DOWN WITH PATRIARCHY: When in Rome…

There are really only two things about living in Russia that majorly and regularly bother me: the weather, and regressive cultural traditionalism.

I’m pretty sure that it will come as a surprise to absolutely no one that Russian society is deeply patriarchal, and for the most part, traditional gender norms are embraced by both sexes – with gusto. I am still having a hard time reconciling what seems to be the current standard for the ‘right’ kind of Russian woman – delicate domestic goddess eager to please her man – with the legacy of a country that enacted universal suffrage in 1917, boasted squadrons of female fighter-pilots during World War II, and sent a woman into space in 1963.

Soviet posters

Soviet posters depicting the liberation of women from oppressive domesticity (literally “kitchen slavery,” on the left) and promoting their equal participation in the management of governmental, economic and cultural affairs of the country.

BUT. This is not a history lesson. This is about the present. It’s about the modern Russian society where 94% of women have secondary education and 56% participate in the labor force (roughly equivalent to the US indicator). Where the head of an international news network is a woman. And yet where sexism and patriarchy run rampant.

In the present-day Russia, I have been inundated with casual sexism and entrenched patriarchy on a very personal level.

It’s in the morning handshake between the male colleagues in my office, while the women get the nod and a ‘hello.’

It’s when the girls I barely know ask how many kids I, a single gal, am going to have and how soon, and what’s my deadline for getting married? And when I say, “Somewhere between zero and ‘open-to-discussion.’ And marriage is not something I put on my to-do list,” it is inevitably met with shocked faces and disbelief: “What are you talking about? EVERY woman wants marriage! EVERY woman wants kids! What’s wrong with you?! Who hurt you?! Just you see. Just you wait. It is your natural duty.”

It’s in the ‘jokes’ told casually at dinner parties, by both men and women. “If he beats me, he loves me.” Or “Если сучка не захочет, то кобель не вскочит,” which word for word translates as “If the bitch won’t want, then the dog won’t mount,” but means “if a man is having sex, it shows that the woman wanted it.”  Except – it’s not a joke if they believe it, like so many do. This blatant and rampant cultural endorsement of domestic abuse and rape makes my skin crawl.

It’s when I am asked if I am a feminist, and I respond with, “Yes, of course.” Men and women alike recoil in horror, as if I had just admitted to torturing kittens. (I don’t torture kittens, in case you were wondering. If anything, I am bullied by a small but vicious Pomeranian at home).

But I can’t just stop at ‘yes, of course.’  I have this visceral urge to preach.

Maybe it’s my 15-year immersion in East-Coast Liberalism. Maybe it’s being raised by a fearless alpha-female (my mom; more on that in a future post). Maybe it’s the obnoxious sense of cosmopolitan superiority that comes from being born Muscovite and coming of age New Yorker. Either way, I can’t help myself – and I don’t want to.

And nor should I have to, cultural relativism be damned.

***

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Don’t bring your rule-book to someone else’s monastery (Russian version of the above).

Respect other cultures.

Open your mind.

***

No.

Ok, yes, it’s important to keep an open mind, to learn about and immerse oneself in, and respect other cultures. But open-mindedness so often morphs into cultural relativism. And that can be dangerous.

Cultural relativism excuses us from judging some of the most abhorrent cultural practices of foreign lands, many, if not most of them, harmful especially to women.

Girls having their genitals sliced up in Sudan? Don’t judge, that’s their culture. Mothers eat last in India? Don’t judge, you don’t understand their world. Women banned from driving, or being jailed for getting raped in Saudi Arabia? It’s for their own good and protection and respect, so stop applying your values to other societies.

Sorry, but no.

Here in Russia, I can neither accept nor respect the ‘woman, even if she’s working full-time, has to be always pretty, responsible for the home and generally compliant, to keep her man’ part of the contemporary culture. Or ‘the man is always the leader at home and a woman must never emasculate him by asking him to help with the kids’ part. Or ‘it’s appropriate for male a cabbie to ask if you have a husband and kids’ part. Gender relations are handled differently here, but it doesn’t make this way the right way, or even an ok way, simply because of blanket cultural immunity.

So I speak out – against the rape jokes; against the assumption that because I have a uterus, it must be used for procreation; against everything else I am told is my obligation to be and do as a woman, like cooking or not drinking beer in public (seriously, it’s a thing. Women should be classy and drink wine or better yet, nothing, lest they be thought déclassé harlots, and then they will die alone).

