Women get no respect but plenty of work!
The Moscow Times, July 15, 1998
In Russia, Women Should Not Be Weak or Ill
By Tatyana Matsuk
In Russia, you should not be weak — especially if you are a woman. When
I hear the saying, “A sister should be rich, and a wife strong,” I am ashamed
that I am Russian.
But it is precisely women who among themselves repeat this byword again and
again, when they speak about men, scornfully calling them all “muzhiki,”
a term variously translated as louts, clods, or bumpkins.
“That’s the way muzhiki were created. They don’t like it when women get sick.
This must be hidden. As for purely women’s illnesses, it is better never
to speak about them at all.” This is the way the majority of middle age and
elderly women think. And they vigorously thrust their advice and experiences
on the young. This is in a country where wars, all kinds of deprivation,
drunkenness and a horribly polluted environment have led to a situation in
which an absolutely healthy person is as scarce as hen’s teeth.
When I lay in the hospital as a young woman, my neighbor in the ward happened
to be a typical Russian beauty of about 40 years old. She looked like the
very picture of health. But she had rheumatic heart disease and serious
complications after multiple abortions. On various days, she was visited
by her husband and a young lover. She made a show of being cheerful, and
neither of the men “in love” with her seemed particularly interested in knowing
why she was in the hospital. They only asked her when she would get out.
She considered that this is how it should be.
I myself almost ended up being forced to believe that this is the order of
things. For a year, I had been seeing a young man who, in the words of his
close family and friends, cherished the thought of marrying me. But when
I ended up in the hospital for a month, he did not once come to visit. He
later told me that there was no longer any reason to meet. A common acquaintance
told me later that the wife of his friend had been quite ill, and that he
did not want to put up with a similar inconvenience. As a result, this champion
of health married only 10 years later, trying to throw his mother and sister
out of the apartment that they lived in together. His sister probably turned
out to be insufficiently wealthy.
Should he be blamed, however, for everything that happened? In acting in
this way, he was only meeting the expectations of the majority of the female
population of his country. Here, women even go so far as not to tell their
husbands when they have had an abortion. It is as if their husbands have
no relation to the pregnancy or that the adult woman is simply eliminating
the consequences of his childish pranks.
Public opinion is such that when a woman raises children on her own or takes
care of a sick husband, this is her duty. But when a man does the same, then
he is a hero.
One of my acquaintances is now 90 years old. After the war, her husband left
her with two small children to care for without a job. He worked as an agent
of the NKVD, a predecessor to the KGB, and earned a decent living. In the
words of the old woman, they were happy up until the war. Only her husband
did not like it when she became sick. “He would come with his comrades and
tell me to get up, lay the table and then play the guitar and sing for them.
Of course I did so,” she told me. In my opinion, this is simply monstrous
Yet, another very strong and younger beautiful woman was married to a minister
of one of the former European Soviet republics. When she was diagnosed with
cancer and had to spend a long time in the hospital, her husband lost his
head. He was not used to taking care of himself on his own and found another
woman. When she returned from the hospital, she did not blame her husband.
Rather, she blamed herself for not having enough strength.
But I was most astonished by a story I was told recently by a certain Natasha.
She was formerly a fashion model, and her husband a successful photographer.
They lived mostly in Paris. Then they were struck by misfortune. Their child
died in an automobile accident, and Natasha ended up in the hospital with
multiple fractures. Her husband almost did not suffer from the accident.
He brought her a document to sign to file for divorce while she was still
lying in a cast.
Later she had a high-level official for a friend — a Duma deputy. He told
Natasha that she was a “breath of fresh air from dirty and difficult work.”
And he came to see her only when he needed this “fresh air.” But after so
many traumas, it was difficult for Natasha even to take care of herself.
It is for this reason that, even though she loved this friend, she went to
work for a marriage agency in order to marry a Frenchman. She was simply
tired of her life and wanted at least some kind of humane relationship.
I recently happened to see a piece of reporting on television that showed
a pretty young American woman who considered it prestigious to serve as a
Marine. It can be inferred from her words that this was basically because
lying with your nose in the mud is very exotic. But for a Russian woman,
mud is never exotic, nor is hard physical work.
Life conditions all too often force men and women to look upon one another
not as ends in themselves, but as a means and even as an unpaid labor force.
Can there be any humanity in such a relationship?
When a foreigner puts a marriage announcement in the newspaper, he lists
all of his many qualities in order to attract women. If you look at the
advertisements of Russian men, it is usually the other way around. The candidate
for a woman’s love concentrates his attention on what he expects from the
chosen one. She should be young, beautiful, smart, kind, good at housekeeping,
and prepared to share with him all the burdens of life. And she must be healthy.
When marriage advertisements first appeared in Russian newspapers, men wrote
directly in this way. Some, it is true, were less strict in their selection
and indicated that “you can wear glasses.” Or even: “you can have minor physical
defects.” Fortunately, it would not enter the head of anyone in my circle
of acquaintances to respond to such an announcement. And I hope that there
will be more and more women like this with every year.
The psychology of men is also beginning to change. This is in no small part
owing to the developing boom in Russian brides in the West. But men are not
the only ones whose attitudes need changing. The more Russian women consider
it normal to view men not as muzhiki, but as gentlemen, the better it will
be for us all.
Tatyana Matsuk is a scholar at the Academy of Sciences Institute for
Employment Studies. She contributed this essay to The Moscow Times.
