Monday, March 8, 2010

International Women's Day

Today was one of the big holidays in Ukraine, paying tribute to the amazing women of this country. I walked to my Russian lessons and was surprised to find that not only was this important, but it also was a vacation day across the country--nobody was out at 9 a.m. as I strolled up Pushkinskaya St. toward my classes. Usually, the metro and buses are crowded with people heading to work.

Ukraine remains very traditional in many ways, particularly in the patriarchal nature of family relationships. Men should provide the money; women do everything else. They cook and clean and work and take care of the kids, all while trying to look as impressive as they can. But they are not saints. They have learned how to wrest control in many ways, despite this traditional culture, with cunning and often not-too-subtle manipulation. They take boyfriends; they are very demanding; they know their stunning looks and provocative clothing have an impact. I don't wish to judge; the easiest way to fail in understanding a culture is to spend too much time applying our values on their culture. I will first try harder to understand. It is interesting, for sure, and disturbing in many ways.

A friend told me this joke, which has some truth to it:

A man watches his neighbor sit on his balcony every day, strumming his guitar and drinking vodka. In the morning, his wife brings him breakfast, prepares the kids for school, and heads off to work. The neighbor spends the morning playing guitar. At lunchtime, his wife returns home to fix him lunch and clean up after him. And at night, the man sits on his balcony playing the guitar until dinner is served, by his wife, and he goes to bed.

The man watches his neighbor do this for several days. One day, he leans over and asks, "Don't you feel guilty?"

"About what?" the neighbor replies, still playing his guitar.

"You let your wife cook and clean and take care of the kids and work, and the only thing you do all day is to play guitar."

"Ah," said the neighbor. "No, I don't feel guilty. Is it my fault she can't play the guitar?"

So on March 8, the men cook and clean and buy their wives and girlfriends flowers, purses, shoes, phones and the like. Everywhere, I saw men and women with huge bundles of flowers of all sorts. The women seem to love this day. I think I understand why. For once, their many jobs become only one.

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