I try to explain that not every woman wants the same thing – that ‘thing’ being children and a husband to take care of. I try to explain that even if one woman wants something different, it already negates the ‘every’ assumption and prescription.

I shake hands with my male colleagues. They used to nod and ‘hello’ me, like they do with the rest of the women in the office. So one morning I extended my hand – and got my handshake. And the next morning. And the next. The guys were bemused, at first, but played along. Then they asked – what’s the big deal? It’s just a tradition. It’s only a symbol.

So I explained.

Symbols are powerful. They don’t exist in a vacuum, but communicate powerful messages. That’s why there are laws against the depictions of swastikas in Germany and France. That’s why there’s a flag pin industry in the United States (though really probably in China).

A handshake is a symbol of many things – camaraderie, trust, respect, equity. When applied to a select group, it communicates that this group is more worthy of camaraderie, more worthy of respect. And the rest? Less worthy by default. Less equal. Which is bullshit. The bullshit that I want to fix one handshake at a time.

***

I can’t help but think that I am being indulged a bit – that a ‘real’ Russian woman saying these things would be treated with…I don’t know, ridicule? Scorn? While an American, or another westerner, a proper expat, would be told to ‘go home and stop forcing your foreign values onto our society.’

It’s not exactly fair. I’m lucky. I get away with a lot. In a way, I am enjoying double legitimacy, being a ‘real’ Russian yet still viewed by many as a foreigner. Sort of a non-threatening foreign curiosity.

But I’ll take my small victories any way I can get them, especially when I use my ‘superpowers’ for good – to at least try to take on the patriarchy and sexism around me. It’s not like I can do anything about the weather.

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62 thoughts on “DOWN WITH PATRIARCHY: When in Rome…

  1. Quite forceful. “Кабель” should be “кобель.” Pa P.S. Cultural norms are real and should be respected though. Talking about a few things that I experienced first-hand: In France, a man is expected to kiss (symbolically, cheek-to-cheek) a woman, who is a total stranger, even after a short casual conversation, if not before as it happens after a brief introduction at any party. In China, you don’t do that! Because it means you have a romantic relationship with that woman. Just a handshake, that’s it, at most. Please, no touching her unless she touches you first. Pious Jews took it to the extreme: They would not let their wives exchange a handshake with any man. May be their wives are too excitable. But they comply anyway.

    • See, this is where I disagree on a blanket respect for ‘cultural norms,’ because, as I note briefly in my post, some of those norms include egregious infringement on the rights of certain groups, most often women – right down to sexual and physical abuse. Just because it’s normal, doesn’t make it right, or good. I will make more of an allowance for casual social interactions (which seems to be the context for your France & China examples), but when I took business meetings in Paris (with the French office of the DC firm where I interned), it was handshakes all around.

  2. Fantastic! Really well-written and insightful. And pretty much a mirror-image of what I experience here. If nobody speaks up about it, then nothing will ever change. Even if you think people are indulging you a little because of your Muscovite status, maybe, just maybe, a few people are actually listening and starting to get those cogs turning? Hopefully, especially, the women. Your passion for the topic jumps off the page so I can’t imagine many people can ignore you in person!

    • Surprisingly (sadly?) I have found the men in my life (Russian guys, mostly coworkers…I dont get out much) much more receptive to my evangelizing than the women. At the very least more open to discussion, to a conversation – rather than just saying ‘no’ or ‘fine (but just as an acquiescence)’.

        • If one does not strive for freedom and equality, one is not likely to embrace or succeed in getting it. It’s not like there weren’t male supporters of women suffrage, or white supporters of racial equality in the US. But only a paid mercenary will fight a proxy fight for you (unless ‘equality’ is part of your marketing agenda which was partially the case in the early Soviet days. And also an economic and logistical necessity).

          • Lol. I am not having much hope for the men either. When I was searching for the proper formulation of that ‘dog’ saying (which I still managed to misspell, thanks for pointing it out, Dad!) I found SO many forums where it’s just Russian guys discussing why have all the Russian women suddenly become such sluts. And how they should go back to being ‘good girls’ and not ‘giving it up.’ Except, of course, to the guy writing this.

          • Ha ha, of course! Double standards are rife! By the way, do a lot of women there speak in a really stupid babyish voice? Kind of high-pitched and girly (and head-wrecking)???

            Oh, and hello Mr Belkin! (I presume he’s not Belkina but not sure how it works!)

