When I saw one of my friends had written ‘I can’t stand the Journée de la Femme’ on her facebook status it made me laugh out loud, as I had just been reading, with increasing irritation, a lot of Twitter babble about ‘#IWD’ (that’s International Women’s Day on March 8 to the uninitiated).
I don’t know when people in Britain started remarking on the day. I’d never heard of it before about 1 March 1995. I recall the date so precisely because I’d been in Moscow for about three weeks and I was asking why the following Tuesday was to be a public holiday. And it was during the subsequent few days that I learnt what a big deal it was.
It seemed that every Russian woman expected to be feted on the day, and, in the business world, any failure to send a gift of flowers or chocolates in the hands of a suitably charming young man would be noted as a slight. The immediate consequence of this, for the firm of financial consultants for which I was working, was that a small focussed task force had to be set up, given the vital task of compiling a list of all our important contacts, buying flowers and confectionery, and building a crack squad of delivery boys for March 7.
Bearing in mind, that at the time, all of the key people at the State Pension Funds and Social Security Funds with whom we had frequent interactions on behalf of our clients were all ladies of a certain age, it was a big job. We had conversations along the lines of Gennady should go to X because Irina Vladimirovna likes him, but Alexei should go to Y because he’s managed to charm Tatyana Mikhailovna, even though she’s usually such an old cow.
I felt a little queasy at it all, and even told Alexei he didn’t have to go if he didn’t want to, but he smiled at me ‘It is my job as a man. And she is just like my Granny.’
I felt even more queasy when I went, with the rest of my department to the main office conference room for what I though was a team meeting to find that it was a ‘party’ for Women’s Day. After each person had a drink, from the usual selection of beer, juice or Shampanski, one of the young men presented Alexandra, the senior Russian woman present, with a single carnation, accompanied by a flowery little speech about how kind and clever she was. I was horrified to discover that I would be next, as all eyes followed Alexei as he approached me, carnation in his outstretched hand.
So, no. I understand that the day has a greater social significance, where there is no Mother’s Day, and it is preferred that all women be celebrated rather than just one category, and I appreciate that the tradition of Russian speech-making requires that all women be kind and beautiful and that all men be honourable and brave, but that embarrassment of being patronised by a young man because that was all part of what one had to do in life, is a memory that can make me squirm even now.
Treat me well every day instead.