What is Russian Feminism?

You think the women are feminine or feminist?

A smart oneDon’t let the title fool you, this is not about Russian
“feminism,” the word does not have the same meaning here, but it is more
about Western women’s response to what Russian women consider a “feminine”
role in society.

A smart young lady

Below is a letter to a Russian paper on the issue and a few emails
from Johnson’s Russia List
(davidjohnson@erols.com, the
premiere source of Russ-centric news and discourse) that perfectly illustrate
the banter between “liberated” Western men and women faced with the Russian
gender roles.

Tykhookeanskaya Zvezda, March 4, 1999

Want to Marry? Be a Weak Girl

Letter from Russian man – Victor Vishnev

“Why it’s hard to get married today – was the question of my friend – I am
young, handsome, well educated, independent woman, have an apartment and
… there’s no applicants to my hand and heart. There was no war, epidemics
of cholera, but they all have disappeared somewhere. And every young woman
must find some day her fiancee.”

I tell her – Yes. Now in Russia there are born 100 girls to 106 boys. But
at the age of 18 their proportion is already 100 to 100. According to statistics
there are over 21 million single men in Russia today. Why our men do not
want to get married? Psychologists tell us that one fourth of Russian men
are not able to be interested in women. One million of them are in jail,
one fifth (4 million) are disable alcoholics, drug addicts, mentally sick,
and etc. Total we have 6 million men who are not “workable”. But there are
another 15 million of single “workable” men, who can create a family, but
… they don’t want it.

To understand WHY?, let’s look few generations back. How many kids had your
Grand Grandma? 8-10. Your Grandma had 5-6. Your Mom had 3-4 kids. And how
many children do you have now? 0-1. Every year Russian population is reducing
to 1.65 million. And in such disastrous situation Russian men do not want
to be married? Are they Patriots?

What are the obstacles for creating new families? Russian statistic reports
about average rate of 60 divorces per 100 marriages. Last year in Moscow
we had 80 divorces, and in Khabarovsk already 94. Why young couples do not
care about keeping their families, and marry only for one year? It sounds
strange, but in many cases a divorce was initiated by the “Keeper of Castle”
herself.

I see the reason for all that in destruction by state of traditional family
relations. Under the slogan of emancipation and equal rights there was destroyed
an established through the ages a patriarchal way of family life. Our society
pulled a woman away from family and kids. She became a tractor driver, machine
tool operator, office boss, and etc. Women are “liberated” from men’s protection
and support, and, in this way, are doomed to the permanent struggle for
leadership.

So, in struggle for leadership in family a wife is going along the way of
animosity, evil, which means the death to cooperation. I do not want to blame
all our dear women for being an “Iron Lady”. I simply want to mention a general
social tendency among them. So, in conclusion, I want to give advice to single
women (and also to the wives). Be afraid to show as strong ladies. Men not
only avoid strong women, but they do scare of them. They escape from them
by leaps and bounds. Ladies, please always be a tender, weak, defenseless
(with men) creatures and than … than sure you will get married and have
a good family.

Moscow News” English edition 1993 with some current editing

THE ONE (Elton John song)

by Mike Snow

A similar story emerges from many foreign men in Moscow. They first came
here in Nov 91, after the coup, left for a while, then returned. They returned
to share in the raw adventure of building a new world, to make money in the
yawning chasms of the post-communist vacuum, to learn the Russian language
and civilization, to bask in the virtual adulation foreigners (especially
Americans) were initially afforded.

They came back for a woman.

Russian girls are arguably the most beautiful in the world: huge clear eyes,
lush lips, fine features, sculpted necks, sweet demeanor, often trained as
ballet dancers or gymnasts from the age of 4. Stunning beauty is so common
here that it isn’t even noticed, or acknowledged by the girls themselves,
who’re unaware of the power they’d have elsewhere in the world. Bizarrely,
this isn’t common knowledge–many countries have an image of Russian women
as tractor driving babushkas, or steroid-gulping macho Olympians.

Moreover this is a patriarchy; radical feminism haven’t penetrated this far.
Here men are considered right unless proved otherwise, rather than the reverse.
Because of the massive deaths of men from wars and purges, men and women
have reversed roles: here men are the desirable ones, the chased ones and
so display some of the same arrogance and insufferability of beautiful women
in America. (In fact in dealing with imperious, changeable, careless Soviet
and Russian leaders, it was helpful to consider them spoiled beautiful women.)

May-December (well, Sept) romances that would be frowned on or considered
perverse in the States are normal here, no small attraction for many foreigners.
The spectacular income disparity made foreigners feel like Monte Carlo rich
($8 avg monthly income in Nov 91), with even McDonalds being considered a
luxury restaurant. Our wealth, freedom, and exoticness made us hot property
to the womenfolk. And Russian men, far from being bitterly resentful, would
invariably encourage and help us in our quest.

But things aren’t all rosy. One almost never meets any girl over 21. In one
of the strange cultural oddities here, girls think that if they aren’t married
by 21, they never will be. So any average 20 year old girl is often married
with a 1 year old child, which they often did just to get out of their parent’s
house. ; or in another cultural oddity, a virgin, both equally unworkable.
Parents usually exert enormous control over daughters–having a 20 year old
be home by 10 pm makes dating, uh, problematic. Westerners would often have
to settle for afternoon delights from girlfriends that would do anything
but spend the night. “Russian girls have no sense of their own independence
or freedom'” complained Moscow student Matt Arledge.

