeing it as a leftover from the communist past, it actually originated in America pre-WW1.


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