Bookstores, supermarkets and convenience stores in Saigon, and possibly across Vietnam, have all put out extra greeting cards, chocolate boxes with flashy knots and heart-hugging teddy bears.
Soon enough, roses and all kinds of banquets will fill up the streets, ready for pickup.
It feels exactly like Valentine’s Day, except that all the fuss is now for women, whether they have a lover or not.
The International Women’s Day, now celebrated by roughly 30 countries, is a very big deal in Vietnam, enough to decide if a woman should stay in her marriage.
“The hell!” a friend of mine cried, almost spilling her drink when she was told that another friend's marriage was screwed up because her husband forgot to buy her flowers on March 8.
She believes the day is an important time for him to prove that he cares about her, and when he fails to do that with a bunch of flowers or a carefully wrapped box, she feels like she does not exist anymore.
I’ve talked with many women here, from all walks of life – a young stay-home mom, a high school teacher, a foreign language center director, an HR officer, a journalist. They hold strong opinions about almost anything, yet are easily swooned by the idea of men doing something special for them, on Women’s Day.
Many women consider the day a privilege that they will not give up. But sadly, it is a privilege that defines how dependent women are, and how much they need someone else to decide that they are valid.
When I was a child, I always fancied the Women’s Day celebration because my family never had one. My father declared himself a supporter of women’s liberation (which meant little to the 10-year-old me) and he would not allow that in the house.
The way he imposed the rule made him look more like a dictator than a feminist and there were moments I considered him extreme.
Then I left home and went to college, and I started to attend Women’s Day parties! I received flowers and gifts sometimes.
But it did not feel anything close to the excitement that I had always imagined.
And that’s when I thanked my father for having lowered my expectations, because giving someone else the power to make you feel how you feel is not something worth expecting.
At the places I’ve worked, I have seen women make various efforts to preserve the day. They would throw themselves a cooking contest and a flower arrangement class, and the worst part is when they invite men over to admire, even to evaluate the fruits of their labor.
The least intimidating thing I have ever participated in was possibly a make-up class.
(Please don’t think that I am too proud. This particular piece has gone through the approval of three men before publication.)
Men still have much higher authority than women in Vietnam, and bigger voice. They are more often the big bosses, the top government officials, and the important media sources.
Women are still ignored, doubted, underrated, if not abused and attacked, every day. The loud and clear existence of the Women’s Day just reflects that status quo.
Last month, a video was published online showing a girl being scolded by a man who looked like her boyfriend, on a street in Hanoi. He pointed his finger to order her to walk across the street, kneel down toward him, walk back and step onto the back of his bike.
She did all of that, in silence, exactly like the silence she received from local social media, which just several days later have been so noisy and inquisitive when two young women from Ho Chi Minh City announced that they had finished a 1,150-mile motorbike trip to Hanoi in 40 hours.
In a move either to support the women travelers or to show that they are better, or both, two young men just followed suit and finished a similar journey in more than 28 hours, arriving in Hanoi on March 1.
There’ve been no questions. Now everyone believes covering such a journey is possible.
It is not the truth until a man says so. All around the world, women still do not receive the validation they deserve or the respect any human should have.
Last month, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced by a roomful of men. In the U.K., the talented singer Lily Allen quit Twitter after trolls attacked her over her son dying at birth seven years ago.
Women still have to convince each other that they have the rights to feel proud and normal about themselves.
Stephanie Gongora, a yoga teacher in Texas, posted a video three weeks ago, showing her practice during her period and let everyone see her bleeding through white leggings.
“I am a woman, therefore, I bleed,” she said in an Instagram post, which aims to clear the stigma around what most women go through every month.
“It’s messy, it’s painful, it’s terrible, and it’s beautiful. And yet, you wouldn’t know. Because I hide it,” she said, describing how many women do not say “tampons” out loud and have to put them at the bottom of their shopping cart, and pray for a female cashier.
So what would be more important: Being able to put your tampon on the office desk just like you do a bandage, or getting flowers on Women’s Day?
Women will only have one if they give up the other, according to Nguyen Thi Phuong Thanh, representative of Young Women Make Change, a group of activists for gender equality in Hanoi.
Thanh said in many cases, women are preventing themselves from being treated equal by holding the “double standards” of demanding rights and privileges at the same time.
While acknowledging that real gender equality has to count biological differences like men are often better at carrying things, Thanh said women should be willing to give up their privileges.
Maybe she’s right. Maybe a man who takes you out for a special dinner and pays for it won’t expect to call it a night. Most of them will want to have sex with you.
Thanh said she has refused Women’s Day gifts for a long time and her boyfriend does not have the idea that he needs to do something on that day.
“Gender equality will not only free women, but men too,” said the 28-year-old whose group has conducted several surveys about abuse against women, with support from the UN.
When women are freed from their housewife stereotypes, for example, men will no longer have the pressure of being the masculine or the breadwinner, she said.
But by celebrating International Women’s Day, both of them have given up that chance.
The day has become a symbolic compensation for women, for all her sacrifice and disadvantages of any other day, Thanh said.
“And if you agree to that, let’s continue suffering and we will never have real equality.”
*The article does not necessarily reflect the views of VnExpress International or VnExpress.