Married straight from childhood, girls have fanciful notions of their lives
being all set as they defer all decisions to hubby. Often the husband can’t
measure up, and both partners settle into external relationships, something
amazing common here (divorce rates are exploding). Alex, a Russian facial
surgeon, explained, “It’s the European way- marriage is for children, not
necessarily sex.” Women will often give you their phone number without mentioning
they’re married; “It’s okay”, one wife said when I reached her husband, “he
doesn’t mind.”

This total dependence was multiplied many-fold as the Soviet system collapsed
(91-2) and people’s psychological moorings were torn loose. We foreigners
had to have all the answers–the secrets of money, success, freedom, and
happiness our girlfriends thought. But we were even more pummeled by culture
shock, pushed through the looking glass into a world where everything was
reversed: the letters N and R, hot and cold water taps, headlights off at
night, old money unsafe, fealty for abuse; where it took 6 weeks to find
toilet paper, 4 trips to buy a train ticket, and 3 months to find scotch
tape. Deprived of car, bike, stereo, video, Western TV, or decent movies;
swamped by the endless cold, dark, and melancholy of this strange land, we
sometimes struggled to stay afloat. The fear of people who never had the
options of making decisions about their life, suddenly being forced to, was
solid and tangible, but beyond understanding to a Westerner.

Without routine negative church indoctrination, sex was often startlingly
casual- otherwise timid girls would hop into bed with amazing speed, sometimes
more as an act of friendship than passion…wonderful, until you realized
it wasn’t exclusive to you. With the enormous Russian propensity for alcohol,
one wouldn’t (necessarily) try to get girls drunk, but prevent it, since
after a couple of drinks- many Russian girls would seduce anyone. Sex was
vigorously suppressed by prudish Soviet authorities, it’s wholesale emergence
now is often unconnected with love, commitment, or even romance. Exclusive
restaurants often have a strip-tease show.

Economic exigencies meant a girl could be a sweet cultured trilingual university
student, or a respected doctor, and still be a prostitute (though rare).
Foreign visitors found this fascinating, residents frightening, since AIDS
was almost nonexistent then, except in “professional” women who dealt with
foreigners. Initially prostitution was remarkably devoid of criminal elements
and startlingly innocent (though I have no, uh, direct experience). A Swedish
nightclub is packed with working girls: every one a 19-25 year old stunning
covergirl, who charged $100-200 an encounter: 2-3 monthly incomes.

Even the lack of feminism could be maddening: when you are carrying 12 liters
of juice and she refuses to carry one bottle because it’s the man’s job to
carry. Women deferring to men means they defer to whomever they’re talking
to at the moment, even on a date with somebody else. In this communal society
concepts of loyalty were thinly or differently developed. At clubs with a
date, bathroom breaks were done fast. And the Russian hunger for a strong
domineering leader sometimes forced us to adopt behavior we’d spent years
learning was chauvinistic. “I was finally comfortable with how I was supposed
to act (being non-sexist), and I come here and all those rules don’t mean
a thing”, complained an American TV producer that spent 1 1/2 years pursuing
an Intourist guide.

Even when the ability to communicate wasn’t a problem, the tendency not to
often was. Steeped in years of secrecy from a prying Party, Government, and
family; women often thought that they had to hide what they wanted in order
to get it, instead resorting to intricate schemes of manipulation. Penetrating
to the truth through the misty multiple shrouds of mystery often proved
impossible or pointless, and marriage to someone of such opaqueness was daunting.
More than one girlfriend would resist my entreaties for a month till I thought
it was over, then come over for a night of passion, then repeat the pattern.
One never knew what, if anything, one had.

Things have changed in the last 2 years, as some Russians have become rich:
the women are definitely cooler and more reserved towards foreigners; they
now realize that wealth and freedom to leave aren’t exclusively foreign
phenomena. “Before Russian women were excited by the Western life-style,
it was considered a dream; now this country has possibilities too,” claimed
Marina Kondrina, a trader for Shell Oil. Vlada Gapolsky, a (female) casino
inspector still thinks Western men are more sensitive: “There is more respect
between people, and for women… Russian men think a woman is something you
can buy.”

In truth, Russian men often treat women terribly; sexual harassment is so
common as to be considered normal (a beautiful girl will often receive several
financial proposals a day), and sexual extortion for jobs and promotions
raises no eyebrows here. After returning I asked a girlfriend who’d become
assistant to a museum director if she had to sleep with him: “Oh, yes, Michael.”
Whereas in America, women’s attraction to power in their men is universal,
but usually denied, Russians are more honest and relaxed about it. A friend
starting work teaching English at the Russian Foreign Language Institute
had a woman administrator tell him, “Oh, our girls will take VERY good care
of you,” with a broad smile. Since girls liked (and loved) us because we
were kind and respectful compared to Russian men, relationships were often
dazzlingly sweet and wonderful, though Russian women could be as tough as
nails.

