Sunday, March 07, 2010

Tomorrow, CERN celebrates socialist women's day

The first International Women's Day was observed in the U.S. on February 28th, 1909, by a declaration of the Socialist Party of America. They wanted to remember mostly female victims of a factory fire. The following year, in 1910, the celebrations went international when they were adopted by the Second Socialist International in Copenhagen.

For obvious reasons, this holiday was quickly fading away since the late 1920s.

But it was revived by feminism in the 1960s. Going back in time, celebrations of the International Women's Day were the first rallies that ignited the October Revolution in 1917 in Russia and helped to decimate democracy in the world's largest territory for more than 70 years. Following the October Revolution, the Bolshevik Feminist Alexandra Kollontai persuaded Lenin to make it the official holiday in the USSR. So they did it but it was a working day for some time. It became a non-working day in the USSR in 1965.

In Czechoslovakia, the day would always be connected with parties of fat old obnoxious communists, both male and female ones. The latter would always include Ms Marie Kabrhelová, a de facto forced role model for the Czechoslovak women, and a top hardcore communist actress, Ms Jiřina Švorcová.

After the Velvet Revolution, the holiday would largely disappear. However, these days, it's the most celebrated women's day again, ahead of Mother's Day and the St Valentine. However, all the links to socialism and work have been forgotten. People don't celebrate it for the old reasons.

But it is the old socialist tradition - of women linked to work - that CERN wants to build upon.

Much like a century ago, the European Center for Nuclear Research is importing the idea from the U.S. Ms Pauline Gagnon from Indiana had a great idea to celebrate the accomplishments of women in this field - which are approximately one order of magnitude smaller than the accomplishment of men who don't celebrate theirs - and highlight the International Women's Day by firing as many men for one day as possible. This celebration will occur despite the fact that the holiday is not officially observed by most key EU countries. For example, it's not observed in the U.K., France, Germany, and Switzerland.

So let's hope that the collider won't be destroyed tomorrow. I don't think that the women at CERN are much worse but I do think that it may be a bad idea to reduce the pool of the experts who maintain the facility from many thousands to a random sample of 500 employees or so.

CERN Director General Rolf Heuer said:
"Gender, race and religion have no part to play in finding the right person for the job."
But only some groups are allowed to celebrate their holidays, right? Imagine that CERN would declare a symmetric, analogous men's holiday when women wouldn't be allowed to come to work. That would be lots of whining, wouldn't it?


  1. Lubos,
    It is very sad that you have such associations of this celebration with repression and communism. At least they did not mess around with mother's day (I hope) so you wont feel bitter in a month or so.
    They basically poisoned the concept for you! I am so sorry!
    Women's day always feels a bit awkward for me, as I feel I don't need a special day. Everyday I have to think how far we have come since I was a child to attain equality in the thinking minds and still ignore sexist remarks ( and I hear quite a lot of then in conservative Switzerland).
    I have long been a proponent of an equal men's international day. Why not, we have international days for everything, anyway :-)
    Having said that, I think you are being a bit unfair to Pauline. The idea was not to fire men, but to man the shifts with women as much as possible. You do know, I hope, that all people doing shifts are equally qualified, regardless of gender,age, religion and what not.
    So, do not worry about the precious LHC, it is my precious (in a Golum's voice ;-) ) too, and I will take good care of it tomorrow, as I do every day.
    Take care and congratulations on your excellent blog.


  2. Dear Florbela,

    thanks for your interesting comment.

    Given a fixed sum "M+F", the total number of people in the control rooms etc., isn't the maximization of "F" (female workers) equivalent to the minimization of "M" (the male workers)? :-)

    You can say in it two different ways - and some people may want to parameterize everything in terms of "F" rather than "M" because they think that "F" is a nicer parameter than "M" - but is it incorrect or illegal to point out that these two things are the very same thing? :-)

    The communist regime has deformed many things but when I learned about the history of the holiday, I think that they actually kept the original meaning pretty intact. You know, during the communism, it wasn't a holiday that everyone would hate all the time. They would have abolished it if it were just making most people upset. It didn't. It was supposed to be about celebrations that some people kind of enjoyed, and most women were surely happy most of the time to be celebrated and get flowers or gifts. That was not the problem.

    But it was a holiday whose hidden role was to celebrate the power of governments or labor unions - or any organized activity of the workers - to put as many women to various jobs as possible. I understand that you may have no problem with such a goal - but I think that you and others should understand that other people can have a problem with it. First of all, it is a de facto discrimination against the men. Second, it is a method to promote the government and/or the labor unions.

    Also, I think that the men's day wouldn't be successful, and it's not a coincidence. It's a very integral part of the women's day that there's no men's day because the holiday is meant to express the "generally shared" idea that women are the marginal folks at the bottom who constantly need to be encouraged. Encouraging men wouldn't be "nice" so men's day - and maximization of men in the CERN's control rooms - would be viewed as politically incorrect.

    Needless to say, this meme has some true core - yes, women are a minority at CERN and elsewhere - but it is a true core that shouldn't be emphasized because it should be irrelevant. Emphasizing such things is about the promotion of the "awareness" of the differences between various groups or, in some sense, a promotion of the class struggle. That doesn't belong to science etc.

    Of course, no one will dare to paint himself as a person on the other side of this promoted class struggle because it's politically incorrect. But this is the main problem with similar asymmetric holidays. It forces everyone to pay lip service to the idea that various subgroups of the scientific community - e.g. women - constantly need some artificial support because this artificial support just compensates a social influence in the opposite direction.

    Well, I, for one, don't think that there is any significant influence in the opposite direction (a "discrimination" of women). Women have advantages in all social political respects, at least in science and other "liberal" sectors of the human activity, and if they have disadvantages, they're due to Mother Nature. It shouldn't be a task for physicists to fight Mother Nature: they should study Her, not fight Her.

    I surely wish you a lot of fun for tomorrow, thank you for your work you're doing for particle physics, and my worries about the LHC are just marginal.

    All the best