Skip to content

Bring Back the Parade

2011 March 8
International Women's Day parade in traditional dress in Po, Burkina Faso, 8 March 2009. Photo (c) Viktoriya

International Women's Day parade in traditional dress in Po, Burkina Faso, 8 March 2009. Photo writer's own

One of my oldest memories as a small child in Bulgaria is making a fuss over my mother on International Women’s Day. I remember making cards in school, and learning poems, and generally being really impatient to grow up so I would get to have a fuss made over me, too. Sure, there was Children’s Day, but it wasn’t a patch on Women’s Day. They got a bloody parade. A parade! Soon I, too, would grow up, and get to have a parade. Or possibly a statue. I hadn’t decided.

Of course, my innocent dreams of grandeur were all for nought. A few years later we moved to the UK, and Women’s Day was banished to a vague memory of communism and its weird ideas. I got Mothering Sunday instead. The first time I opted for Mothering Sunday flowers and brunch instead of the usual Women’s Day, my mother thought I’d forgotten and burst into tears. Explaining I’d switched allegiance to a movable feast instead of a fixed day didn’t seem to win me many fans. And my father seemed relieved that he didn’t have to observe it, since, he pointed out, she was his wife and not his mother.

Now, look. Those first tremulous years of transition were admittedly ropey, and it took a while for everyone to settle into their assigned roles. Mum yields to brunches and jewellery more easily now, and hasn’t demanded a formal poem or performative dance for the longest time. And my brother just signs his name next to mine on the card. But that’s not really the point.

I’m starting to think we shouldn’t have made the transition in the first place. International Women’s Day was a celebration of being female, and an acknowledgement of women’s roles and contributions to society. One of the famous women we learned about in school was Valentina Tereshkova (sans tragic end), and I remember presenting my school teacher with a carefully constructed posy to acknowledge her position as educator. Admittedly, this was all orchestrated and ultimately about the glory of communism, so there are problems with it. But despite all that, I took from those few years of observing Women’s Day a sense of pride at being female, and an impatience to be a woman.

So let’s look at Mothering Sunday. Where to start? It’s a familial observance – you’re nice to your own mother to make up for setting the kitchen on fire that one time, and 24 hours of labour et cetera – and I’m under no obligation to be nice to any mothers I meet on my way home. Especially if they’re pushing those 4×4 buggies. Also, it’s a presents-and-flowers day, where you buy gifts to show appreciation for being born and suckled and generally not dropped on your head. No one is actually expecting you to do anything differently the next day, your duties discharged with a pink book on frills and a wilted bouquet.

Finally – and perhaps damningly – it only acknowledges one aspect of femininity. Mothering Sunday elevates mothering to the pinnacle of womanhood. What happens if your mother – much as you love her – just isn’t very good at this mothering malarkey? She tries her best, but curing cancer or trekking across the Arctic takes up a lot of time. I’m betting she feels a little silly looking at that cat illustration now.

There are other problems. What about other women you owe great debts of gratitude to? What about the grandmothers, aunts, stepmothers, big sisters, best friends, teachers, mentors and supporters who cheerlead you throughout your life? Maybe we should have a separate day for each of them. I, for one, am looking forward to observing Second Cousin Twice Removed Day. They always threw the best parties.

I find it problematic to have motherhood as the only aspect of womanhood that is nationally acknowledged. I find it problematic to have motherhood as a system of gratitude predicated upon familial links, rather than as an acknowledgement by society as a whole. Finally, I find it bloody annoying that my own accomplishments will not be acknowledged or celebrated by anyone, least of all in a parade. Quite frankly, sometimes I think that I – and all the amazing women I see around me – deserve a parade. And why not? It happens elsewhere in the world. Two years ago I was in the small town of Po, in southern Burkina Faso, on 8th March. The reason I was wandering around the country and not busy with an abacus is because International Women’s Day is a Bank Holiday there. And not just there.

Here comes the parade... International Women's Day Parade in Po, Burkina Faso, 8 March 2009. Photo (c) Viktoriya

Here comes the parade... International Women's Day parade begins in Po, Burkina Faso, 8 March 2009. Photo writer's own

In China, Russia and large parts of Africa, International Women’s Day still flourishes.  Even in places such as Iran there are still people eager to celebrate women’s contributions and to show solidarity.  There are still parades, and recitals, and girls waiting impatiently to grow up and have a day to be proud of being female. You could argue that, in the UK, many women would feel proud of being female much more often than that. You could point towards exam results, or women’s achievements, or women’s contribution to UK society.

You’d be wrong, I think. Of course, women achieve all of these things in the UK, and more. But when are these achievements acknowledged or celebrated?

When they give birth – and, a few months later, get their first pink Mother’s Day card.

Keep your cards and glitter pens. Bring back the parades.


Carry your banner with pride: International Women's Day parade

Carry your banner with pride: International Women's Day parade

One Response leave one →
  1. Sarah Cook permalink
    March 8, 2011

    Interesting stuff, and love the photos!

    I never knew about International Women’s Day *shamefaced* until very recently, so don’t have the background to mourne it’s absence. I grew up with Mother’s Day and always enjoyed that as a child. It was a big thing back home with similar sorts of events, school activities and fetes etc. It was also generally extended to include All Female Relatives Who Have Ever Looked After Me Ever so I made a *lot* of Mother’s Day cards. I love the history of it and that it was an important holiday in the calendar of female workers (daughters who were maids of all work would have the day off to go and visit their mothers) so it was about the mother/daughter bond.

    And also making Simnel Cake ( and I generally approve of all food-related high days and holidays.

    I think this post beautifully illustrates how our celebrations are culturally specific, and mean different things across the world and to different people. I know I would be deeply upset if Mother’s Day was replaced.

    Having considered the options I HAVE A SOLUTION!

    We should have massive celebrations for International Women’s Day AND Mother’s Day.

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS