Just say no… to flowers?

26 Mar

Here’s a quick synopsis from The Week about the Lithuanian custom of men giving women flowers on International Women’s Day:

Did you get flowers for International Women’s Day? asked [journalist] Jurgita Noreikiene. In Lithuania, just as in other countries in the former Soviet sphere, it’s customary for men to give women flowers on March 8. “Just for being a woman.” For being so “feminine, charming, sweet, and caring” that men must, as a matter of course, treat us like princesses. “Stop, stop, stop!” This is not what the day is supposed to be about. It started back in the 19th century as a women’s labor movement, a “day of solidarity” when women protested against their crappy salaries and rotten working conditions. Now we are free “not only to work and earn money, but to run our own businesses.” We have paid maternity leave and child care. We should be spending this day “thinking about what we have won and what is yet to be achieved.” For example, we have equality before the law, but we’re still struggling against sexist stereotypes. That’s why when our male co-workers shower our desks with flowers once a year, it’s not exactly appropriate. “Of course they mean well. But this gesture disempowers their female colleagues”—no matter how “flattered” we may be (http://theweek.com/article/index/225527/lithuania-saying-lsquono-thanksrsquo-to-flowers).

Noreikiene’s call for Lithuanians to rethink an accepted and seemingly harmless (even admirable, to some) tradition is for me an apt example of UMass Amherst professor Sonia Nieto’s observation that “nice is not enough” if a society is striving for equity and justice. Beyond perpetuating the very sexist stereotypes that Noreikiene decries, this custom of giving flowers ends up turning a celebration of women into yet another instance of institutionalized heterosexism.While I can appreciate the sentiment of the flowers, what’s “nice” about the gesture is simultaneously dismissive of real disparities that continue to disadvantage women and men, especially as long as they can be petaled over with an understandably preferable exchange of flowers, smiles and status quo.

Noreikiene got me thinking about other holidays when we give flowers–and ties–as a way of honoring people in our society. What if Mother’s and Father’s Days weren’t just occasions to give the usual gifts that say “thanks for being so sweet and caring” but instead, days of solidarity when we “think about what we have won and what is yet to be achieved” in terms of rights for mothers, fathers and guardians of all socioeconomic standings and family structures? Of course, we could practice “yes, and…” thinking: recognize the issues that we still need to tackle as a society, and have our waffles in bed, too.

This post comes well ahead of either parent’s day as an invitation for each of us to rethink what and how we want to honor this year.

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