The Ukrainian media celebrates International Women’s Day.
By Ilya Khineyko
According to Aurora website the International Women’s Day (IWD) is “the global day connecting all women around the world and inspiring them to achieve their full potential.” Similarly, the Status of Women Canada website describes the IWD as providing “an opportunity to celebrate the progress made to advance women’s rights and to assess the challenges that remain.” Ukraine, along with a number of ex-USSR republics and a few post-socialist countries such as Macedonia and Vietnam, celebrates the Women’s Day on a state level, as an official statutory holiday. In the USSR, the IWD was introduced in 1921 in commemoration of a female workers’ strike that allegedly sparked the February Revolution of 1917. It became a statutory holiday in 1966, and the celebrations would typically include hailing the achievements of Soviet women with newspapers featuring interviews with a female tractor driver or a dairy farm worker.
With the USSR and its ideology gone, one would expect the Women’s Day to fade or perhaps, acquire a new meaning in line with the western ideas about it. However, a quick sample of Ukrainian print and online media reveals that this is not the case at all. It seems that the very notion of the March 8th , as the IWD has been known on the post-Soviet space, is built on an explicit opposition to Western feminism. The holiday address of the Zadonbass.org.ua speaks of
“some know-it all guys who evoke the name of Klara Zetkin and all that politics when [the IWD] is mentioned. Those smart alecks don’t understand the main thing: the March 8th has nothing do with politics.”
The sentiment is echoed in a special article on the occasion published in one of the country’s leading newspapers Den’: “History and politics have no power over this holiday, which is very refreshing in our cynical century.” The article, written by a journalist named Yuri Mosaev, contains a passionate invective against feminism linking it with negative demographic trends and the spread of homosexuality in the West:
In the last few decades, feminism has become a popular phenomenon in the world. In the most developed countries, it has resulted not only in the growing respect for women’s rights and fulfillment of their ambitions, but also has driven into a corner certain aspects of civilization. Now the US and Western Europe have to deal with the fact that any kind of attention a man pays to a woman is considered sexual harassment. It leads to an increase in impotency among the male population of those countries, thereby inevitably exacerbating demographic problems. Furthermore, such a stance adopted by women leads to a direct increase in homosexual experimentation among men as well as women.”
While the tone of Den’s article is rather pensive, Ukraina Moloda approaches this topic with a certain degree of tongue-in-cheek. Its author, Natalia Lebid, writes in the introduction about the difficulties Ukrainian journalists encounter when try to come up with original material on the annual occasion:
Hacks can adopt a nationally conscious stance [a reference to the ideological positions of the national democrat camp] and scoff at Soviet “holy women” – Klara Zetkin and Rosa Luxemburg. Another way would be to follow the path of glamour and tabloid media and ask, for example, people’s deputies what gifts their wives are getting (it would be a futile effort to ask that in regard to their mistresses because the deputies won’t tell).
Entitled “Gender i trudova knyzhka”, the article attempts to catch readers’ attention by using the cognitive incongruity between the western and modern connotations evoked in the Ukrainian usage of the word ‘gender’ and the mention of a relic of the Soviet era — trudova knyzhka (employment history records book). In a rather playful tone, Lebedeva addresses the issue of gender representation, namely why women seem to be underrepresented among Ukrainian political scientists and overrepresented among creative writers. As it turns out, the main factors are money, beer, and the USSR.
The leading Ukrainian online newspaper Ukrains’ka pravda did not run a congratulatory address. However, on the eve of the holiday, on March 7, it published a piece by Iryna Shust who pondered over the issue of women in politics. Unlike the typical musings of western pundits on the same topic, the article contains no references to the statistical data on women’s (under)representation in parliament or government. Instead, Iryna Shust is preoccupied with a somewhat different question: whether a female politician ought to kill the woman in herself in order to succeed in politics. “It is sad to admit” writes Iryna Shust, but “politics is not for the weaker souls” and therefore “if a woman wants to “succeed in politics then she would have to get rid of the “inner female” anyhow”. On the March 8th the Ukrains’ka Pravda news section contained only one piece with a holiday related topic. It reported on an initiative by the Ukrainian branch of Amnesty International to strengthen penalties for family violence. The news item itself contained nothing more than a summary of the Amnesty International proposal to increase the incarceration time for first time offenders from the current three hours to three days. Yet, in the customary fashion of the post-Soviet media, the spin on the story can be found in the title, which poses the following question “Will a man’s time in jail for the first bruise to his wife be increased by 24 times?”
International Women’s Day remains a popular and celebrated holiday in Ukraine. However, the holiday’s content seems to be deeply rooted in the cultural peculiarities of post-Soviet society. Its Soviet past is rejected with mockery and derision, whereas a skeptical attitude towards ‘Western’ notions of feminism and women’s rights is often adopted. Instead, International Women’s Day in Ukraine is a celebration of vaguely defined ‘femininity’ and women’s traditional roles in relation to men as mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, which would surely appear conspicuously patriarchal not only to Western feminists but also to many in the mainstream Western audience. In that respect, there is very little ‘international’ in the Ukrainian version of Women’s Day.