          • Thank God there’s not THAT much self-infantilization but they sometimes do the cute/slightly higher-pitched thing when speaking to men. Or a semi-whinging thing.

            And yes, it’s Belkin – tho I don’t think he does the ‘comment follow’ thing (and thank God for that sometimes!). If he did, everyone would be getting replies outlining their misspellings 🙂

            (Love you, Dad, just in case!)

          • Ha ha, best to cover yourself! 🙂 If he’s any good at English, I can throw a few proofing jobs his way!

            I HATE that little girl voice. It’s rampant here. Just makes women sound like total idiots. Who’s going to respect you when you sound like that??

          • Not sure they’re going for ‘respect’ as a primary objective. Funny thing is, I sometimes edit my dad’s papers and official correspondence (a lot more in the past, too)

          • I didnt publicize HIS mistakes for all to see! But man, I can do such great impression of his Russian accent! (I have barely any to none).

  3. Yes, yes, and yes. I’m constantly amazed by the discrepancy between what the USSR and Russia “did” for women and what ACTUALLY happened.

    I also feel that I get a pretty large pass being a foreigner which is nice but still, the blatant disrespect that’s shown here to women (often by other women!!) is totally outrageous. This whole “oh yeah I’m getting married” thing has really opened my eyes to it. I’ve gotten comments like, “oh when are you quitting your job?” or “you don’t want babies? Of course you do, every woman does”. ARGH. Shutupshutupshutup.

  4. This wasn’t Russia, but maybe there was a connection as they had the same-ish government and what not, but here goes: in Prague, I saw a girl and her friend and the girl was wearing the shortest shorts I’ve ever seen. Like buttcheeks are hanging out kind of short. I said to my husband: “oh, is she a hooker?” Because if the shorts had been any higher, the girl would have been showing lips. Now, I know that’s dick of me to ask if she’s a hooker, but with the HEAVY amount of makeup she was wearing coupled with the shorts, I just kind of went there with that observation.

    Now, obviously, she wasn’t. But, we did read –after searching the internet–that during communist occupation, a lot of people were sheltered from the outside world. After communism was removed, so many women were stunned(!!) by what women looked like in the Western world. There was so much style and fashion and one internet-iere ( a woman ) said that there was a need to catch up and therefore dress overly sexy (hence buttcheeks gal), and that need has never died out. It’s a trend that has lasted to this day.

    Yet another internet-iere said that eastern europeans and russians think differently than western women: women know it’s not a women’s brain that will lock a man down, it’s a woman’s sex appeal. Ie: they’re not sexy for being smart, they’re sexy for being sexy.

    If I’m wrong and some russian is out there who would like to clarify why buttcheeks gal let it all hang out and if the internet-ieres are in fact wrong, please let me know. But, maybe that’s where this is coming from. It’s some old school former government that still pervades society to this day.

    That being said, people do that kind of stuff here, too. Just maybe not on the East Coast and maybe not on the West Coast where I live. But, the midwest, sure, why couldn’t it happen. And, yes, I suppose I would go with it, because when in Rome…

    • Thank you for your comment!
      I definitely think there’s some truth to over-compensation post-isolation, and you’re right, it’s not just Russia, it’s a probably the most of Eastern Bloc countries.
      I do think that there’s a big economics factor too – when the whole system crashed in the 90s, many men turned to criminality as the means to survive, and many women turned to ‘catch a man [provider] with my ladyparts.’

  5. I travel a lot and I’ve noticed an increasing number of Russians on holiday in the last few years. What has struck me is that the traditional stereotypes seem to be alive and well. Beautiful, well dressed women obediently sticking to the side of men who are wearing tracksuits… Initially I thought the men were English ‘chavs’, until I saw the women and heard them speak! I’ve visted Talin and Kiev and it is similar there.Western European men get eyed up by the local men. One of them even asked if I would fight him! I guess we look and act differently, there’s a definite West/East divide in Europe.

    • Stewie, so many gems in your comment!
      1-those ‘beauty and the beast’ pairings are the default here. But there are very few good-looking Russian guys (in my humble and obviously very insulting opinion) so I don’t even bother with that dating pool. But it would be nice to have some decent scenery on the subway, you know what I mean?
      2-I cannot BELIEVE you almost got into a fight with a Russian! Was he very bear-like? I want deets!
      3-‘You’ do look different. It’s one of the discomforts for me here, that though I mentally don’t identify as a Russian (more like, Russian-origin) I very obviously look it and thus am addressed/treated as such. And not just here – once I was on a subway in Washington, DC, and this totally random person approached as asked me if I was Russian, bc I “have that look.”

