Weekly column by Svetlana Kolchik
Feminism vs. Femininity in Russia was the theme of an on-air discussion in which one renowned radio station recently invited me to participate. I agreed and yet... What an odd topic, I thought to myself. Femininity is an essential part of being a woman — who'd argue about that? As far as feminism, - the concept seemed to me so hopelessly passe, a headline from the late 1960s and 1970s, when in the sexual revolution-infected Western world women's issues once again began to be a hot topic.
Curiously, I felt slightly embarrassed to even be talking about this. I realized the very word "feminism" makes me shudder. I know I am not alone — feminism is not the notion many, if not the majority of Russian women, would wish to identify with. But I still wonder why. Equal pay for equal work, equal rights and equal opportunities for both genders — really, who'd object to these key feminist principles? Take the Scandinavian countries with their "women-friendly" welfare state regimes. Despite feminism being solidly rooted over there, many in Russia consider that part of the world a snowy Eldorado. I have visited those countries several times, reporting for Marie Claire magazine on the Perfect Scandinavian Family, boasting the world's longest paid parental leaves and other social benefits. I will never forget the afternoon I spent at the home daddy's club in Stockholm's suburbs, profiling a few stay-at-home fathers, one of them a diplomat and another - a lawyer, both on paternity leave. It was one of the few times I cried while on assignment — the tenderness with which these robust 6 feet-tall guys cared for their infant children touched me to the core. And when the article came out, I got numerous letters from readers, some women asking if I knew any single Swedish guys they could marry.
Even so, all this has little to do with feminism — at least in Russians' minds. I've got a number of foreign girlfriends who vehemently support the movement's values — some openly call themselves "feminists," but I don't know a single Russian woman who'd dare to do so. When asked how they felt about feminism, some of my accomplished Russian girlfriends brought up the 1960s-era bra-burning female activists (even though scholars claim the bra-burning never actually happened), American sexual harassment mass hysteria and other cliched images.
"All I can imagine is a bunch of really unattractive women, with greasy hair, beards and unshaved legs, claiming to be feminists out of mere desperation, because no man would want to be with them," one woman, a successful online journalist, confessed.
"In theory, feminist ideas sound good but the way their ambassadors expressed them is just disgusting. What they seemed to have been fighting for was to get the right to act like men, which is completely unnatural," a close friend of mine who is manager at the oil and gas corporation and a mother of two, said. "Feminism might be a reaction to male chauvinism, but both are extremes," another intelligent woman, a government consultant, noted.
But these answers didn't surprise me much. It could be that Russian women were forced to become feminists a long time ago, without having been asked if they really wanted it. We have been endowed with many rights, or rather — duties, at birth, — abundantly, and now we are resisting the pressure. Romanticizing a super-potent pain- and danger-enduring Russian woman dates back to 19th century Russian poetry. In 1910s, right after the Revolution, gender equality was put to action. And as the wars and the Soviet regime’s repressions took more and more male lives, women began to lead for real, driven much more often by a mere survival instinct rather than by heart's calling. Staying home for many wasn't even an option - the inefficient Soviet economy required two breadwinners.
Some call the modern Russian culture with its defined gender roles patriarchal, even chauvinistic. Perhaps it's not so far from the truth. Still, chauvinists exist in every culture, even the most progressive ones, it often happens to be just a question of class and education. Perhaps Russian women's overstated femininity is a backlash from the recent Soviet era when such basics as toiletries and clothing were unavailable to women.
Perhaps this will change a couple generations forward, as we integrate more into the West and females start craving more "space" and independence. Feminist ideas are indeed surprisingly vital — they flourish in cycles, responding to societies' needs at certain moments in history. (The first feminists, the one-breasted men-hating female warriors Amazons inhabited ancient Greek myths.) And perhaps in today's Russia, we should be worrying more about basic human rights and civil liberties, whereas women's rights don't seem much of an issue.
Meanwhile we want to be given flowers (on the first date, and on the second and the third, and for no particular reason at all, not just for the International Women's Day, this bizarre feminist holiday). We don't really mind our coats to be handed to us (not only by our boyfriends but by all men), doors held open, bags carried and dinners paid for.
We want to be spoiled — anything wrong about that?
Russia has always been referred to as feminine and Russian women have been one of the most popular stereotypes of this nation, both positive and negative. But is this an all-male fantasy? Here is a hip, modern, professional and increasingly globalized Russian woman looking at the trends around her, both about her gender and the society at large. She talks and lets other women talk.
