As it turns out, feminism is a hot topic, not just for adults, but for teenagers as well. At Papmambook, we asked our young writers to give us their takes on Sassa Buregren and Elin Lindell’s What We Celebrate on March 8. Their reviews represent a whole spectrum of views on the book and on the issue of feminism in Russia.
Alexandra Dvoretskaya, 13
The world has reached the point where people have gotten what they wanted. Personally, I would consider myself neither a feminist, nor an anti-feminist. As it says in the book, I just want to be myself. For a few years I wore men’s ties and that was a part of who I was. At the same time, I wasn’t trying to hide behind men’s clothing, or to be masculine. I’m a woman and I use all the privileges of my gender. And that’s completely normal. Yes, I would run around and make mischief with the boys, but first they would carry my backpack for me—I’m a woman, after all. I don’t wear skirts but my see-through tops are not unfeminine. I’m willing to attend a protest for higher wages for women, but at the same time I could be thinking of how to get married advantageously, so I don’t have to work at all.
So there are women who don’t want others to think they are weaker than men? Sure! What’s the issue? But they are individual cases. Because, forgive me, dear ladies, it’s true, we are much weaker than men physically, and we’re smaller in size. Obviously, it’s difficult for you to drag that bag of potatoes to the tenth floor. So if you want the boundaries to be completely torn down, you shouldn’t be offended when a man doesn’t come running to help you carry in the groceries. Because we’re equally strong, right? Plus, if we do away with gender boundaries, men won’t have all those strange rules anymore, like “It’s bad to hit girls.” Great! Now, they’ll be excellent opponents for us, since we’re equal in strength.
As for equal education for men and women, I agree: I want to gain knowledge. Luckily, we don’t have that problem in our society. So much the better.
As for feminism in general, I think its proponents advocate for the wrong things. We should let both women and men make their choices and build their lives, doing what they are able, and love, to do. For example, I hate sewing. And I wouldn’t mind taking carpentry classes with the boys. I hate gym class, and I can’t fulfill the boys’ required physical fitness drills, but if there are no gender boundaries, everyone will have to do the same work. I won’t stand for that, sadly.
This book presents a worldview that is not of our country. It’s interesting, but only as a reference book.
So what do we celebrate on March 8? What does it matter?! We love holidays in Russia, and it makes no difference what it’s for.
Daria Ponomareva, 15
My first impression of this book was surprise. You’re met with questions. All people should have equal rights and opportunities. Yes or No? You’re intrigued and you follow the arrows, without knowing where you’ll end up. The longer you play with the questions, the more interested you get, and you want to read the book itself.
Feminism is a very complex issue. The book covers many topics and not all of them are for children: violence, dark humor, humiliation. It creates some inner discord. I don’t quite agree with everything that’s described in the book, especially the examples from other kids.
There’s a girl at my school who acts “like a guy.” I don’t think that’s cool or that it makes her special. She swears a lot and not a day goes by that she doesn’t get into some situation to show us all that “I don’t want to be a good girl, I’ll do whatever I want.” Let’s all walk around in tattered clothes then, do poorly in school, and compete to see who can spit the farthest, if that’s what it means to be yourself and not conform to enforced societal norms.
Whenever I felt like wearing a bowtie to school, I never had the sort of problems that the authors “hint” at. It could be that our school is perfect (though the cafeteria food suggests otherwise), but nobody would laugh at you, and I think this book slightly exaggerates this issue. Maybe I just don’t understand feminism. My first memory associated with it is the sense of resentment that women have to work. A hundred years ago someone voted for that, and now we all have to suffer. I guess the movement has always been somehow “too much” for me, or it could be girls weren’t held back much in my environment. Maybe that’s why I have mixed feelings about this book.
Besides, my opinions differ from those of the kids in the book, even though we’re about the same age. That makes it hard to trust. For example, the book presents the story of a boy who doesn’t like how girls and boys are split up for sports and he considers it unfair to us girls. That’s just the story of one particular boy, which doesn’t prove anything. It gives me the feeling that the authors are trying to prove their point with made-up examples. You know why boys play separately? Not because we girls are weak or afraid to lose. No. It’s just that we often have co-ed teams and even the teacher’s rules like “don’t hit below the belt,” don’t help. Boys can’t always contain their strength and I recall how I had the wind knocked out of me with a volleyball. It’s easier for girls to play with girls—we’re about equal in terms of strength, so we can enjoy playing together. And the boys can play freely, knowing that they won’t hurt anyone with an accidental throw. They can relax and pile up on each other. I think everybody does things how they like and if one boy saw some global injustice here, it doesn’t mean everyone sees things as he does.
The illustrations in the book also contradict each other. There are very beautiful pictures of great women that you can enjoy admiring—those stood out to me first. Then there are pages with very rough, ugly, comic-style pictures, pages you want to turn as quickly as possible. Those illustrations simplify the book and the issues it presents.