“It’s all about money,” says New York photographer Brian Gonye flatly about
women’s’ attraction to foreigners, a view shared by some men who find it
a self-fulfilling prophecy. 2 years ago, when they cost $5, no women had
leather coats; now when they cost $200, very many women do; sartorial elegance
has increased 100 fold from the days of shapeless Soviet plasticware. Because
of the isolated economic system, Russian women often have no sense of financial
scale. “They don’t understand why you can’t take her to a $25 admission nightclub
every week, since all foreigners have to be rich,” groaned an American student.”

More than anything, our romances illuminated the awesome span of the Soviet
Empire, and the pain involved in its breakup (and formation). Born in Kemerovo
(Siberia) by Estonian parents, raised in Siberia, Kokhla-Yarve (Est.), and
Leningrad, and having to choose between citizenship in 2 different worlds
that are becoming mutually exclusive; or born in Kyrgistan, raised in the
Caucuses, worked in Vorkuta (Arctic), and attending school in Moscow; or
Moscovite, secure in remaining at the center of power and civilization, but
buffeted by rampaging inflation, soaring crime, and institutional collapse.
Being here has often felt like a James Michener novel “Empire”.

Russian (Soviet?) women seem to have an extra X chromosome, excessively female
in their beauty, warmth, eroticism, arbitrariness, and toughness. But often
cultural differences, historical psychological trauma, and communications
problems seemed insurmountable. It sometimes appeared rather hopeless, but
as Woody Allen said in Annie Hall, “We need the eggs.”…. Of course, look
what happened to him.

POSTSCRIPT: Many things have changed since then- most notably prices, and
the level of girl’s independence; still most of my observations still hold.
But with the Mafia exporting thousands of poor girls into white slavery in
foreign bordellos, rampant AIDS and VD, and amazing levels of corruption;
Russia isn’t quite the romantic paradise I described. Yet, it still might
be the best place on earth for women.

Johnson’s Russia List, 23 Jul 1998

In response to Mike Snow’s “The One” article from the Moscow News 1993:

By Jenni Bennett

Interesting observations on Russian women; but show a little compassion!
Snow describes Russia as the best place on earth for women?! Bojshe moye!
He commented himself on the horrible inequalities women have to face in the
Russian patriarchal society.

When he mentioned how a good man a hard to find in Russia (allowing the men
to act like the “spoiled beautiful women” in the West), he failed to discuss
how hard Russian women have to work to support themselves and their families
without really having any real power in society in order to change things.
Although Russian women are very well-educated and many have professional
careers, they don’t exactly hold the positions of power in the state.

Whenever I’m impressed with Tatianya’s [Yeltin’s daughter] role as presidential
advisor, I remember that it’s her job in Russian society to take care of
her aging, sickly and at times, drunken father. There is a lack of a women’s
movement in Russia that can well-represent the plight of women, mothers and
wives. Except of course the Soldiers’ Mothers who helped end the war in Chechnya.

But let’s get back to the “risks of dating in Russia”…

I feel SO sorry for all the foreign men (especially Americans) who can only
find virgins, wives, or golddigging harlots (as Snow basically describes
them) when they head off to Russia to find themselves a good woman. They
are actually a lot of good, single women in Russia who are over 21, but they
happen to be single mothers struggling to survive after they’re deadbeat,
alcoholic husbands take off or are thrown out. These women work constantly,
usually at unglamorous jobs to say the least, and do all the housework only
to sleep on the living room couch at night while they’re son/daughter gets
the only bedroom (I never met a large Russian family – usually there’s only
1 or 2 kids – the marriage never seems to last much longer or to be stable
enough to have big families).

Maybe I’m off the mark, I didn’t spend that much time in decadent Moscow
when I lived in Petersburg in early 1996, but if you want to understand the
young women of Russia, you have to understand what kind of life is in ahead
of them. The movies “Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears” and “Adam’s Rib” offer
rather accurate depictions of the lives of Russian women. Snow’s observations
are more like a guide to the do’s and don’t’s of dating in Russia.

I’m sorry, I don’t have much sympathy for frustrated Western men who aren’t
able to find a nice little “lapdog” who will adore them, look beautiful and
never leave their side. I really don’t trust their intentions, and obviously,
Russian women don’t either. They’re not stupid; they’re desperate to improve
their lives. It is not a new phenomenon for women to try to take advantage
of men of higher economic standing in order to better their own lot; it’s
been happening for centuries.

However, it’s very seldom that such a coup ever makes the women that much
happier. I don’t see the problem as Russian women being promiscuous and
“disloyal” in order to serve other purposes, but it’s the fact that they
are not speaking out against the system in order to broaden their opportunities
that bothers me. Lack of feminism indeed.

It wasn’t the chauvinism that struck me, but the complacency of the women
who accepted and promoted the gender stereotypes. Unfortunately, there are
a lot of women who use their sexuality to get places. But look where they
end up, as sex slaves in a foreign country or working the same street that
they practice medicine on (an exaggeration, but you get the point).

Of course it’s an economic problem, everything is, but Russian women have
to stop accepting their role as second-class citizens who are actually the
backbone of Russian society who do so much of the work and raise all the
children. Not all young women in Russia are promiscuous either, I’d say that
they are very traditional, moral, dependable, and think that they need a
man’s protection in order to survive.

