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Analysis & Opinion

Russian women are not ‘natural resources’

Russian women are not ‘natural resources’
18:37 21/03/2011
Comment by Natalia Antonova

I cringed as I read Svetlana Kolchik’s latest column, “The Russian Women Myth,” though my discomfort did not stem from being confronted with shocking material.

Kolchik’s assertions, expressed in a tone that occasionally made it seem as though she was writing for a sex tourism forum … *cough*… I mean, “international dating agency,” are not new. The idea that women are one of Russia’s most valuable “natural resources,” has been doing the rounds for decades.

What surprised me about “The Russian Women Myth” was that someone like Kolchik, a cosmopolitan and successful woman, was recycling these clichés.
Some Russian women love to pat themselves on the back for their exceptional femininity. I’m not Russian-born, but being mostly Russian ethnically means I occasionally do it too. Having spent most of my life in the United States, I have grown weary of various strains of Western feminism. I find radical feminism stifling and puritan in its approach to women’s appearance and sexuality. Mainstream, white middle-class feminism is often reduced to a bourgeois affectation. After moving to Russia, I have encountered a whole lot of genuine feminist work and discourse, even when it isn’t labeled as such (in her previous columns, Kolchik was right to suggest that the word “feminism” makes the majority of Russians shudder.)

Still, I believe that referring to oneself as a “natural resource” is demeaning. Natural resources are there to be used, usually irresponsibly, if global environmental concerns are anything to go by.

No less disturbing is Kolchik’s implicit assertion that Western men who come to Russia looking for genuine “wife-material” have something to offer in return. I regularly encounter Western men who have a fetish for Slavic women. Even if you weed out the genuinely creepy ones, you still end up with a bunch of pathetically insecure males. I’ve met men who couldn’t begin to hide their disappointment when they discovered that I had a U.S. college degree. What self-respecting woman wants to deal with that?

Similarly, a man who would like to date or marry a foreigner simply for the sake of dating or marrying a foreigner is, most of the time, merely playing a role. I laugh at Western men who write bitter screeds about being exploited by women from the former Soviet Union. All they wanted were some pretty toys to play with, and the toys wound up playing with them! Kolchik seems to turn up her nose at sex-work in her column, but sex-work is actually a much more straightforward and honest business exchange than what passes for “dating” among people who fetishize national identities.

When I met my future husband, who is Russian, I liked the fact that I didn’t intimidate him. Right away, it was a reason to get to know him more, particularly since I also happen to be one of those women who usually out-earns the man she is dating. As Kolchik puts it, “Even if a Russian woman earns 10 times more than her boyfriend, she will never let it show.” It’s actually an arrangement that must work both ways to be sustainable. If a man earns 10 times more than his girlfriend, and repeatedly rubs her nose in it, he’s not, to paraphrase Kolchik, “husband-material” – he’s just a jerk. Lording one’s salary over another human being never ends well, regardless of the gender dynamics at play. Perhaps this is something Kolchik ought to consider when encouraging her male Western friends to find wives in Russia.

I also can’t help but feel that Kolchik is being more than slightly disingenuous. The “hen-pecked husband” is yet another cliché, but one does meet a lot of Russian men who are bullied by their wives and girlfriends. The stereotype of the angelic Russian woman and the stereotype of the barbaric Russian man are both ridiculous, and eerily similar to what Gayatry Chakravorty Spivak called the phenomenon of “white men… saving brown women from brown men” in colonial India.

My husband carries my bags, opens doors for me and buys me flowers. I like these gestures, even if they seem old-fashioned to some of my American friends. But I would never exchange my humanity for a bouquet of tulips, and I wouldn’t encourage any woman, regardless of her nationality, to engage in such self-destructive behavior.

“We are set to empower men, at times perhaps tolerating too much, to ensure traditional gender roles are followed,” Kolchik writes. Perhaps the question of what “too much” means is worth exploring. Spousal abuse is considered a problem in Russia for a reason. In order to change that, we must ensure that Russian women are allowed their dignity. And dignity is not something usually ascribed to natural resources.

***Natalia Antonova is deputy editor-in-chief of The Moscow News. She contributed this comment to RIA Novosti’s English language website.

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18:37 21/03/2011 What surprised me about “The Russian Women Myth” was that someone like Kolchik, a cosmopolitan and successful woman, was recycling these clichés.>>

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  • alexstoneA suitable response
    19:22, 21/03/2011
    Well written. As a "western" man who met and married a wonderful russian lady, we enjoy a great relationship, not only as man and wife, but shared intellects, similar tastes, etc. My wife has earned more than me at times, and i more than her, but it's never come up in discussion as something worth, well, discussing. We're patient with each other, when we need to be, and always supportive. I'm proud for her as a human being who can speak 3 languages, including being able to teach them well, engage in wonderful handcraft skills, in which she is extremely talented, and many other skills and characteristics that i admire constantly. She feels the same about my various talents, and together we have a great life. caring for each other with not only wedded enthusiasm, but genuine respect.

