Happy holiday, dear women!

Or is one allowed to refer to persons of the female persuasion in such a gender-specific way? Being a stickler for political correctness, I must check up on this. Anyway, just to be on the safe side, congratulations to every female-person reader.

On second thoughts, given the general thrust of my prose, perhaps my typical readers wouldn’t mind being called women if that’s what they are (and sometimes even if that’s what they aren’t). Nor are they likely to know what on earth I’m congratulating them on.

No more suspense: today is 8 March, International Women’s Day, originally known as International Working Women’s Day. And if you’re unfamiliar with this highlight of the calendar, this ignorance means… what exactly? That you aren’t international? Not working? Not a woman? Actually, none of these.

It only means that you’re neither a Soviet native nor a socialist nor Germaine Greer, who has celebrated the event so eloquently on Radio 3. So perhaps you ought to be congratulated on what you are not, rather than on what you are.

This day was big in the Soviet Union. At dawn every loudspeaker at every street corner would blare the words I used in the title. The announcer’s soupy voice would shake the male population out of their heavy, hung-over slumber. The men would then kiss their wives and give them some half-wilted mimosas that had been hiding under the bed through the night.

Effusive programmes on radio and TV would continue all day, highlighting women’s achievements in arts, sciences and especially sports. Actually, the Soviet sportswomen who achieved the most were indeed great champions, but alas not necessarily or merely women.

Capitalist imperialist hyenas eventually cottoned on to this hormonal incidental and introduced chromosome testing at all major events. After that the most distinguished Soviet athletes, such as Tamara and Irina Press, Tatiana Shchelkanova and Klavdia Boyarskikh announced their summary retirement. But such mishaps weren’t allowed to detract from the festivity of the occasion.

Less illustrious Soviet women gratefully accepted the mimosas, while lamenting that their real achievement went uncelebrated. This was holding a full-time job, then queueing up at grocery shops for hours, then trying to convert unpalatable ingredients into palatable meals, then washing up, then doing the laundry, then ironing, then cleaning up, then putting children to bed, then – as often as not – looking after the hubby-wubby reeling in at midnight blind-drunk and violent.

Add to this the odd beating, premature ageing and regular abortions, the preferred method of contraception in the USSR, and the true scale of their unsung achievements was nothing short of epic. So it’s not only with pride but also with sadness that they listened to the hosannas for yet another heroine who had in the previous 12 months upstaged the Yanks in discus throwing or shot put.

‘All progressive mankind is celebrating International Working Women’s Day!’ thundered the announcers, thus drawing a line in the sand. Contextually, anyone who failed to celebrate the holiday may still have belonged to mankind, just, but certainly not to the progressive part of it.

It’s good to see that even with the supposed demise of the Soviet Union, 8 March is still celebrated in Russia, and Russian women still astound the world with their fine achievements. Appearances to the contrary, these don’t always involve marrying oligarchs or turning a prodigious number of tricks in London hotels.

No, newly liberated Russian women don’t have to rely on men to express themselves as persons. Anyone seeking proof of this should visit the website of The Sun, a paper known for its enlightened treatment of the fair sex (sorry, I know it’s supposed to be ‘gender’ but it just doesn’t scan in this sentence).

Keeping up with the great festival, this august publication has posted a video of the Russian gymnast Tatiana Kozhevnikova. This remarkable woman shows what’s possible to achieve with years of training, dedication and self-denial in the service of a worthy cause.

The viewers are treated to a neatly choreographed footage of Tatiana lifting heavy kettlebells with the part of her body that in the less progressive times was reserved either for the pleasure of love or the pain of childbirth. Apparently her personal best is 14 kilos (31 lbs), which may or may not be the world record but is a notable feat in either case.

So congratulations are in order. To Tatiana, for dedicating her life to expanding the realm of the possible. To Russia (aka the Soviet Union), for turning 8 March into a truly international holiday celebrated by Germaine Greer. To The Sun for letting us all share in the spirit of the occasion. And especially to all of you, men or women, who don’t know what the hell 8 March means.







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