The ironic thing is, Russian women often suffer worse because of Russian
men. Russian men can be gallant and caring, and chauvinistic and cruel all
at the same time. No wonder Russian women are interested in foreign men,
the grass is always greener.

But take a good look at your sensitive-selves, the Western “heroes” who come
to rescue Russia’s damsels in distress. Sounds more like to me that you are
trying to take advantage of them as much if not more than Russian women are
trying to take advantage of you. So you seem frustrated that things aren’t
going your way on the romantic front? No sympathy from me.

If you really cared about the lives of Russian women, you might be more willing
to give up the bikes, VCR’s and stereos and stay and marry your girlfriends
and build a life together, sharing the housework and the responsibilities
of raising the children (like you are being brainwashed to do in the West)
and ultimately provide a good example to men and women alike in Russia of
what life can be like.

Mind you, if you stay and live like a Russian you might be driven to drink
too, but then again, why do the men have to be the weak ones who succumb
to alcohol while the women hold down the fort? It’s just a question.

Jenni Bennett is presently working on contract with Foreign Affairs in
Canada and later as a NATO intern in Moscow.

Johnson’s Russia List, 28 July 1998

Response to Bennett/Russian Women

by Mike Snow

Jenni Bennett’s seems to have read something else in her hyperbolic reaction
to my piece on Russian women and international dating. Mostly she seems enraged
at “the complacency of women who accepted and promoted the (Russian) gender
stereotypes” and the fact “they’re not speaking out against the system in
order to broaden their opportunities”, a common reaction among Western women
in Russia, whom I watched wilt and crumple under the outrageously sexist
conventions of Russian society.

This was a place where all their convenient assumptions and blanket power
were irrelevant. “How could Russian women let men get away with that???”
{I, often, frankly wondered the same.) More to point, how could they not
subscribe or accept the universality of the Western feminist perspective.
(Russian women at one point told some feminist group to, essentially, “leave
us alone; we LIKE our men”).

I never said or think Russian girls were “golddigging harlots”- just the
opposite, considering the spectacular difference in incomes, they were amazingly
self-possessed and uninterested in our money, something one wouldn’t see
anywhere in the world– let alone an economically devastated place (superpower
self respect had something to do with that). Few wanted to leave- I found
Russians very patriotic. Whereas Western women (particularly properly
indoctrinated young ones) see sex and love as a political power play and
struggle, Russian women see it as a romantic opportunity- they are incredibly
romantic and they really LIKE men and give them the benefit of the doubt
(highly politically incorrect).

Admittedly Russian women are the salt of the earth, do almost all the work
of the family, and literally held the country together- before and after
Communism. They have a tremendously difficult life and greet it with great
courage, grace, and fortitude; yet remain essentially female and appealing
in ways one rarely sees in the West. Russia is the best place on earth for
(finding a good) woman, not the best place on earth for women (to live),
something I thought obvious from context.

I never met single women with children, “throwing the alcoholic bum out or
leaving” were simply not the convenient options that they are in the West-
there was no place to go except the streets, where people would rapidly freeze
(as a dozen or 2 do a day now in Moscow); couples lived together (in misery)
even after divorce. People only had 1 or 2 kids because of no money and no
space, and in many cases since and before the breakup- no hope.

I didn’t go to Russia to “find a woman”, but as a tourist who discovered
the Roman Empire’s collapse telescoped into 2 years and the biggest story
of my life (actually I was going to do a documentary on German reunification
when I went to Russia for 4 weeks and saw a place that loved Americans, was
100 times cheaper, had the most beautiful women in the world, … and said
hmmm, I should stay for a while).

Gee, that’s what I was looking for: “a nice little lapdog who will adore
them, look beautiful, and never leave their side”. Not really- just wanted
to get away from the bitterness, resentment, and immaturity so on display
in that comment. I think America has about as twisted and miserable sexual
politics as exists in the West (we’re going to let that prissy twit Starr
drag Clinton into open court to testify about his sex life?????); where do
American (Canadian?) women think they have a right to preach to Russians?

In fact, that clinging lack of independence wasn’t very appealing; Russians
had very different space requirements. Russian women were “traditional,
dependable, and thought they needed a man’s protection to survive”- actually
they thought they needed a man (and much effort was expended in the search),
something that rankles Western women, who know much better.

“Moral” isn’t a word I’d use to describe much in the FSU, I think the very
concept was degraded. I don’t think Russian women actually were that promiscuous-
more they were trained to do what men WANTED, no matter who or what, and
was a function of societal indoctrination- but it could be very disquieting,
when you’d see girls mincing and preening for any group of men in the bimboish
way my Estonian artist girlfriend, Olga, so despised. The last Russian Miss
Universe nominee was asked some question and she nervously reverted to that
bimboish banter and was instantly OUT of the running, though she probably
could speak 4 languages and was one of the smartest women there.

I know how vigilant one had to be because I met several girls in the minute
before THEIR boyfriend came. I hardly thought of myself as a “Western hero
come to rescue Russia’s damsel in distress”; in fact considering the fact
that Russian women’s’ strength, beauty, and eroticism was so linked to the
land. I was very hesitant to bring a Russian girl to America and all the
propaganda rife here (as I tell my friend Matt in NYC.. don’t call Lena “Helen”
unless you want her to BECOME an American girl).