The Times (UK) January 18, 1999
OPINION: Despite 70 years of theoretical equality, the best a young Russian
woman can hope for is a rich husband or a band of wealthy clients
By Anna Blundy
I was standing in the Slavyanskaya hotel last week waiting to get some dollars
out of the bank. The Slavyanskaya looks like a flashy modern hotel anywhere
in the world, except that the lobby is always overflowing with spectacularly
beautiful prostitutes in furs and high-heeled boots, clacking past thuggish
men in leather jackets who are forever slumped smoking in the leather armchairs.
In front of me in the queue was a tall, thin, slightly Asiatic-looking woman
of about 20 wearing very tight PVC trousers, Emma Peel boots and a cream
silk blouse. She carried a Chanel bag and had big pearls in her ears. “Look,
there must be money on it. He says he paid it in last week. Try the Visa,”
she was saying urgently in Russian. Next to her was a short, old, worried
Frenchman, staring at the remaining cards in his wallet. “Pas possible,”
he would mutter to her and she would reply in faltering French.
The woman became more frantic with each refused card and the man was getting
visibly older, more jowelly and shorter. The teller rolled her eyes at me
and smirked. The woman with the pearl earrings burst into tears and the man
riffled through the few dollar bills he had in his pocket and looked at her
Still, by now the Frenchman is back at home in Toulouse with his wife and
the prostitute has probably earned more than enough money to make up for
her loss. She is rich beyond any of the wild dreams she may have had in her
Soviet childhood and, much though Western women may despise or pity her,
she is almost certainly envied by her female contemporaries and by some
staggering proportion of schoolgirls (some 50 per cent of whom told a poll
in the early 1990s that they would like to become hard-currency prostitutes).
Prostitution of course existed under Communism, but since the perestroika
years it has turned into the number one career choice for all the country’s
tall, thin and striking young women. Although technically illegal, the girls
are paying their protection to everyone from the concierge to the police.
In any other country these women would all be successful models, but in Russia
only a very few are chosen by the burgeoning agencies and the process is
tedious for women who, while they are waiting, can easily make enough to
support their families for years to come. The hotel prostitutes are considered
lucky because they have been born with something to sell.
Wandering around Moscow, foreigners are always amazed at the number of attractive
and well-groomed women pottering about the shops. This is because, despite
70 years of theoretical equality, the best a young Russian woman can hope
for today is a rich husband or a large band of wealthy clients. These
increasingly rare beasts are not lured in by wit, independence and good career
prospects, but by the old chestnuts of lingerie, long hair and a winning
In Russia the best educated most cultured women are the poorest. Concert
violinists drive taxis at night, teachers have not received their pay in
months, those scientists who have not moved to California are desperately
growing potatoes at their dachas. Of course, there are businesswomen here
and a fair number of young female professionals, but mostly they are of the
The most ordinary and least feminine-looking of women still squeezes herself
into a short skirt, dyes her hair blonde and teeters around all winter in
high heels simply because that is what women are supposed to do. It is taken
for granted by men and women that females are for looking at and giving flowers
Russian men are always baffled by the rebuffs they receive from foreign women,
for they believe that to pay a woman a compliment (this can often take the
form of gross lechery) is simply obligatory in polite society. “She was hideous.
I just didn’t want to be rude,” you hear them say, offended and confused.
In a country trying to feed itself for the winter, feminism is still very
much a luxury item.
18 January, 1999, Johnson’s Russia List
Blundy/Status of Women, Fashion Models
By Robert, husband, father, owner (of a doggy)
I found Ms. Anna Blundy’s diatribe on Russian women, modelling, and prostitution
bizzare, and devoid of a grasp on reality in this country. First, let me
say that the reason that many Russians call the Radisson Slavjanskaya “Radisson
Chechenskaya”, is not that it is a “flashy modern hotel” as Ms. Blundy describes
it. The place is a dive, and it looks like an awkward combination of New
Jersey mall and a place of confinement for fellons. Its only redeeming feature
is the American House of Cinema. I simply point this out to highlight the
fact that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.
Second, Ms. Blundy’s grossly generalizing statements about all attractive
looking Russian women having nothing better to strive for than a materialistic
marriage or prostitution is ludicrous, and makes one wonder whether there
isn’t a bit of projection there. In my three years of living in Moscow, I
have had plenty of opportunities to witness Russian women striving to excell
in business, arts, social causes, etc. Moreover, I dare say that most Russian
women DO have alot more to look forward to and strive for than the two narrow
choices offered by Ms. Blundy. I find it bizzare that Ms. Blundy would so
easily offend the many women in Russia who work very hard in medicine, finance,
law, engineering, and many other fields, and find their work very rewarding.
Third, insofar as marriage is concerned, Ms. Blundy apparently does not allow
for the possibility that an attractive young Russian woman would marry someone
for reasons other than his money. Bummer! I guess I’ll have to have a serious
talk with my very attractive Russian wife. Apparently our very happy marriage
has been nothing but a facad. She MUST have thought that I was REALLY rich,
despite my very candid disclosure to the contrary. I suppose all expats who
have married Russian women (I know you’re reading this), ought to do the
same right away!
Fourth, about looks and employability. Let me break it to you gently, Ms.
Blundy. Anywhere in the world, in any profession or occupation, good looking
people fare better than others. This is not simply my assertion, but rather
a concept supported by reams of clinical and other research. Russia is no
exception. But if Ms. Blundy thinks that it’s any different in the good old
US of A, she might benefit from visiting the trading floor of any major Wall
Street firm. She will be more likely to find Raisa Gorbacheva trading Russian
Eurobonds, than find a woman that is not generally regarded as “good looking”
Finally, as I was reading Ms. Blundy’s diatribe, I couldn’t help but think
that there is something much deeper and personal to her feelings and perceptions
of men, women, and reality. But this is the 1990s. There is help available
for that sort of thing.