It’s International Women’s Day, and, though Americans may not notice (partially because it’s a Socialist holiday), Russians have the day off to properly celebrate their women.
Mostly, this involves mobbing the flower shops — or the lean-tos that have been put up just to deal with the holiday rush — making out in the metro, profusely congratulating your women for being women, and did I mention flowers? Every male in the metro this weekend has had no fewer than four or five bouquets, for all the women in their lives. On the successful completion of my workout this morning, I was handed a spray of yellow fuzzy things and chocolate by the gym receptionist, also a woman.
I guess it’s kinda nice, but it is a little strange to observe this adulation of women in a country that is so, to put it kindly, so firmly traditionalist.
This is a land of single mothers and multi-familied fathers who drink and cheat and beat, a land of sources telling you you’re a woman before you’re a journalist, of women fighting so hard for the few men who haven’t drunk themselves half to death by age 50 that the men are allowed to get away with pretty much anything and are treated like demi-gods, a phenomenon that wreaks havoc on the psyches of ex-pat men who arrive to find that every Western feminist taboo is moot here because it is a land where feminism is a dirty word. It is a land where the capital has not a single women’s rights group, where there are few female politicians, few women in high-powered positions, and where, say, in the advertising world, women dominate the sales side because the creative stuff is best left to the menfolk.
It is also weird to celebrate the behavior of Russian women, who see men as a meal ticket and a lifetime wallet, who have turned into weird little bounty-hunting gremlins who parade their best and scantiest feathers in order to get themselves a husband.
The idea of the holiday is fine enough, but here, it just seems to be an excuse for the other 364 days of the year when men treat their women like little children, and women gold-dig. Seeing everyone suddenly on their best behavior, bouquets in hand is surreal: we have no problems, we love our women, even if just for one day.
The best response I saw to the hypocrisy of March 8, which comes on the heels of a much tamer men’s holiday (Defenders of the Fatherland Day, formerly Red Army Day, on February 23), was a program last night on opposition radio station Ekho Moskvy that was led by Moscow State University journalism professor Evgenia Albats.
She was interviewing Yana Yakovleva, a businesswoman who spent seven months in jail on false charges, and Irina Khakamada, the daughter of a Japanese Communist who defected to the Soviet Union in 1939. She is an opposition politician and former parliamentarian who ran against Putin in the 2004 presidential election and got 3.9% of the vote.
Khakamada trashed the holiday — “Russia only celebrates one thing,” she said. “Fun. Have something to drink, something to eat, and shove some flowers at someone.” — as one of a string of unnecessary holidays that encourage slacking, heavy drinking, and suicide.
She also talked about a subject she has become known for since her book “Sex in Big Politics” came out in 2006: being a woman in what is still very much a man’s world. On Ekho, she said that, early in her political career, she got plenty of propositions: “You’ll be soaring, you’ll have protection, people will advance you — we just need one night.”
Khakamada, who identified herself as a post-feminist, said following through on these quid pro quos was “unimaginable,” but said that a lot of her advancement had to do with learning how to use her female je ne sais quoi to her advantage, like charming her way around a line of male peers in order to press Putin on her pet issues.
A Daoist who says she takes things as they come, Khakamada’s harness-your-feminity-because-men-won’t-change approach sounds a lot like Nina DiSesa’s in her book “Seducing the Boy’s Club,” and it might be the way to go in a male-dominated town like Moscow. The problem is that the point of this utilitarian approach might be lost on a new generation of women who don’t want to be leaders like Khakamada, but want instead to become the Real Housewives of Moscow.
The thing that made me happiest about Khakamada’s interview, however, was the way in which she side-stepped the weird, high-maintenance, high-conflict way in which Russian men and women relate by positing a revolutionary — for Russia — way of seeing men, of needing them only “for happiness.” A woman should need a man, Khakamada said
like a fancy car, like a beautiful watch — for happiness. Because the rest — earning money, raising children, giving birth — she can do on her own… And, by the way, a man is glad when he is perceived as existing for happiness. Because no one tortures him, no one asks him where he’s been, no one asks him to buy a refrigerator…They let him enjoy male company, give him the opportunity to drink beer and go fishing. He’s for happiness…We all have each other for happiness.
via Ekho Moskvy