Of COURSE, I wanted “to take advantage of Russian women”– isn’t that what
everything is reduced to here: men taking unfair advantage of poor defenseless
women (that’s the kind of insidious, insipid propaganda I mean). Suddenly
I’m supposed to give up all the perks of Western civilization to stay in
Russia and “build a life together, if I really cared about the lives of Russian
women”- when did marriage become missionary work and when did Jenni elect
me.

I wasn’t trolling for sympathy in writing this piece; it was more for Russians
(who found it fascinating)and a personal account of the astounding differences
in romance, sex, and love between the cultures, which nobody had covered,
as well as an ode to Russian women.

I read about the thousands of girls tricked, raped, and broken into bordellos
in Israel and Middle East by Mafia scum, and I’m crushed. The most beautiful
girls in the world, trusting romantic sweethearts; the fruit of Russian and
Ukranian youth and womenhood, who only want a chance to live like human beings;
sold into slavery by those cynical vicious criminal bastards. That will poison
Russia for generations if it’s allowed to continue.

In reality, I fell in love with a tough clever sweetheart who bore a strong
resemblance to Demi Moore. She was talking about going to America (but ALL
Russians were talking about going to America), she had a Russian? boyfriend
in Murmansk, she had an American friend; she was going to Paris and America
soon (my projected itinerary); 2 weeks later she was gone- then married to
an American she met on an earlier trip I never knew about. I call her (I
am, after all, a reporter) for an hour and talk on the phone and talk to
her infant daughter, a daughter who should’ve been mine and then pound the
phone to pieces. We were never trained to move that fast.

Johnson’s Russia List, 30 July 1998

Feminism has nothing to offer here

By Tate Ulsaker

The day of the feminist is gone, thank God!

That was one of the first things I noticed about Russia. Mike Snow only echoes
what everyone knows who has visited Russia for 2 days or more. Feminism can
never take hold here and a good guy with a strong head on his shoulders is
always wanted. What a change from the US where men are asked to be the impossible
combination of woman and man at the same time. The roles are all mixed up
in the US as indicated by the fact that the term “equal rights” now means
“equal roles”. The whole political correctness fad where we all have to chant
“he or she” as we talk about a military general or a ‘homemaker’ is a dishonest
way to evaluate the world we live in. The twisted ideology is yet unchallenged
by all spheres of culture in America. It is amazing. Equal rights today in
America means equal in every way. Mention that man and women have different
roles to play as a union and you are immediately the one waving red flags…
a male cheauvanist for all to despise.

Male chauvinist, I haven’t heard that empty phrase in over 4 years now. Since
that time I have been in close contact with several hundred Russian women
and none of them has ever gone out of their way to make me feel unwanted.
In fact, that is the problem in this society. A man who doesn’t hit his woman
too much and drink every day is in such demand, is pampered so much, that
he begins to believe he is actually worth all that attention. No longer kept
in check, desirable men roam any city in Russia (especially outside of Moscow)
with an address book that grows as fast as he can write.

So if life in a developed system gives people independence, and independence
is a way for women to not need men, then life in an undeveloped system is
where interdependence is needed. Interdependence relies upon the union of
different strengths. Both men and women abuse their market power when they
are in high demand. In the US, women put the men out of demand. In Russia,
men put themselves out of demand. In all my travels through Asia, Africa,
Europe, I have never seen a greater contrast between this ‘law of demand
of the sexes’ question than between the US and Russia. And what a relief
Russia is for those of us who like to treat a woman like a queen but hardly
have the chance (between insults) to do so.

St. Petersburg Times March 9, 1999

Sexual Harassment, Russian Style

By John Varoli

“Imagine being sexually harassed by a foreign employer working for the European
Union,” said Tanya, a Russian woman in her late 20s, writing in a letter
of her own personal experience. ” I didn’t think it was possible until it
happened to me.”

“Imagine your boss showing up in front of you in his underwear, asking you
to come into a small cabin to have a ‘serious’ talk; asking the company driver
to take you and himself [the boss] to his apartment, then turning on slow
music, and bringing up personal, intimate subjects; asking you to work nights
at his place; asking if you were a lesbian after you refused his advances;
telling you that you need to have sex; as well as inquiring with whom you
are having sex.”

Its hardly news to say that sexual harassment is a problem in Russia. In
fact, it is so commonplace that it is hardly discussed, often accepted as
the natural course of relations between men and women.

But as the above example makes clear, it is not solely a problem between
Russian men and Russian women. It is a phenomenon that crosses cultural,
social, and national lines, and it is fostered by an atmosphere of tacit
tolerance in Russia toward the problem and the idea that women have little
rights beyond the “right” to serve men.

While many Russian women downplay the seriousness of sexual harassment and
men dismiss it altogether, the issue certainly strikes a sensitive nerve
with women; such that every one interviewed for this article asked that real
their names not be used.

“Sexual harassment is a serious problem in Russia,” said Alexander Krautsin,
a sociologist at the Russian Academy of Sciences, who recently conducted
one of Russia’s first empirical investigations on the problem in St. Petersburg.
“According to our research, about one-third of women have been victims of
sexual harassment.”

