Monday, March 8, 2010
There will be no carnations today
Not a one. There will be no carnations today, not in Poland, not given to women, not if you want to save your skin. Happy International Women's Day! May 8. I didn't pay much attention to the news today so I can't say if the occasion got much play in the States. Some years it does, others it goes by without a peep. In years past I was involved in special events designed to teach women's history, or call attention to continuing issues of sexism, whether that be pay inequity, or glass ceilings, or sexual harassment and abuse. But, to be honest, International Women's Day has never had a big following here in the States. We take for granted all that we have and we are in denial about the problems that live on, and on, and on. So our attitude is pretty much just "never mind." Not so in Poland. Oh no, not so at all. International Women's Day is a big deal there. It is all about patronizing women, being extra chivalrous, even more condescending in the attention paid to "our women who work so hard for us." It is still a sore point. A major demonstration was planned this year, to call attention to specific injustices, a demonstration that most Poles managed to ignore. A recent magazine article reported the hardships women faced during the Communist period. But Polish women will tell you that the challenges are not gone. However, there are flowers. Never mind the issues of pay and power and housework, the women all get flowers. We get flowers from husbands and sons and brothers and fathers and friends and bosses. The corner kiosks selling flowers prepare for a brisk business and sell out before mid-afternoon. Women walk up Nowy Swiat carrying small bouquets, sometimes more than one. They have received flowers at work, at lunch, from sweethearts and co-workers. One would feel neglected,and embarrassed, to be seen outside today without flowers, evidence of someone's respect and affection. Men rush to deliver their flowers during lunch hours, on quick breaks, and it is a bit of an odd thing to see them out carrying bouguets of flowers too. If all else fails, there's always the supermarket. Yes, the market has a supply of roses to hand out to its women customers today. Touching. But heaven forbid you hand out carnations. Carnations are absolutely not allowed. Not one. Back again during the Communist period, every woman was given a red carnation at work on International Women's Day. These flower hand-outs generally took up work time, which had to be made up, as the "top dogs" (Poles love this term) would call a general assembly of the entire staff, spend an hour or two extolling the virtues of women, then send them back to finish their day's work, which often kept the women there longer than usual. How thoughtful. Charming, really. Needless to say, the carnations weren't particularly popular at the time. Tokenism. Boring, empty rhetoric. A longer day than usual. And a wimpy little carnation. Resentment, sarcastic wit, disgust were the order of the day. Symbolized by a red carnation. You'd have to look extra hard to find a red carnation anywhere in Poland today. If only the culture had made so much progress.