    I do think you should take one step further in your article, and remove the "nationalism" aspect. My wife and I care for each other as human beings, that's how we met, as human beings, and how we continue to treat each other, as human beings.

    The idea that we are foreign to each other based on some national identification criteria, is a bit of smoke screen for lifestyle assumptions based on national marketing exercises, and the oft common premise, that people are more likely to broadcast their bad news, than their good news. I have a great time every day with a decent and talented partner in life, not based on our national roots, but how we feel about each other. I would suggest that is true for more couples of "mixed" origins than one might think. It's just we're enjoying ourselves, and have little time to gripe about such things.

    So this is a quick, positive, reply, from a successful couple living in Russia, and having a wonderful life. We're not rich, or retired, just happy. I'm British, my wife is Russian, and we're both human beings.

    If a man or a woman has a problem with keeping a relationship, then they best look inwards, as lifestyle assumptions are surely the least of their challenges, but the first of the limitations they place on themselves, and their criteria for what constitutes, a life partner.

    Imho, the russian woman assumption is a myth. Russian women know what they want, they just don't need to make a lot of noise about it, and if they meet a man who matches their strength, and does so with positive action, and not loud and often obnoxious declarations about their wealth, list of possessions, or intimidation based on some mythical gender "class" structure (surely this a warning sign to any woman as to how she might be treated in the future?), then they might be ok.

  • russpeaceloverProfound Wisdom Expressed
    18:11, 22/03/2011
    “sex-work is actually a much more straightforward and honest business exchange than what passes for “dating” among people who fetishize national identities.”

    The above statement is short but profound. One of the hang-ups that many Western men have is that they are under the spell of Hollywood, Playboy centerfolds and even the cruder forms of pornography. The American way of life is so rushed, so materialistic and so removed from nature and organic culture, that both men and women are not brought up to be fulfilled human beings. They get programmed by the TV and by their teachers (high school and college). Some teachers promote the sickest and strangest notions, generally adhering to Social Marxist - Political Correctness. Usually PC demonizes men, glorifies women who deny their innate femininity, and promotes all sorts of other nutcase notions. The Russians, thank goodness, got rid of communist economic claptrap. For the future we should work to get rid of hyper-capitalist, predatory global-ism as well.

    Anyhow, the point I’m driving at is that many American men confuse their sexual fantasy desires with being totally compatible with a normal, everyday male-female relationship. “Sex work” or prostitution is illegal (except in rural Nevada) in the USA. Feminist fascists decry prostitution. I think both the femme fascists and Puritans are in league with one another, they both seem to hate sex being a fun, light-hearted or commitment-free pleasure. Professional prostitutes who know the ropes can select good clients who won’t go postal and strangle them. Once they get that settled, they can go about their unique “business” of reducing the pent-up sexual energy of their customer. Once the man can get some release of his pent-up urges, he can mellow out and look more realistically and calmly at the world.

    I daresay that so many instances of men going postal (going on gun shooting rampages) in the USA are at some level related to their level of sexual frustration. They are frustrated economically, politically and finally emotionally and sexually. A horny, lonely, sexually pent-up man is a dangerous man. Sensible societies relieve this pressure by allowing some sort of prostitution. In the USA, only rock stars, Hollywood hotshots, big political wheels and multi-billionaires can have non-married, uncommitted sex with subservient, young, pretty, slender women. I think that is a little harsh and overly restrictive. I am all for lonely, sexually frustrated men being able to legally relieve their urges through regulated, carefully watched prostitution. Once the raging fires of horniness are doused, then some sanity can return to their souls. Then they are much more approachable for counseling so that they can engage in normal and fulfilling relationships.
  • maplesyruprussian woman myth !
    02:31, 23/03/2011
    It would be good for some one to do the following:
    Video record a russian woman reading poetry in her native language.
    Video record a french lady reading poetry in her native language.
    Video record a woman in each european country and place it on youtube and watch the results.
    all of the woman should be outdoors good lighting, and definitely good video recording.
  • hobbitofnyno but almost...
    06:24, 24/03/2011
    I understand what you are saying, but think you are not fully seeing the whole picture. No two men or women are the same. I am not sure where a man like me fits your comments. Living in the USA and being an Orthodox Christian, I found it very hard to meet the right woman who shares my faith. So I turned to the internet to meet an Orthodox Christian woman. My wife is a Russian woman. At times we face language issues and cultural differences, but we love each other and share our lives together. I am not sure what else matters...

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