“We looked at six categories, ranging from verbal comments to actual sexual
relations,” Krautsin continued. “The problem, however, is rarely recognized
and admitted by woman. The vast majority, some 80 percent to 90 percent,
prefer to pretend that nothing serious has happened, or to settle the problem
themselves with the aggressor, not asking for any help from friends or
relatives.”

In the case of Tanya, the aggressor – her boss – believed he could get away
with behavior in Russia that he knew he would be unacceptable in Europe.
“It seems that some Western men have the idea that you can come to
Russia and take advantage of poor Russian women who will do anything for
you for just a small amount of money,” said Tanya.

But Tanya’s boss made a big mistake. After living in the United States for
four years, Tanya had long ago come to understand that women need not tolerate
behavior they find humiliating. In fact, she almost took her case to
court, stopping at the last minute only because she felt sorry for her oppressor,
whom she described as a pathetic man with “severe emotional problems.”

The standard treatment of women as second-class citizens is a deep-seated
cultural tradition. As the Russian folk saying goes, “A chicken is not a
bird, and a woman is not a human being.”

With such attitudes prevalent, it’s hardly surprising that the country’s
legal and law enforcement systems pay little heed to the problem of women.
And with the country’s dire economic straits, women are thankful for any
job and willing to do whatever it takes not to lose it.

“Since he paid my salary, he felt he had the power to do anything he wanted,”
said Irina, who formerly worked in a private architecture company. “And when
I refused his advances, he then started to delay payment of my salary, until
he just finally got rid of me after finding another girl who would not refuse
him.”

“The aggressor sizes up how vulnerable a woman is,” said Natalya Khodyreva,
an assistant professor of psychology and director at the St. Petersburg Crisis
Center for Women. “If she is without a propiska, or residency permit, or
from a family that is not well-off and without connections, then the aggressor
is most likely to take advantage of her. But if her parents are influential
and well-off then he is will be more careful.”

Perhaps the main obstacle on the road to fighting sexual harassment is the
lack of any awareness that it is a problem. In fact, the word only recently
entered the Russian language, often translated, rather awkwardly, as seksualnoye
domogatelsva. “Sexual harassment is defined as when a woman is in a
state of dependence at work and forced to provide sexual services,” said
Khodyreva. “If she refuses she can be fired, or deprived of a raise or a
bonus.”

Sexual harassment can take the form of a woman being asked to provide favors
to a boss or colleagues, or even being encouraged by one’s boss to sleep
with clients or potential clients of the firm. Believing that such
behavior is normal and understanding that the male-dominated legal system
will not only not protect men but condemns their resistance, most women don’t
bother to put up a fuss. “Many women are afraid of revenge from their
aggressor, the lack of legal basis for defense, or that they will lose their
job if they fight back,” said Khodyreva.

In 1996, only eight cases of sexual harassment came to the courts in all
of Russia, and since then there have been even fewer. “Women are not protected
in Russia,” said Khodyreva. “In general, law enforcement agencies have
no desire to protect citizens they are supposed to serve, and as far as women
are concerned, sexual harassment is not even a crime.”

While the situation is certainly dire in Russia, it is not so far behind
as many might believe. While the first U.S. court case on sexual harassment
was held in 1976, the country only began seriously tackling the problem in
1991 when the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on Anita Hill’s charges
against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

The year after this highly publicized case, the number of sexual harassment
cases filed across America jumped fifty percent. Now, sexual harassment
victims in America can be compensated not only with back pay if they had
been fired unfairly, but for future pecuniary losses, emotional pain, suffering,
inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and other nonpecuniary
losses.

Yet, most Russians, especially women, feel that America has gone overboard
on the issue, especially concerning the escapades of U.S. President Bill
Clinton which have lead to his impeachment. “American feminism and
obsession with stamping out sexual harassment has poisoned relations between
men and women in your country,” said one young women, when asked if sexual
harassment is a problem in Russia.

Some women interviewed for this article see what the West calls sexual harassment
as simply part of the rules of the game, and are satisfied with it as long
as it does not become violent or threatening. They see it as necessary, and
even advantageous. “For me sexual harassment was not a problem until
I got fired,” said Lyuba, a woman in her early 20s. “Yes, we are willing
to use our beauty and short skirts to get what we want. And why not? It is
easier that way to get something, than having to work hard at it.”

Some women understand that this is the culture in Russia, and that they have
to adapt and use it to their advantage. “A lot of woman provoke sexual harassment
with their behavior and dress,” said Katya, a 30-year-old woman working as
a business executive. “In general the level of morality is quite low in Russia
now, and girls will go long with whatever to get what they need.”

But according to Klautsin of the Russian Academy of Sciences, it is a myth
that women are out to ensnare men. “Most women react by saying that is just
the way men are, they are all interested in sex. Indeed, half of the women
polled say that women themselves are to blame for the way they dress and
act.” “I think that in Russia women are more vulnerable because they
don’t understand that it is wrong to have a personal relationship with people
at work and find it acceptable to have a relationship with the boss for fear
of losing the job,” said Tanya.

“In our society, people feel they have no rights and are not able to speak
up and have to put up with things they don’t agree with.”

