as i’ve said before, urkainians love holidays. probably just as much as they love borscht. and even though it’s still snowing for the first official holiday of official spring, ukrainians can’t wait to celebrate. march 8th is not only is it my one of my best pcv friend megan’s birthday and ‘be nasty day’, it’s more commonly celebrated as ‘international women’s day’. and to pretty much every country except america, the 8th of march, is a big big deal.
in a country that, not so much unlike america, is still struggling with sexism and traditional gender role expectations, the 8th of march is one day that the men are obligatorily expected to display signs of empathy for female equality. or at least buy them flowers and chocolate.
it’s a holiday that celebrates all women — mothers, daughters, cousins, girlfriends, friends, cat ladies, and the like. which basically means a lot of business for the flower and card industry and a lot of empty wallets for the gentlemen. everyone in ukraine has been preparing for what feels like the second coming of christmas. transportation is sold out, vodka shelves are emptied, concerts are prepared, schools have a 4.5 day weekend and everyone excitedly awaits the coming of the 8th.
international women’s day originated from women demanding better working conditions in new york factories march 1897….which seems ironic since i never heard of women’s day till i came here. from then, this demonstration acted as the launching ground for women’s rights as a whole and was declared an international day in 1910 at the international conference of women socialists in copenhagen. it wasn’t until 1965 that the former soviet union recognized it as an official day off.
with a slightly unhealthy obsession with vintage posters and a quick google search for women’s day posters i was lead to some interesting finds. in the beginning of the soviet union’s celebration of women’s day, many propaganda posters were much more politically charged demands for equality of work for women. not too far removed from the origination of the holiday as a whole. but towards the end of the soviet time, the posters became more tame, with hallmark messages and smiling women. and today, a day that has turned into ‘women appreciation day’ of concerts with children meowing ‘silent night’ (true story) and girls dancing suggestively, seems even further removed from the original source of what sparked this holiday. it makes me wonder, what happend from then till now? why is it that the 8th of march, what used to be a day to demand rights and equality, has turned into a mere show of one-day appreciation and reinstating gender stereotypes.
with school off for holiday on actual women’s day, the celebrations began today. and apparently will last all weekend for some. the day started off with two of my 8th form boys coming to my door after i just got out of the shower (thankfully i was dressed) to give me chocolate, flowers, and a card. then two more 9th form boys and the school nurses with a card and a bottle of vitamins so i stay ‘beautiful and healthy’. my only class for the day was canceled so i waited around for the expected noon show time women’s day concert at school.
like everything in ukraine, times is more of a guideline than a strict schedule to follow. so i waited around for an hour and a half for the concert to actually start and had a photo session with my 10th form girls while we waited. by the time the show started i was having flashbacks of the ‘teacher’s day’ celebration and the rather sexist skits that were performed…so i was sort of dreading what this would actually pertain.
sure enough ‘women’s day’ was celebrated by the 11th formers dancing around in ways that made me feel like an uncomfortable prude, skits that ukrainian gender roles were just laughed at, and a message from the director wishing the girls husbands that love the wives that cook and clean for them. oh dear. it was all in good spirits, but it also was going completely in reverse of everything ‘women’s day’ should stand for.
instead of striving for equality or focusing on strong and powerful women as role models (as leslie nope would want), we watched young prematurely sexualized girls roll around on the floor. maybe i’m being too feminist and cynical about the outcomes of this holiday…i mean the presents were nice, don’t get me wrong, but it is disappointing that in this century we’ve forgotten what the 8th of march is really about. the women of new york factories didn’t protest so they could get more chocolate, flowers, cards, and days off of work (though they probably wouldn’t have minded), they did it to spotlight the need for gender equality and ultimately ignited the flame that would create women’s day. so maybe it’s time someone dug up these old spit-fire soviet posters and urged women in ukraine to crawl out from underneath their pots and pans, turn over their tables like their expected gender roles and demand equality rather than chocolate and flowers.