Sunday, 8 March 2009

How to celebrate International Women's Day

Today, March 8th, is International Women's Day. It was originally - and still is in many parts of the world - a political holiday to commemorate the struggle for women's rights, instituted by Socialists and Communists in Europe. In 1911, upon suggestion of German Socialist Clara Zetkin, International Women's Day was celebrated in some countries on March 19th (with the day before being the day of commemoration of those fallen in the 1848 March revolution in Germany).
When wives of workers and soldiers from the Petrograd neighbourhood Выборгская сторона went on strike on March 8th 1917 (February 23rd according to the Julian calendar), it was the spark that set the February revolution aflame. In honour of these women, the Second International Conference of Communist Women in Moscow 1921 set the date of the International Women's Day to be March 8th.
The Communist origins of the holiday have been bothering people in the USA, and an alternative history has been constructed, about which you can read more on Wikipedia.

In the Soviet Union and many other east bloc countries in the period after WWII, International Women's Day evolved into a non-political celebration of love for women. (Perhaps it was assumed that since men and women were already equal in the Soviet system, there was no need for the political dimension anymore?) Women are given flowers and chocolates, and there are special parties for women only. Like Mother's Day, Women's Day might typically be the only day of the year when a mother doesn't have to do all the housework.

There is a similar holiday for men, День защитника отечества (Defender of the Fatherland Day) on February 23rd. It was originally a day for celebrating the men and women who have served in the Soviet army, but has evolved into the men's counterpart of Women's Day, where men are given flowers and chocolates and TV broadcasts romantic war movies in the early evening.

We missed Defender of the Fatherland Day this year on Chirayliq, but mum sent me a link to a fun news story about International Women's Day in Russia ...

Apparently, Alexander Ostaschenko and Evgeny Ryndin from Barnaul in the Altai region "had pledged they would run around town naked if 3000 people went on their social networking internet page before International Women's Day on March 8. Two days before deadline already 4000 people had registered. A large crowd of people cheered as they arrived in the city centre, waving flags, posters and flowers." Temperatures were below zero.

I have so far failed to find any independent source for this, or the actual site or profiles of these guys, so we'll have to believe photographer Andrei Kasprishin from Reuters ...


ainur said...

Watch out for Wikipedia: The German- and the French-language articles state unequivocally that International Women's Day has Socialist roots and is connected to Russia and German Socialist Clara Zetkin, while English-language Wikipedia gives completely different and partly conflicting origin stories.

Here's the German explanation, badly translated by me:

"In the course of the Cold War, Socialist/Communist genealogies of March 8 became less popular in Western Europe and North America. Eventually, an alternative origin for the Women's Day was introduced. The focal point of the new myth of origin is a spontaneous strike by textile workers, that supposedly took place on March 8, 1857, in Ney York. [...] Exactly 50 years later, on March 8, 1907, these events were commemorated for the first time."

"Historians such as Liliane Kandel, Françoise Picq and Temma Kaplan have since the 1980's pointed out that the rebellion of 1857 is a 'Legend', constructed 1955 to separate the Women's Day from its Soviet prehistory and to tie it to a tradition beyond Communism. The mythical events of 1857 and 1907 were thereupon conflated with an actual event, organised by the New Yorker Social Democratic Women's Society on March 8, 1908 in New York, for the purpose of propagating suffragism. Even the fire catastrophe that probably cost the lives of 146 seamstresses in a new York sweatshop on March 25 1911, is often mentioned in this context, erroneously."

Compare with English Wikipedia, which tries to combine all different stories of origin:

The first IWD was observed on 28 February 1909 in the United States following a declaration by the Socialist Party of America. Among other relevant historic events, it came to commemorate the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. [...] By urban legend, women from clothing and textile factories staged one such protest on 8 March 1857 in New York City. [...]

More protests followed on 8 March in subsequent years, most notably in 1908 when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights[citation needed]. In 1910 the first international women's conference was held in Copenhagen [...] by the Second International and an 'International Women's Day' was established, which was submitted by the important German Socialist Clara Zetkin, although no date was specified. The following year, 1911, IWD was marked by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, on March 19. However, soon thereafter, on March 25, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City killed over 140 garment workers. [...] Furthermore, on the eve of World War I, women across Europe held peace rallies on 8 March 1913. [...]

Demonstrations marking International Women's Day in Russia proved to be the first stage of the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Following the October Revolution, the Bolshevik feminist Alexandra Kollontai persuaded Lenin to make it an official holiday in the Soviet Union, and it was established, but was a working day until 1965.

It's a mess! Well, that's history.

Tinet said...

Damn, I should have read the Wikipedia article more carefully before linking to it. Of course the holiday is European and Socialist/Communist in origin!

I rewrote the post now so that the truth and nothing but the glorious truth will prevail on Chirayliq!!!