March 8th is a Women’s day in Russia. Women’s day is a public holiday, March 8th is a non—working day. March 7th working day is shortened by one hour because it precedes public holiday. For 2018, government decided to make March 9th, Friday a non-working day as well. Thus upcoming weekend will be 4-days long.
Official name of March 8th is “International Women’s day”. I do not know if it is observed anywhere else outside former ussr, but some former soviet republics still have it as holiday. Women’s day, as a holiday, was established in soviet times. Very few people know why observance of this holiday started back in 1921. Originally March 8th was observed as a day of gender equality and rights of women. Nowadays this holiday is celebrated for reasons irrelevant to its historical background and therefore we will skip the history here.
Russia has multitude of public holidays in Russia, some have real importance and celebrated on a family and private level, while other holidays treated just as another day off. Among all Russian holidays, two of them seem to be celebrated the most: New Year and Women’s day.
Roles of women in Russian culture
Modern Russian culture implies clear separation between genders. People of each gender ought to follow specific society assigned roles. Gender roles are one of those most deeply and firmly rooted in the Russian mindset. This is why any deviations from what is considered “normal” in terms of gender roles, are not tolerated well, as they threaten the core of Russian cultural mindset.
Unlike many other cultures, striving for gender equality, Russian culture embraces gender differences. In Russian mind being born of a specific sex is either a privilege or a burden.
Role of women in modern Russian culture is dualistic. On one hand expected behavior of a woman is “femininity”, which sometimes is taken to an extreme. Women are supposed to be beautiful and gentle. This is where high hills, makeup and dressing up along with flirtations manners come from. In Russian men’s eyes woman is sort of a precious creature, that is hard to get hold of because she is very demanding in choosing who she will spend her (life)time with. Men are supposed to fight for the women, by attracting her, pleasing her in different ways. Women sort of expect this, but they are supposed to be mysterious and unapproachable. Gifts, diamonds, flowers, restaurants, romantic gestures, but nothing seem to please her, and she wants more signs of appreciation of her beauty and womanhood. She knows, as a woman she has birth right of having everything from men around her. “What a women wants?” — you hear everywhere in Russia, rhetorical question emphasizing unresolved issue of making woman happy. She is given special rights and privileges of all kinds just because she was born a woman. These are not legal privileges, they are mindsets about treating women as a very special gender. Women are supposed to have a man by their side and for that matter depend and rely on them. Women are not supposed to work and provide for themselves, her man’s role is to fully support her.
The other side of woman role involves responsibilities to bear in life. Women are supposed to be good housewives. Women are supposed to give birth and raise children. Women are supposed to be smart and wise, keep harmony in relationships and family. Women are supposed to take good care of their men. If their man is a lousy husband, woman is supposed to take upon his role and responsibilities. Men cannot do without a women in their life. Women are to be loved, adored and praised not only because of their beauty, but also for all the hardships they are bearing in life.
These are typical and very traditional roles or women in a modern Russian culture. Even if they seem a bit exaggerated, in many instances they work out exactly this way. Obviously not every woman fully complies with standard roles. More and more we see independent, self-sufficient and free of stereotypes women in Russian society.
So what is March 8th?
March 8th is a celebration of womanhood. Women’s day is a praise for gender inequality, celebrated in a full swing. It’s a celebration of femininity as a cultural value by itself that separates genders and makes women unique and very special. It’s a holiday where traditional women’s roles are acknowledged and appreciated. Official names for women in Russian cultural context are “weak gender” (which in a brutal reality of daily life appears more like a “strong gender”) and “beautiful gender”. And since in everyday life women do not always receive appreciation of their gender uniqueness and role, March 8th is the day when men have a chance to make up for all the words unspoken and care not given. When words are not enough, gifts become real handy.
March 8th holiday themes evolve from notions of beauty of women, women uniqueness, spring (well, calendar spring), beauty and freshness of the nature waking from a long winter, flowers, kind men, love, relationships between men and women.
On March 8th every women gets all attention, gifts, nice and kind words and treatment. Gifts, flowers (flower business makes half of its annual revenues on March 8th), food fixed by her men (family or boyfriend) especially for her, entertainment specially for her.
Ways people celebrate March 8th are countless. As an unspoken rule, every women has to receive flowers from all the men around her. Most women receive gifts on March 8th, mostly from a spouse, kids, relatives or other men they deal with daily.
Guide for men on giving gifts on March 8th.
For any woman you just happen to know gifts and flowers are not must unless you would like to show special attention and appreciation. Saying words of congratulations is a must. “Pozdravlyayu s vos’mim marta!”
For women you deal with daily, small gifts and/or flowers is a must. This includes female co-workers, perhaps business partners. Chocolate or something practical like gift certificate or perfume samples make a nice gift. It really depends on a number of woman you have to buy gifts for and your budget. Some men simply buy a flower for every woman in their team. Sometimes all men from the office put some money together and buy identical gifts for all women. These gifts do not quite replace personal gifts from you, so consider something from yourself anyway. As an option you can make a little celebration with food and champaign. Gifts and celebrations in this case are symbolic and it’s about attention, so act accordingly.
For women you do not deal with daily, but know really well and have good personal relationships with. This category include female friends and relatives. It really depends if you intend to show special attention to them. If so, buy them a gift or flowers. If you see each other regularly (for whatever reason) buy her a small gift or flowers next time you see her. If you do not see each other too often, just give them a call or write personal email with some nice words in it.
For your girlfriend or spouse. On March 8th Russian woman normally expects at least flowers (absolute must) or a gift of some kind. It does not necessarily have to be something real expensive or material. Treat this holiday like a second birthday or occasion to show your feelings.