International Women's DayYou may have missed it, but March 8 was International Women’s Day. Here in Russia this is a huge event, a national holiday. For the non-religious it may be the biggest celebration next to the New Year. Most everyone has the day off. Men honor the women in their lives with gifts. Women honor their mothers and grandmothers with the same.

This is in rather stark contrast to what you read about if you do a web search on this topic. Women’s Day, first marked by Socialists nearly 100 years ago and later adopted by the United Nations, has always been about equal rights for women. You’ll find such words as “empowerment,” “education,” and equality” popping up a lot.

International Women’s Day was observed early on in the Soviet Union. Somewhere along the way, though, in Russia and other Soviet republics it lost its political flavor. Here women are honored on this day simply because they are women. No cause is championed, other than the enhancement of feminine charm. Men give their women cards, flowers, candy, perfume, and jewelry.

Flower shops, busy for all kinds of occasions, do their biggest business of the year. The candy aisles in stores are virtually depleted; late shoppers may come away empty. If not at other times, men show their women appreciation at least this one day a year by making meals and cleaning up afterwards. From morning to night, TV plays romantic comedies, melodramas, and soap operas; even stations that normally air action movies and detective series temporarily give way to more womanly fare.

This underscores one of the many paradoxes of Russian life. The Soviet power was probably the first government to grant women equal rights. Yet there is still relatively little active interest in feminist causes, even though the equal rights given to women back in the 1920s were and still are more equal on paper than in practice.

The lot of the Russian woman isn’t easy. As a rule she has a job and does all the housework. Often her man doesn’t do much to support the family, but may do much to drain its resources. Yet she’s glad on this one day a year to be the object of love, honor, and adoration, simply because she’s a woman.