Svetlana Kolchik, 33, is deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She holds degrees from the Moscow State University Journalism Department and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for Argumenty i Fakty weekly in Moscow and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and contributed to RussiaProfile.org, Russian editions of Vogue, Forbes and other publications.
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- email@example.comRussian women leading the way in Russian society19:20, 09/02/2011Every Tuesday I eagerly look forward to Svetlana's article on Women Talk as it gives me this secret inside scoop into how some woman think. If I'm lucky there is a fun angle for me to provide the guys perspective on things.
However an article on Feminism vs. Femininity in Russia was a little bit out of my league and I struggled first to try and understand the article and then a possible angle I could add from a man's perspective of what I know about Russian women and how they are accepted in their own society.
Please keep in mind that my own exposure to Russian women is limited only to about four years and my time in Russia about 3 months over a period for 4 years.
So limited but concentrated exposure.
Women in Russia have no problem on the femininity side of things. Never have I seen more attractively dressed women than in Russia. And this includes women in the largest cities of Moscow to smaller villages like Sidelinikovo an hour outside of Yoshkar-Ola in Mari-El.
Russian women enjoy looking pretty and looking their best and it shows all the time, both in their makeup and clothes.
Now when it comes to feminism and women's rights I didn't see a need for it in Russia at all. Why? Because the women seem to be adequately in control everywhere.
Women in Russia from what I have seen and experienced work at all levels in society in a very capable manner. Some women will have access to other higher paying opportunities that other men and women do not and this is normal even in the west.
In the home from what I have experienced from Moscow to Volgodonsk women are firmly in control of their home environment and their family.
I think of feminism as women fighting for rights they do not have. The topic of feminism never came up when I was in Russia. Meaning the topic of women being under recognized did not seem to exist.
If anything I observed just the opposite. Russian women are highly valued in Russian society.
As a foreigner I would be very quick to pickup nuances that would not seem right to me. I would sense underlying friction if it was there.
I never experienced any Russian women who were unhappy with how they were treated in Russia.
All the Russian women I met from 4 year olds to 75 grandmothers seemed to be perfectly content with their place in Russian society, their loving Russian families, and how they were accepted by their overall Russian society.
Men and women have their specific roles in any society. In Russia women seem to be very confident at all levels in Russian society. Not everything is perfect of course and their will always be situations where there is inequality. But this is true everywhere.
And when it comes to femininity and feminism and how women are treated by men, this is not feminism this is simply good etiquette on how men should treat women.
Meaning that it is completely alright for a woman to enjoy getting flowers from a man on their dates, having him hold the door open for her, hand her her coat and so forth.
As much as woman likes to be treated with care and respect, a man also likes to treat a woman like this.
When I was previously married I had a very difficult time showing affection to my former spouse. She didn't like to be given flowers on a random basis, did not like chocolate for Valentines Day and did not cute stuffed toys given just for the fun of it. However she would have enjoyed more diamonds, expensive jewelery, and white table cloth dinners at a nice restaurant.
Men are raised with the expectations that they will do such things for women, such as buying them flowers, opening car doors, handing them their coats, treating them to events as they learn the art of dating. This is simply how a man is expected to treat a woman and it has nothing to do with feminism.
The independence of Russian women and their strong role in Russian society must have its place in the countless wars that have taken place on the European continent over the past several hundred years and especially in the last 100 years. From what I have been able to learn at various Russian war memorials, Russian women have been as involved as their Russian men during these conflicts.
This patriotic participation in protecting their homeland has made Russian women an integral part of their society and workforce and so respected throughout Russia.
Russian women can easily be said to be the most feminine and most beautiful in the world.
And when it comes to feminism Russian women are equally so as they firmly control not only their destiny but the destiny of their families and children.
- ABGDAmerican or Western Women05:10, 19/04/2012All I can say as an American Guy is that for the most part I really cant stand American Women on any level.
But I will agree with her on one point. And that is that western guys views of Russian/East Euro women is deeply flawed.
It is about like comparing chicken shit, to horse shit, both of them stink. It is just that Russian Women[Chicken Shit] seems to stink a Little Less than American Women [Horse Shit].
But at the end of the day both of them are just piles of crap. As are most all modern women.