  6. Very interesting and well written piece. I see some of these issues in Rome but certainly not to the same degree. It sounds pretty harsh in Russia – and not just the weather!

    • Thank you!
      If those two issues were fixed, it would be a perfect country for me!
      I have read quite a bit about gender issues in Italy – how late and lackasdaisical the country was (sometimes is) to prosecuting things like rapes, honor killings and spousal abuse. Certainly doesn’t gel with standard ideas of ‘progressive Europe.’

  7. i totally agree with ur post. the problem is there s just nothing one can do about it. men are used to royal treatment with very little effort on their part. if a woman doesnt want to cope with that she s easily replaced with a much younger and hotter new wife. and as a single mom here in russia ur pretty much out of the dating field. and if all russian women will refuse to tolerate cheating, violence, alkoholism and abuse, we ll have hardly any marriages and will cease to exist as a nation. and most women are just not willing to give up. most of us naturally want to experience joys of motherhood even if it comes with the aditional bonus of a highly unatractive and abusive russian husband. its like a natural instinct to most of us. despise us all u want but its what most women in russia cannot live without – kids. so we have to settle for less, and be patient.

    besides if we do not submit ourselves to our men and try to please them and all that, they ll start exporting more agreeable women from moldavia, ukraine or thailand. ive allready seen a lot of forums where russian men madly hate their russian women for not being submissive enough and now are sharing ideas on how to import an asian mail order bride who will not have russian citizenship and will have to cope with beating, adultery and other joys of marriage out of fear of being divorced, deported from russia and loosing custody of her kids. russian blokes are serious about this. just google wives from thailand and phillipines in russian and u will see for urself.i think the only solution would be if half of the russian girls would one day just commit suicide and then the men would probably finally get the message and treat the remaining half with a little more respect. sorry for such a depressive comment ur post just got me back in my memories of dating russian men (now thank god that experience is over) and i just feel really sad for our girls. there s absolutely no solution to this problem. it will never change.

    • Do you have sperm banks in Russia? If the women want kids that badly, that’s what I’d recommend. At least that way, they’d only have one spoilt, tantrum-throwing child in the family. And if they are unlucky enough to have a boy, let’s hope nurture triumphs over nature and she manages to raise a decent man who doesn’t think that the only way to show a woman that he loves her is with his fists. Scary to think that any woman is willing to tolerate that sort of treatment, when all they’re really looking for is a sperm donor.

      • not a sperm donor but an honest attempt to raise a family with whats available here. and no nurture does not triumph over nature. the more love and care a mom invests in her son even by placing him in karate lessons, teaching how to stand up for himself and be independent, the less gratitude she will get in old age. ive met a few men who grew up with single moms with very little involvement on the dads side. even if the mom never forbade the dad to spend quality time with the kid and honestly tried her best to raise him all she gets back is judgement and critisizm. there are a few exceptions of good and gratefull sons but the majority take their moms for granted and never stop complaining how hard it was to grow up without a father role model. the boys in school learn quickly enough that thats a perfect excuse for any failure in life. its a cursed circle. the same problems exist for example in african american community in the us. someone just has to be a man and break that circle. a man needs to decide that he wants to man up and be a good husband and father and a good role model to his sons. the women can only try and do so much. its the man who decides what he will do for his family and how he will treat his woman.

        and its so darn hard and unneseccary for russian men to be good when there so many guys who will support a drinking or cheating friend in his behaviour and just blame it on his mom, wife, daughter. however small changes do take place. i recently discovered that in my home town some of my old friends suddenly realized that partying with whoryinsh looking gals isnt the best way to spend ur twenties and thirties and its actually much wiser to find a decent modest gal and try to raise a good family with her. from what my former classmate told me, he always thought women are in such a big supply, he can settle down even at 50.
        however, at the age of 26 he suddenly realised that gender imbalance and tough relationships have created a situation in russia where good decent women are also hard to find. so now he stopped his womanizing ways and is actually looking for a nice family oriented girl to setlle with. and suprizingly she doesnt have to have size 90 boos, her own apartment and moscow official registration ( that used to be his list of requirement for a potebtial bride). now she just has to be a sweet understanding young girl who, at the same time should not be a push over. lets hope that this fellow finds someone worthy . if all good russian guys will take of the golden crown and start choosing women for a good heart and brains rather then superficial model like beauty, and actually give effort in marriage, we may hope that there will be more good families, less divorces and u know a better situation overall. thats the only solution i can imagine.