As for the question of whether I’d pick it up on my own, I would still say “yes.” Many of the topics addressed in the book are important and complex and you should be informed about them. There are very few books on the market that address these issues and I doubt I’d find something like that just walking into a bookstore.
But did I enjoy it?
I’m not sure.
Bogdan Ivanov, 15
I wouldn’t consider this a book of history. The original title Feminism Pågår (which translates literally to “feminism in progress“ or “the advance of feminism”) suits the book’s contents better than the title of the Russian edition: What We Celebrate on March 8. Naturally, I understand that the change was made to attract readers. But the book is not actually about how the March 8 holiday came to be, but about feminism as a whole.
I had mixed impressions. On the one hand, the authors advocate for doing away with stereotypes, which we certainly have in society. I have a friend, a guy, who sometimes complains, rather amusingly, that the salesperson at the electronics store is a woman and that she doesn’t know anything about technology. Still, the way the book presents the issues of stereotypes is a whole different story.
For example, the book tells readers about a certain test that is used to check that movies are politically correct in regards to women. The requirements are as follows:
1) It needs to have at least two female characters with names.
2) Those characters should talk among themselves.
3) The dialogue should not be about—or only about—men.
The reader is asked: Why don’t films fulfill those conditions and why do they discriminate against women? Is it to make more at the box office? The reader is just about ready to agree when the authors suddenly refute the explanation they just suggested, writing that the films that fail this test gross less on average than those that pass.
I couldn’t grasp the authors’ logic. First, why do they think that films that fail the test were produced precisely to discriminate against women? Isn’t it possible that certain stories don’t need female characters?
And second of all, what’s the source of their claim that it’s precisely the number of female characters that influences profitability?
The authors mention that there are less women than men in management positions, and that something needs to be done about that. But they don’t also advocate for more women working in coal or ore mining. I understand that distinction. There should be equality in terms of leadership, but no one aspires to a universal military draft, like there is in Israel. That’s not the equality the authors have in mind.
As far as I know, these days women have just as many rights as men. In any case, the law is there to defend equality. It’s quite possible to resolve the issues that the authors take up. If someone breaks the law—gather evidence and take the wrongdoer to court. If you don’t like objectivization or you think the balance of power in mass art is injust—make your own art, which is better and more just.
Part of the book talks about how we should accept both boys who act like girls and girls who act like boys—to destroy gender stereotypes, so to speak. I don’t understand this rhetoric about accepting or rejecting anyone. If someone doesn’t accept the laws and norms of society, why should society accept them? If, for example, a boy decides to wear girl clothes, why should he expect that his peers will welcome him with open arms? Why do others have to accept him as part of the group? After all, he didn’t accept the unspoken rules of the group, right?
Basically, I was left with many questions for the authors.
I would consider this book propaganda. I don’t mean that with any negative connotation. Propaganda is simply the dissemination of certain ideas and this book presents facts and images in a way that’s meant to advance the cause of feminism. In no way is it an objective analysis or a history book.
Would it be interesting for a young man of my age? Possibly as an object of discussion, but not for independent reading and reflection.
Ksenia Barysheva, 13
I would join Olga Bukhina Olga Bukhina is a translator, writer, and regular Papmambook contributor. in noting that recently, many books have come out with a female protagonist—a girl that is observant, strong, decisive, and active. Aside from the books mentioned in that interview, you could name The Shadow on the Stone Bench by Maria Gripe, Witch Child by Celia Rees, Karma by Cathy Ostlere, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, and Dorit Linke’s Beyond the Blue Border. It really does look like a trend at this point. Society now needs an image of a strong, confident, and energetic girl. Many of those books are also historical fiction, and girls act in circumstances that would have been impossible in reality.
There probably is an issue with how girls and boys are raised differently. I remember that all throughout preschool and kindergarten I really wanted to be a boy because the games they played were so much more interesting. Most of the girls in my group did dance, and I didn’t care for it. I played Spider-Man, pirates, and Ninja Turtles with the boys, and thought up new adventures for cartoon characters. Then that desire to be a boy faded away by itself, but because of my hobbies I’m still around them more. At chess school, there are only five girls in a group of 40, and in math it’s even fewer. Last year, at the “White Castle” chess tournament, I beat a Master of Sport, a member of the Russian national team. When we reported the outcome of the game to the judge, he laughed for a long time and said that Arthur probably got distracted looking at my braids. If a boy had beat Arthur, nobody would have thought of joking, they would just shake his hand. Of course, I wasn’t offended, since we played as equals, but situations like that are very accurately depicted in What We Celebrate on March 8.
My mom and godmother often laugh remembering how they applied for jobs after college. Since mom was married, they made her swear on the Constitution that she wouldn’t take maternity leave for the next five years. My godmother wasn’t married, so they made her swear she wouldn’t get married while she was working for them. To get around it, she got married in strict secret in the neighboring city and didn’t change her last name. Young men probably didn’t have those sort of problems when applying for work. My godmother changed her job twice, each time because of maternity leave—before each child was born they would ask her to resign.
