Tuesday, March 8, 2016

SOL #8: Happy International Woman's Day!

My first introduction to this March 8th holiday was in 1990, when I was spending a college semester in Denmark.  The funky little international "folk college" I was at had a funky little international choir.  We were invited to sing at a community celebration on International Woman's Day, and our Japanese director chose John Lennon's "Woman" as our contribution.

Woman, I would like to explain
I never meant to cause you sorrow or pain

Hm.  Sounds like a guilty conscious to me.

We sang Lennon's "Imagine" that year too, as well as "If the Russians Love their Children Too," a Cold War protest song by Sting.  The Berlin Wall had just come down, Mandela was freed that spring, and glasnost and perestroika were building towards the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  An Estonian student provided us with the sheet music and pronunciation help to learn a patriotic Estonian song (Estimaa, Estimaa..), and we also pealed out "Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica" with joy.

The times, they were a changin', and like the flower children of the 1960s, we really believed that "Right here, right now, there is no other place I'd rather be...watching the world wake up from history."

Some fifteen years later, my husband and I were spending a year in the Latvian capital, Riga.  After nearly five years volunteering there in the early 1990s, I'd leapt at the chance for a Fulbright Teaching Exchange.  So much had changed, so much had not.

When March 8th rolled around, I prompted my husband to consider buying flowers for women in his life.  A few of my students brought them into school to give to each of their female teachers.  We had our own Latvian class that evening, and one of our classmates, a Cuban, brought carnations for the teacher, me, and our friend Andrea.

I noticed that not everyone celebrated a day that was much more fussed over during my earlier stays in Latvia.  Our neighbor sniffed haughtily, "That's a Soviet custom.  Real Latvians celebrate Mother's Day."  A few other friends echoed this stance.  Nearly two decades into independence, lines were still constantly being drawn between Us and Them.  Sure, the Russians love their children too, but there's more to harmony and peace than the deterrent of mutually assured destruction.

I wasn't sure if I should tell my staunchly anti-Soviet friends that much of Western Europe celebrates today too.  It's not just "socialist" Denmark.  My Navy-wife friend who has done two stints in Germany, usually posts a cheery greeting on this day.  It is a funny little event; like Black History Month, its existence proves the neglect we take for granted, and the celebrations can have a patronizing air.  Really?  You're giving me carnations to show your appreciation for my getting paid 70 cents on the dollar while working the double shift of paid work and childcare/housework?

On the other hand, there's something about being handed spring flowers when winter is still lingering nearby that makes it hard to be grumpy and ungrateful.  So Happy International Women's Day.  Sing your favorite song, whether it's a protest song or a love song.

Songs:
Woman
Russians

Märkamise aeg (Estimaa, Estimaa)

Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica
Right Here, Right Now



Written as part of the Slice of Life March writing challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers


1 comment:

  1. I think of myself as a feminist but had never heard of International Woman's Day until recently. Today I didn't think about it until some students said, "Happy International Woman's Day." Anything we can do to draw attention to the inequities is worth doing--from carnation giving, to blogging, to offering a greeting of acknowledgment. I'm singing Helen Reddy today: "I am woman hear me roar!"

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