        • ‘the majority [of single-mother sons] take their moms for granted and never stop complaining how hard it was to grow up without a father role model”

          Are you not seeing the problem? An asshole father leaves but the mother gets blamed! Despite all the sacrifice! And then the boys learn that it’s ok to treat women as disposable and it’s somehow the fault of the single mother. You know, when the Czar ruled Russia, unless you had an external enemy, failures of the country were the failures of the Czar. Ditto when the Soviet Secretaries ruled. Fuck it, even the Third Reich. So now, if we have men rule, any kind of societal failing is the fault of the women? Men get all the power but zero responsibility?

          How can I respond in any other way but with ‘FUCK THIS’?!

          “The women can only try and do so much.” — well, from your previous comment it seems like ‘so much’ meant ‘accepting the alcoholic abusive husbands.’ Yes, you do need allies from the “other” side – white abolitionists, male supporters of the women’s suffrage – but nobody will fight YOUR battles for you. They are YOUR. Otherwise, good luck sitting on your ass waiting for a man “to decide that he wants to man up and be a good husband and father and a good role model to his sons.” By the way, that’s not ‘manning-up’ — that’s taking normal, human responsibility for your actions. Otherwise it seems that most of the MANning-up is done by women.

          And by the way, your story with your school/hometown friends perfectly illustrates my previous point. Your guy friend decided not to wait till he’s 50 and then import someone. Whatever problems I have with you deployment of ‘modesty’ and ‘decency’, apparently your friend used his brain and realized there are better standards in life than blind obedience and size-90 boobs [to you Westies – that’s 40-DD]. Sinceres congratulations to him.

          • oh but i do agree with u. didnt i just proved it with my post? and yes i say fuck this. but in my hometown there s like 10 datable (gorgeous, young, hard working, child less) girls to 1 datable ( not too ugly, not alcoholic, not too many kids from previous marriages) guy. i m glad changes do take place in the russian society, and apparently in moscow progressive companies u can find tolerant guys who are slowly getting it. but in the provinces… its hardly even possible. they play their games on us how they want. no wonder i got out of there and went to europe. its very hard to motivate russian men for changes in provincial russia when there s little to no jobs, broken infrustructure and high crime rate. its so easy to be lazy and drunk. why should men even bother?

            im trying to change i do talk to my old friends and discuss these issues when im home for a visit. but its hard. im trying to explain that drinking giving up and being lazy and abusive only leads a man to eventually lose his family, his health and die a premature death. im trying to explain it to guys and all they say is – in russia we have little opportunities. and whos supposed to create these opportunities? if not men themselves? women do their best by trying to establish a career, found small businesses. russian men then call them feminists and find them unatractive and too independent. take ur ass of the couch and get a job urself? hell no, im comfortable the way i am, if a woman doesnt like it, she can go to hell, i ll find another one. i recently heard a story of a russian man who did not want to find work. his girlfriend left him cause he preferred to spend his life online surfing instead of looking for a job. so what he does, he goes to the phillipines and rents his appartment in moscow. he gets about a thousand bucks for it which is a great income on the phillippines. so he marries a 17 year old girl from the village. funny thing is in russia he could also find the same kind of girl if he could only get a job. but he decided that russian women standarts are too high. so know the whole internet discusses how lucky this guy is. and shouldnt we all just ditch our women and go to the phillippines.heres the link to the story:

            http://www.yaplakal.com/forum7/topic533009.html

            i wonder though what will happen to him if he somehow loses his flat or lodgers refuse to pay? im speechless really. u just cant talk to these men. we re trying but will it ever work? btw men in moscow are actually pretty awesome compared to dudes in ivanovo, samara, siberia, ural mountains. except for this lazy apartment owner=))

    • See, I can never accept this kind of defeat. And neither should you.

      The men will ‘import’ better women? What, like goods? Like sex slaves/housekeepers? No. That’s pretty much the definition of abuse. Or worse. YOU ARE NOT AN OBJECT.

      There are worse things than risking singledom, especially in a country that thank God is progressive enough that women do not have to rely on men in order to survive physically and economically. Also, purely biologically, you do not need a marriage to procreate.