But you could imagine just the opposite: how would people look at a guy who came in to a sewing studio or wanted to work as a seamstress? Russian doesn’t even have a word for a male seamstress.
That’s why I’d like to say that the issue of unequal opportunities is definitely real. What We Celebrate on March 8 hits us where it hurts, makes you feel aversion, indignation, it’s not easy to read because it talks about what ails us. The authors are like doctors, almost, who have to tell their patient a terrible diagnosis. It’s not great to feel injured and deprived of certain opportunities, but only a diagnosis allows you to start treatment and get better. Although I personally found this book a little too aggressive.
Still, the very fact that books about strong girls are coming out tells us that society’s ideas about girls’ and boys’ opportunities are changing, that society is ready to accept a new female hero. I don’t agree with the authors that boys don’t read books about girls. They do—they’re just embarrassed to admit it.
Evgeny Zherbin, 13
I had mixed impressions in regards to this book. On the one hand, gender equality—like racial equality—is right, and you shouldn’t discriminate against a person just because they are a man/woman/black/white, etc.
On the other hand, feminism, in practice, often becomes a farce or turns to discriminating men. A recent case comes to mind, when only women were allowed at a film premiere In May 2017 The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas announced a female-only screening of Wonder Woman., a decision which was proudly hailed as “equality”.
And, of course, I loved that at the end of a book about the inaccuracy of female stereotypes, there’s a cross-stitch pattern for the Women’s Movement symbol. Only a borscht recipe would have been more fitting.
Maria Dorofeeva, 15
I pay close attention to feminist issues, because I think it’s really important. I follow Emma Watson’s work as a UN Goodwill Ambassador and I often see support of feminism online (like the Women’s March, which happened recently, or Dior’s “We should all be feminists” campaign). But I think, for people my age, the idea of “feminism” is gaining an undesirable negative connotation. To them, a feminist is not a person who advocates for equal rights for everybody, but an empty fashionable label. Maybe that’s why the Russian translation of the title doesn’t include the word “feminism”?
The first impression I had, when I started reading the book, was surprise. Based off of the title, I didn’t at all expect that the book would be about feminism. The title suggested a non-fiction book about holidays and their histories. I had also never read a non-fiction book about feminism. I was most captivated by the stories of children, whose names had been changed.
I thought about the potential readers of this book. At first I thought I was probably not the ideal audience, because I already know a bit about feminism and its history. I’m “on board.” Then I understood that I hadn’t yet thought about everything that feminism encompasses. In this book, gender equality does not just mean equal wages, but also no gender stereotyping in clothing and much more, which is interesting to think about.
I don’t think this book can change the minds of those who already have a set position on feminism. But it’s probably a good fit for people who are certain that there should be equal rights regardless of gender. At the same time they may not have studied this issue further or encountered the feminist movement. This is usually the case in very small cities, where you might not hear much about feminism, except for on the Internet.
Romi Veide, 18
For me, feminism is a very powerful word. I think it carries a certain energy. It’s a call to arms, but at the same time, something calm. When I hear it, I think of people who are strong in spirit, people who were able to stand up to societal norms and prejudice, even 200 years ago.
When I saw the first page of What We Celebrate on March 8, where there’s a simple diagram that explains what it’s about, I knew right away that it would be a good read. We talk a lot about feminism in school, plus it’s a very hot topic in the media as well. Some people think that since women have gained the right to vote and work like men, the feminist movement is no longer relevant. The way I see it, we have to understand that in many countries equality is still just a fantasy. The authors, Sassa Buregren and Elin Lindell, tell stories of how, even in the most progressive countries, women political leaders and bosses are treated with mistrust, and people feel bad for them that they weren’t able to realize themselves as wives and mothers. I’ve encountered stereotypes like that myself. For example, I often meet people who think that girls are much worse than boys at math and physics. Many think that men shouldn’t express their feelings—unlike women, they can’t cry, they have to keep it together at all times. But those who believe that are forgetting one simple truth—we’re all people. First and foremost, we’re not men or women, children or adults, black or white, but just people. I think if we remember that, certain problems will just fall away. Of course, men and women are different, you can’t deny that; but many of the differences are not real—they are just invented by society.
Besides the ideas in the book, I was also impressed by its language. Everything was simple and clear. The ironic illustrations complement the text well and show how funny our prejudices can be. The book is an easy read not just for adults, but also for us, children and teenagers, those who really should be reading books like this. After all, the future of the world and how we treat each other depends on us.
Prepared by Marina Aromshtam
Translated from the Russian by Alisa Cherkasova
Read an interview with Sassa Buregren and Elin Lindell.
Follow us on Facebook.