|Today, Monday, I do not work. In fact, no one in
Russia is working today if they can help it. Today is a national
holiday, because yesterday was Women’s Day. This is the Russian
equivalent of Mother’s Day and Valentines Day rolled into one. As
a man, I was to give flowers to all the women I know, from my mother or
my wife, to the women I work with, my female neighbours, every woman in
Russia. The flower sales over the past few days were amazing. I am sure
all of Holland, Ecuador, and Columbia are devoid of flowers now. The
price of a long stem rose, usually $5, was $15, for one! I am
surprised Hallmark doesn’t know about this holiday yet!
Russian women need a Woman’s Day, as much, if not more than
European/American women. Russian women received workplace equality
many years ago, the de-population of this country after the revolution
and the Nazis made it mandatory for everyone to work in the
factories and fields of Russia. Of course this meant that the
women plowed, planted, and harvested, while the men counted and planed
(or so a Russian tale says), in addition to doing all the housework
unaided by modern conveniences like microwave ovens and dishwashers.
There was also a Men’s day, actually Defender’s Day, in salute to the
Army, but it is nothing (nor a holiday) when compared to Women’s Day.
I guess we don’t need an excuse to do nothing but drink and watch
5 Mar 1999, Hindustan Times
By Fred Weir
MOSCOW — Champagne, flowers, chocolates and copious vodka toasts
will be lavished upon Russian women Monday as their menfolk scramble to
make up for the previous 364 days of toil, tears and neglect. ‘But
I’ll still have to do the dishes, you can count on it,” says Yelena
Ponomaryova, a 32-year old secretary. ‘I really do look forward to
seeing all the men be sweet for at least one day, though. It’s better
International Women’s Day, March 8, was a key holiday on the Soviet
calendar, an occasion to hail the struggle for women’s emancipation. It
has long since been stripped of even symbolic political content, but it
is still enthusiastically celebrated as a kind of Valentine’s Day and
Mother’s Day rolled into one.
When the long weekend arrives, the price of flowers climbs
precipitously as anxious men scurry about trying to secure the
obligatory bouquets for the women in their lives. Vendors say a single
rose will cost up to $25 in downtown Moscow on March 8 morning.
The tradition is for families to feast together, and for men to
shower gifts and praise upon mothers and wives. A giant banner strung
across a street near the Kremlin for the occasion this year reads:
‘Congratulations dear ladies of Russia on March 8”. Many
women complain, however, that between the kisses and toasts they will
still have to do the cooking and cleaning. ‘Russia is a very male-centred
society, and it’s getting worse not better,” says Alla Chirikova, a
sociologist and author of a book on women trying to break into the
business world. ‘Women’s Day is, like so many aspects of
male-female relations in Russia, full of hypocrisy”.
Ms. Chirikova contends in her book that the market reforms of the
post-Soviet era have created unprecedented opportunities for a small
minority of Russian women. But she admits the picture for most is
gloomy. ‘Unemployment wears a woman’s face in Russia, and for women
over the age of 40 there is simply no hope whatsoever,” she says.
Women made up 55 per cent of the Soviet-era workforce, and fully 60
per cent of all Russians with university degrees are female. But since
reforms began in 1992 they have borne the brunt of layoffs. According to
the Russian parliament 6.5-million Russian women — about 30 per cent of
all working age women — are jobless today.
‘The attitude of the men who implemented economic reforms in
this country was that women belong in the home, not the workplace,”
says Yelena Yershova, co-ordinator of the non-governmental Association
of Women’s Organisations. ‘They used this as an excuse to shut down
the Soviet-era system of daycare centres and to cut funding for every
program that provided even the slightest chance for women to be
independent,” she says. ‘A woman’s life never had much sunshine,
but things have gotten a lot darker”.
Svetlana Kirilova, a 27-year old waitress, says she is on her feet
constantly at work and at home, and she wishes her husband would be more
understanding. But she adds: why blame Women’s Day? ‘My husband
won’t lift a finger around our apartment. I have to do everything and it
drives me crazy,” she says. ‘One day a year he’s as sweet as
honey. He looks after our daughter while I sleep in, brings me flowers
and tells me I’m beautiful.
‘It’s a very nice day”.
Moscow Times March 9, 1999
Orthodox Russians Blast Holiday
By Andrei Zolotov Jr. Staff Writer
While Russia celebrated one of its favorite holidays, International
Women’s Day, on Monday, some Orthodox Russians were boycotting it and
calling it dangerous. Despite the chocolates, flowers and glorification
of women’s traditional roles that are part of present-day March 8
celebrations in Russia, the holiday’s left-wing, feminist origins are
repulsive to the more traditionalist and patriarchal members of the
church. With the growth of the church’s arch-conservative wing in the
past several years, there has been increased debate about whether
members of the faith should celebrate March 8.
Tamara Maximova, a teacher of English, has ignored the holiday since
her conversion to Orthodoxy in the late 1970s. Since March 8 is the eve
of the day when the Orthodox Church marks the discovery of the head of
St. John the Baptist – who, according to the Gospels, was beheaded at
the request of Salome – the holiday glorifies ‘this whore who
killed the great prophet.’ But more importantly, she said, she
wanted to distance herself from her nonreligious Soviet past when March
8 was an important holiday.
But as if one theory was not enough, last year a prominent young
Orthodox theologian and missionary, Deacon Andrei Kurayev, published an
article which argued that March 8 was the Jewish festival of Purim under
another name. He wrote that German Social Democrat Clara Zetkin, who
established the holiday, was Jewish and had chosen a date commemorating
the survival of Jews who had been marked for death in fifth century B.C.
Persia. Esther, a Jewish wife of Persian King Ahasuerus, uncovered the
plot of chief minister Haman to annihilate her people. She used her
influence with the king to have Haman hanged and obtained a verdict
allowing Jews throughout the Persian empire to massacre their enemies.
In articles published in the nationalist magazine Russky Dom and on
the Internet (http://www.trimo.com/kuraev/article/8march.htm),Kurayev
has argued that Zetkin picked Esther as the rebellious woman-heroine.
‘It is not right for Christians to celebrate Purim, even under
another name,’ Kurayev wrote. ‘When I became a practicing
believer, I came to love the Orthodox ‘women’s day,’ the Sunday of
Myrrh-Bearing Women, which is celebrated on the third Sunday after
Easter. So I wrote this article not to have somebody think less of Clara
Zetkin and her people, but so that respect for our Orthodox traditions
Irina Siluyanova, an Orthodox woman and professor of medical ethics
at the Russian Medical University, said the real reason for
fundamentalists’ opposition to Women’s Day was their opposition to the
honoring of socially active women per se. ‘When a woman’s status is
raised, they feel it can deform the traditional family role,’ she
When asked last week about his views on Women’s Day, the head of the
Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II, said he had congratulated
his female staff for Women’s Day on Friday. ‘We regard the civil
women’s day as normal and congratulate women, but we remember our church
days too when we honor women,’ he said.