      And you know the biggest problem with this logic, of ‘if we don’t submit, they’ll get ‘better’/younger models’? Is that it makes women disposable and gives the men the sense of entitlement, so that when a wife does submit, does have children with him and takes care of them and him (often while continuing to work), the men still cheat, beat, walk away, ‘upgrade.’ That’s the reality of modern-day Russia. Divorce laws here enable men to walk away at a drop of a hat with minimal child support responsibilities at BEST. If you posit yourself as something that can potentially be replaced, you WILL be replaced.

      As for the extinction of the nation:

      Russian women — real Russian women, the Slavs, the Central and Northern Russian tribes — they would be ashamed to hear “if all Russian women will refuse to tolerate cheating, violence, alcoholism and abuse, we ll have hardly any marriages and will cease to exist as a nation.” They fought alongside men in battles. They yielded swords. They built villages and manned fishing vessels. Back in the heydays of Russian paganism they were men’s equals and they would be ASHAMED of this slavery mentality. We are FREE PEOPLE. Odes were written to Russian women. Because they did not tolerate this fucked up shit. It’s not for us. And more than that, if our ‘genofond’ is made up of the progeny of abusive alcoholics, that’s not a nation worth saving.

      I know this is insulting, for that — I apologize. But it is the truth.

      If you accept your inferiority and your dependency, of course nothing will change. Russian women — fuck, Russian PEOPLE — are so much better than settling for the lowest common denominator.

      “If we Negroes don’t shut up about segregation, we’ll all get lynched”
      “If we the poor just don’t shut up about collective bargaining, we’ll get paid even less and will starve to death”
      “If we women refuse to stay indoors our whole lives, we’ll get stoned for adultery when we get raped”
      “If we just give the Kremlin over to the Nazis, maybe they’ll spare everyone (but the Jews. Who cares.)”

      It’s pathetic. It’s a defeatist mentality. It’s perpetuating everything harmful that exists and NOBODY but us can fix it. Freedom requires sacrifice. Progress requires sacrifice. It is beneath us as Russian women to accept that it can’t be better.

      Don’t underestimate the men, either. Russian or otherwise. They are not morons. They can be talked to. There are many who are not misogynistic assholes who just want a little bitch at home. As I said, Russian guys in my Russian company shake hands with me. They acknowledge certain points on rape, on equality, on rights. Maybe the handshake is something they only do with me because I’m a Western cook. But I know that when discussed seriously and reasonably, these words have an effect outside of my little progressive bubble.

      And no, they are not running to Ukraine or Moldova to import their sex maids. First of all, because there are 75 million of Russian women, and you can’t just replace us all. And because there’s no longer an Iron Curtain. Those girls in Ukraine and Moldova and Belarus, they have Russia on one side but Europe on the other. And they too are seeing — are learning — that things can be different. Better. And even if there’s just a few of them who internalize these idea, that progress, that equality — that paved the way for the rest. I want to stand with THESE women.

      And just in case – thanks to the One Child policy, there’s an 18% surplus of men in China. Just saying.

  8. Hi Anna! I found your article really inspiring. I find shocking the similarities between your country’s society and mine. Specially because we live in different continents. I’m from Peru, were the saying “más me pegas, más te quiero” (“the more you hit me, the more I love you”) is a common ‘joke’ passed around from one generation to another; I personally find it disgusting and uncivilised. Most of my neighbours’ daughters, that are my age (20), are already married, and with two or three children. We are principally a Roman Catholic Society, and still very patriarchal and obsolete, but I was quite lucky (I suppose) to have been brought up by more liberal parents. In a society were the ‘ideal goal’ is to have one son and one daughter, my parents have managed quite well with three very independent (and quite proud of it) daughters. My mother, even though she still maintains her most conservative viewings about religion (I’m an atheist, and she doesn’t approve) and about some ‘feminine roles’ (‘acting ladylike’, amongst others), is quite adamant that we get a very thorough education and, above all, that we follow a career path that we feel passionate about. And my father is a very present figure in our education, despite the fact that he works long hours and in varying shifts. I find it very distressing that our society has changed so little in the last 50 years, so as to still find women that do not want to leave their abusive partner/husband because they think that “he’s going to change”. Or that because I consider myself a feminist I am a ‘man-hater’, which is such an unenlightened answer that always manages to make my eyes roll on their sockets. I always try to make my points of view known in the politest way possible, but people in general (even close friends and family) attribute my ‘rants’ to my ‘youth’, because ‘oh, she’s in THAT age’. It leaves a feeling of hopelessness in me that this misogynistic attitude will never change. But there is something you’ve reminded me, and that I’ll strive to always keep in mind: change has to start from within ourselves. From the way we interact with people, to the way we fight, day by day, for our opinions and our rights as equal to males. The next time I get irked by a sexist comment, I’ll breathe deeply and explain without any trace of doubt in my voice why such demeanour is WRONG and regressive. And then I’ll pull a Legally Blonde and walk away with a killer strut just because I’m pretentious like that (LoL).