11 March 1999, Johnson’s Russia List

Re: 3085/Response Sexual Harassment, Russian Style by John Varoli

By T. S. White

I do not wish to diminish the problem of sexual harassment either in America
or in Russia but this article is so poorly founded that it offends me. The
author justifies his condemnation of the Russian culture beginning with the
uncorroborated statements of one woman.

This in itself prejudices the article’s intent and compromises the author’s
journalistic integrity. In the incident that begins the article the author
generalizes the problem by stating, “In the case of Tanya, the aggressor
– her boss – believed he could get away with behavior in Russia that he knew
he would be unacceptable in Europe.”

To me this kind of short sighted generalization only belies the fact that
the author has a poor comprehension of the scope and depth of the problem.
Mr. Varoli has apparently either avoided spending time in Amsterdam or Paris,
or is convinced he can artificially ascribe American legal values to the
cultures of the rest of the world. The fact is that American values toward
sexual behavior are more or less unique to America. Yet the author approaches
the threshold of recognizing this when he states, “Yet, most Russians, especially
women, feel that America has gone overboard on the issue, especially concerning
the escapades of U.S. President Bill Clinton which have lead to his impeachment.”
While Mr. Varoli condescends to make this statement he does nothing to justify
its inclusion in the article.

I would like to at least give Mr. Varoli the support of my first hand discussions
with Russian female executives. On my recent trip to St. Petersburg I discussed
the impeachment trial with top female executives in a Russian bank. Their
unanimous opinion was that Americans were making absolute fools of themselves,
in the eyes of the international community, by prosecuting/persecuting their
President for what are considered to be private affairs in the rest of the
western world.

These female banking executives did validate Mr. Varoli’s statement, “American
feminism and obsession with stamping out sexual harassment has poisoned relations
between men and women in your country,”. These executives were quick to condemn
the attitudes of American women toward their men. These executives were also
in a position to understand the attitudes they criticized since they are
in regular contact with the wives of their American male counterparts. It
seems they do not encounter many American female bank executives on assignment
in Russia.

The disdain that Russian women hold for the attitudes of American feminists
is not some male generated urban myth. I have had similar criticisms of American
feminists echoed to me by female legislators, in the St. Petersburg Legislature,
and several Russian female executives in the social services. There seems
to be an almost unanimous attitude among Russian women executives that American
women have committed a gross injustice on American men and the American family.

Only for the sake of clarification, I will trivialize their statements by
observing that none of the women I spoke to were mini skirted, hip swinging,
and alluring twentyish. They were in fact what you would expect to observe
in any American firm: well dressed, professional, educated, and intelligent.
To lend some credence to his article Mr. Varoli quotes a local feminist
psychologist saying, ‘Many women are afraid of revenge from their aggressor,
the lack of legal basis for defense, or that they will lose their job if
they fight back,” said Khodyreva.’

Apparently neither Mr. Varoli or the psychologist have explored the subject
far enough to strike upon the existence of the Russian “Krisha”. Krisha is
a native Russian “Roof”, or protection agency, as it may be called in the
west. This is another component of Russian culture I am certain Mr. Varoli
would be quick to criticize. However, a large percentage of Russian citizens,
including most young attractive women, employ Krisha to protect themselves
and their belongings. All they need to do, if they encounter sexual harassment
on the job, is to call their Krisha. Their boss will be approached and suffer
grave financial, if not direct physical, loss. This will occur not because
of some workings of the Russian judicial system but because of the Russian
Cultural System.

The crux of the problem Mr. Varoli has is that he fails to recognize that
Russia, like America, is a unique culture. He seems to believe that he can
project American values onto a culture that is four times older than America.
His belief that Russian Culture is to become nothing more than an extension
of American values is both naive and self righteous. I would suggest that
Mr. Varoli attempt to become more of a part of the culture he lives and works
in. If he does that he will surely come to understand how it works and to
appreciate the way in which it strives to equalize everyone.

14 Mar 1999, Johnson’s Russia List

Response to White- 3088

By John Varoli

Dear David,

I applaud Mr. White’s zeal defending Russia’s honor. I too try to uphold
it whenever possible, but the truth must be told. It is quite unfortunate
that any criticism of Russia is taken as a “condemndation” of her culture,
as White claims. I believe that criticism is the prime tool by which individuals
and whole societies improve themselves. But then, I am sure Mr. White will
also dismiss such an idea as a silly Americanism.

My article on sexual harassment was not merely built around several incidents
that I had uncovered in the course of a short investigation, but rather it
was the result of six years living in Russia— three of which were spent
as a social worker/ human rights advocate working with women and children,
and the other three as a writer.

The plight of women in Russia, in all regards, is certainly the worse among
the European nations. During his next visit to Russia, I dare Mr. White to
venture out of his privileged world of assertive Russian female corporate
executives, and spend a few weeks with those women who are less well-off
and poorly-connected (the majority of the population), and who have no protection
and recourse from abuse.

Mr. White should remember that human rights are universal, and not merely
American values. The application of force, in any form, on the will of any
individual, is wrong. And be assured that I will always fight such violations,
regardless of what is considered acceptable by the local culture.

Finally, Mr. White claims to have spoken with “female legislators, in the
St. Petersburg Legislature” who also share his criticism of American feminism.
The plural is highly unlikely. There is only one woman in the St. Petersburg
Legislative Assembly.

