If you follow me on InstaStories, you know that last Wednesday I attended an International Women’s Day celebration hosted by one of my favorite fashion retailers, Farfetch. The star of the night, an Instagram famous poet and women’s rights advocate Cleo Wade who presented her new poem while some of the most inspiring bloggers supported the cause by wearing all red outfits. The #FarfetchWomensDay was extremely well organized and delivered the women’s rights message in the most elegant way. It also made me think of why this new for Americans holiday is especially important for me, a Russian girl living in New York.
Let me preamble the story by saying that I grew up in Russia where gender stereotypes are presented in its purest form until this day. “The man is the head, but the woman is the neck,” the popular Russian saying goes meaning that in a traditional Eastern European household a woman is expected to take care of all domestic duties, while a man is often seen as a bread winner who is not doing anything related to the house (except bringing home the paycheck).
You might be surprised, but this role distribution is not from the Soviet times, but rather modern day thinking. In a recent opinion poll by the Russian Insider, 78% of both men and women believe that a “woman’s place is in the home.” The results of the Levada Center research demonstrate that 31% of female and male responders want a woman to be become the next Russian president (the funny fact is that Russian women don’t want to see a woman becoming president!). While recent American elections proved that women are at least considered for the highest political position, Russian mentality doesn’t even allow a thought of a matriarchate in politics (only 11% of respondent are for a female president).
Statistics aside, I can attest from my own experience that such stereotypical opinion about women and their place in society is something that is deeply rooted in Russia. Here is an example: the majority of my classmates from high school are married with kids (most of them are having more than one child) and are stay-at-home moms. Except for a few girls that moved to other countries, most of my college friends are also highly domesticated. While I have nothing against women who chose to dedicate lives to their families (in fact, my own mother is a stay-at-home mom and I love and respect her immensely!), what I can’t understand is how Russian society does not even give women a chance to do something else with their lives except cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children.
What’s even more difficult to comprehend is that the women who decide to pick a domesticated lifestyle are actually highly educated. According to the USA Today, Russia is the most educated country in the world where 53.5% of population are college graduates (compared to 43.1% in the U.S.). There seem to be no correlation between education level and Russian women’s desire to enter the workplace as women in that country make only 46.9% of the employed population. And even if she picks working, we are predominantly talking about low-income jobs such as healthcare and education (you’ll be surprised but doctors in Russia are the most underpaid professions!).
Where I’m heading with all those stats and data is to the conclusion that until this day Russia is not a very gender inclusive country. In my experience, the notion of feminism in Russia is a constant object of jokes instead of a legitimate social movement. While patriarchal thoughts are so deeply rooted in Russian people’s mentality that many Russian girls don’t even try changing the gender stereotypes.
Such notions are especially relevant to the way Russians are celebrating International Women’s Day (in my opinion, this day should be renamed into International Chauvinism Day in Russia—just saying!) March 8th is one of the most important holidays for Russians (compared only to the New Year’s Eve). On that day, all women receive gifts and flowers from men, not only at home but also at work. Every company I ever worked for in Russia organized a huge celebration for women with champagne and chocolate and non-stop compliments from male coworkers. Some women are going even further and give each other presents to celebrate this gender-centered day.
What seems extremely hypocritical in this Russian approach to the International Women’s Day is that on this day boyfriends and husbands are expected to take care of some house responsibilities. Take out the garbage, wash dishes, maybe cook pasta for dinner—on that day Russian men are getting praised for getting involved in the duties that women are handling… for the other 364 days. You’ve heard me right: the majority of Russian men never-ever involve in household duties and probably would not be able to feed themselves if there was no women around.
What I don’t understand though is why there is such tradition that they must do something on March 8th? Isn’t it just to rationalize why they are not good in household duties so women can take care of them as they are “better suited for” cooking and cleaning?
To be honest, every time I hear about Russian Americans celebrating International Women’s Day the same way it is in Russia, I cringe. I don’t understand how living in such a liberating country as America where the gender role distribution if not dead then is about to, people are still celebrating this important for women holiday in such dated and openly chauvinist way?
In my book, International Women’s Day is about commemorating the women’s rights movement. The right to vote, to chose our own destiny, to compete with men at the workplace, to chose whether to have kids or not, to own property… Saying so, I was really delighted to become a part of the Farfetch celebration which puts women on pedestal not only because they happened to be born female, but rather because who women are and what they stand for. As mothers, sisters, and daughters… but also as world leaders, successful entrepreneurs, peace advocates, creative souls, and thinkers.
There was a mirror at the Farfetch event where guests were allowed to write on and share their thoughts with the world. I wrote, “Women will save the world!” and I stand by each and every word in that sentence. We’ll do it not because we manage to have the ability to bring life, but because we are the most hard-working, intelligent, empathetic, and talented creatures out there. We ARE the world. And it’s time to finally make changes that will make our surroundings a more comfortable place for women to live in.
OUTFIT DETAILS: For Love & Lemons Ruffle Dress (also love this one)
Sophie Helme Stripe Bag (c/o; also comes as a tote or same shape but in yellow)
Over-the-Knee Boots // Le Specs Sunglasses // Lace Choker