    • Dear Elizabeth – thank you for a fantastic letter. First of all, I am incredibly impressed and inspired that you’re so enlightened (and well-spoken!) on gender issues at such a young age. When I was 20 I was still trying to figure out why that asshole down the hall didn’t want to hook up with me. And also labored under the naïveté of a quasi-American immigrant that ‘everybody’s equal and everything is possible here’. This was early to mid-90’s and Russia was such a shit-show that 1-women’s rights took a back seat (50 rows back) to basic survival and 2-everything in America seemed perfect. Secondly, I think your story – with your parents’ focus on providing you with quality education and career (and thus independence) options – really illustrates the importance of education to achieving equality and to opening minds, starting with our own. And having conversations with people, no matter how willfully or unwillfully ignorant or downright close-minded or hostile — that’s all part of the education, and it will push back on inequality, eventually, little by little. Or at least I so very, VERY much hope 🙂

      • I think we both know people my age (yes, including me) are self-absorbed dolts most of the time, lol. I actually checked your site because I saw a comment on Celebitchy about how good this article was and got curious. I had actually read it on Sunday, I don’t quite remember the time, but couldn’t leave a message because I was supposed to be studying for my midterm tests. I am really delighted that you answered so quickly, and that you shared a bit of your experience as a 20 year old girl. Believe me, I get quite giggly and squeamish when there’s hot boys around. Especially if they are gingers, or have a british accent. My best friend and I have found that the formula to success in your studies DOES NOT lie with the Hiddlestones and Cumberbatchs of this world. They are far too distracting! As for your comments about the 90’s, I believe I can conmiserate with you: they were quite rubbish here too, and it was mainly for two reasons. The first one being the debt crisis my country (and several others in South america) was going through due to poor decisions made by a goverment from the mid-80’s, and the second one was the civil war we were trying to win against terrorism, yet another legacy from the previous decade. The terrorist group called Sendero Luminoso (Shinning Path in english) had already taken hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent lives and were trying to get to the capital, Lima. Although I don’t remember much of it, there were several stories that reached international notice, like the taking of the Japanese Embassy or the several car bombs on inconspicuous places. People were afraid to leave their homes, and many fled the country in search of a safer life. So, it is not so surprising that the new government of that time focused more on the finances and defense, and completely overlooked the humanistics and, well, education in general. But with a growing economy, like ours is now, I hope the estate will focus more in these issues and in promoting equality, not only for women but also for LGBT and disabled people. Goodness, I’ve rambled more than what was needed! Terribly sorry for that. Anyhow, thank you for replying, and for the lovely compliment, it’s given me some time to take my mind away from numbers and formulas and to direct my attention to another subject I am very passionate about. Greetings from Lima, Peru.
        Elizabeth Arzola

        • Elizabeth –
          So glad CB can bring us together 🙂 And I absolutely share your fondness of gingers (though Scottish accents are more my jam)!
          Thank you for sharing a bit of Peruvian history – I am definitely less knowledgeable on Latin American history than I should be, and this is fascinating – though also rather dark – stuff. It’s great that progress is being made, and it seems logical that with growing prosperity and stability, people and governments can ‘relax’ enough to start working on the social issues. Unfortunately in Russia this correlations currently seems inverted – the society is becoming more culturally hardline and closed off despite constantly improving economics and demographics (the best indicators since the end of USSR!).
          Hopefully your exams went well!

  9. Pingback: Russian Stereotypes

  10. As a British man, it’s normal for me to shake hands when I meet someone new in a professional context – whether they be male or female. I’ve just been in Moscow for a couple of months but I get the distinct impression that, while they make allowances for me as a foreigner, Russian women are a bit uncomfortable with it. Should I press on? It’s still instinctive for me at the moment so it’s hard to stop myself in time! But my sense is that it would probably actually be more sensitive not to. What do you think?

    • OOH, excellent question, Tom!
      I think a good, firm handshake is a good global business etiquette. If you’re meeting these women for work then they are likely employed by a company with international ties/ ambitions/ resources/ presence etc. So, in my patronizing opinion, it’s only beneficial for professional Russians of both genders to embrace the practice. I will tell you this – when I moved here and was going on job interviews, female interviewers and HR people were kind of taken aback by my outstretched hand, and when eventually they shook my hand it was usually a sad, feeble kind of shake – like they had no idea what to do with it. I don’t think anyone would consider an outstretched hand offense though, just befuddling 🙂

  11. I’ve always viewed respect for other cultures as synonymous with understanding, rather than accepting. You can respect a religious temple, even if it’s not of your religion, and you can disagree if someone asks what you think. Open conversation, particularly when both sides are allowed to share their views, is mutually respectful. It doesn’t have to mean you have to do things their way.

    And it’s weird how significantly Russia has turned itself on its head, going headfirst into capitalism and obscene economic imbalances, religious institutionalization, gender roles, and everything else that was the exact opposite of Soviet values. I’m not saying I agree with one side or another, but it sure was a severe transition…

    • I think Russian developments over the last 25 years have been very reactionary. First – hyper-capitalism and total shedding of any kind of cultural/moral conservatism – total 180 from 7 decades of Communism. Then the 90s didn’t work out so well, so now it’s a backlash to liberation, fetishization of the Soviet Days and even Russia’s pagan past.

  12. Are you another unfeminine skank trying to poison the well and prove misery loves company? Russia as a government is in shambles but as far as gender roles go Russia is a healthy society going with the grain, adhering to the natural order. Unless you want to be a shrill miserable cunt forever, don’t waste the remainder of your rapidly evaporating youth (and fertility cycle) intellectualizing absurd ideals some lesbian Jewish feminists made for you. No one needs a female who acts like an incompetent male, just like no one needs lady boys. They are only there as a symptom of a decadent society on it’s decline and fill no actual purpose like a woman fills by being a mother or a man fills by being a provider and protector. Enough “do-gooder” Anglo subversion and mental masturbation, find a good man and live happily ever after. AS A WOMAN, not as a miscreant who doesn’t know how to wear skirts or dresses.

    • You got me! I am indeed an unfeminine shrill miserable skank-cunt-miscreant who acts like an incompetent male and doesn’t know how to wear skirts or dresses. Getting dressed IS hard science. That’s why I prefer to just go out naked. Sadly, as my youth is rapidly evaporating, even that is not enough to attract any man who would help me fulfill my natural purpose by impregnating me. Really, this comment of yours is the most male attention I have been able to attract since my useless uterus has started to shrivel up. You really made my day and put a smile on my face. I just want to pinch your widdle cheeks and make you dance a monkey dance for me. Cheerie-o!

  13. Pingback: ON MAGNETIC STORMS AND POLITE CONVERSATION | Home & Away

  14. So many thoughts, so little time… The place is a bundle of contradictions that are somehow more salient than say, in the West. I’d need to renew my acquaintance once again to comment with any authority. It’s been almost one and a half decades since my last visit to Russia. One fact remains; large nations have large problems. Great post! (Finally got around to checking out your blog.)

    • Hi Dan!
      yes, big countries, big problems. and Russia = HUGE problems! But it’s one thing to be dealing with the existing ones and another to be regressing from certain accomplished progress. That’s what frustrates me the most.

  15. Pingback: Bloghopping Mad! | Lady Of The Cakes

  16. I have found many things here in Russia that I don’t understand. Some things I agree with and some I don’t. Some I find it refreshing because it used to be the same way in the States when it wasn’t in the mess it is today. What I don’t understand and don’t agree with I pretty much keep it to myself, what’s normal here doesn’t mean it’s bad, just different. I can see how it would be hard coming from a western culture, especially in how women are treated here. I’ve watched myself and I’ve got to be honest some of it hurts, but I also recognize what is offensive to me is normal and proper to them. I don’t believe we should judge, it’s more important to be good examples of what good behavior is. One of my pet peeves is not holding doors open for others, I swore to myself no matter how they acted in this regard I would do what I knew to be correct. Things that are important take time to change. It’s not all bad, just not what we are used too. What I do love is the fact that men are men (masculine), and women are allowed to be women (feminine). It’s than that’s built right into the language.

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