John Varoli St. Petersburg

PS: Mr. White, I am married to an extremely assertive Russian female corporate
executive.

14 Mar 1999, Johnson’s Russia List

Sexual harassment

By Marian Dent

I would like to voice support of John Varolis’ excellent piece on sexual
harassment, and to express disagreement with T.S. White’s rebuttal. I have
been living and working in Russia since 1992, and Varolis article rang so
true with what I see here that I reprinted it and sent it on to several
friends–both Russians and Westerners.

We have to admit, there is a significant portion of Western businessmen who
see Russia as an opportunity to find women just as much as an opportunity
to find business. I see it all the time in many of the people I work with.
I am constantly amazed at the beautiful and intelligent young women who show
up at functions on the arms of nice, but quite average, middle-aged Western
businessmen.

The point is, that finding a mate is as legitimate reason as any for choosing
a country in which to live; but to the extent that the search spills over
into workplace harassment, the conduct becomes unacceptible. Most Western
executives stationed here have as much concern for their staff morale and
guard against the harassment problem much as they do back home. But we know
that the chances of the problem coming to light are fairly slim in Russia.
It is also common knowledge that Russian executives engage in harassment
quite openly. Lets face it some Western executives take advantage of climate
to engage in conduct that they would not undertake in their home countries.
But I’m not writing to preach the fact that sexual harassment is noticed
and resented by female employees, or that company reputation spreads quite
quickly in the bubble of Russia’s Western business community. Instead I am
writing to completely disagree with T.S. White’s denial that a problem exists.
It seems to me that:

1. While the case of Tanya that Mr. Varolis gives is indeed a single
example, contrary to White’s accusation such an example is a valid and excellent
literary device for illustrating a problem. We are not in a court of law
asking to prove the details of a single case, we merely need to determine
whether an example is illustrative of reality.

I can give multiple examples of similar incidences relayed to me by Russian
women I know and have worked with. Three years ago, in a meeting of female
staff at an organization I headed, an informal survey of the seven women
on the staff turned up three who had experienced serious sexual harassment,
including one who had experienced the problem twice and handled it only with
help of her husband, one who had quit a job because of it, and one who felt
she still had her job only because the American executive involved was
transferred to another city. In addition, whenever I interview women for
a position, I almost inevitably run into one or two who say they would prefer
to work for me, even for lower wages, because I am a woman and thus they
believe there is less chance of harassment.

Thus, I have to conclude that sexual harassment is a real problem in Russia
and John Varolis’ example of Tanya is valid. By the way, none of the women
who have relayed stories about workplace harassment to me seemed to think
that America’s attitude of condemning sexual harassment is “silly” or
“distainful” as White thinks Russian women believe.

2. Russian public attitude towards the Clinton case, cited by White,
is absolutely irrelevant to the issue of whether women face and resent sexual
harassment in Russia. I too think the Clinton case was far overblown, but
that has nothing to do with my belief that I should sanction anyone in my
firm who sexually harasses an underling.

3. The issue of whether attitudes towards sexual relations in America
are different from those in Europe is also irrelevant to what occurs in Russia.
Indeed America may be much more sensitive to the issue that Western Europe.
Perhaps America is overboard or perhaps Europe is not on board enough. However,
executives in any respected multi-national firm, whether in the US or Western
Europe, do not consider appropriate the extreme degree of harassment that
is quite common here. We are not talking about compliments on a dress or
a pat on the rump in this country–when Russians complain of harassment they
are talking about blatant orders for sex and advances that would be extremely
offensive anywhere.

4. Neither do thoughts of Russian women about American feminists in
general have anything to do with thoughts of Russian women on the single
issue of sexual harassment.

5. Finally, Russian women indeed are afraid of reprisals from harassers,
even if only in the form of firings or other career related harm. This is
what harassment is all about Mr. White. And in this economic climate is a
serious problem. I have yet to meet a woman who has pursued a case against
a harassing superior. Most thought it would do no good, they would lose their
jobs, have trouble finding a new job without a reference, possibly be laughed
out of court, and, even if they did win, would be awarded only moral damages
so low that it would not be worth the effort.

But here is where my opinion differs in the extreme from T.S. White’s. I
wonder whether–while thinking he was in St. Pete–he was actually secretely
smuggled to another planet? He claims that most attractive Russian women
hire a Krisha to protect themselves and are thus immune to harassment and
all other types of work reprisals. I’m sorry, but I have yet to know any
average Russian woman who enters into a personal relationship with a Krisha–
let alone doing so voluntarily. You translate the term into “protection agency,”
while I think the closer translations are “pimp” and “protection racket.”
Further, I resent thought that a woman should have to resort even to legitimate
private protection organizations as a substitute for a legal and social system
that protects her workplace rights.

15 March 1999, Johnson’s Russia List

A different perspective on Sexual Harrassment

By David M Rowell

It is very difficult for some subjects to be perceived clearly, and our own
personal “viewpoint filters” many times cause us to see what we wish to see.
The renewed debate on sexual harrassment is a clear case in point. Rather
than allow my own prejudices to intrude on a series of didactic statements,
I’d like to just ask a couple of rhetorical questions of Mr Varoli, Ms Dent
and Mr White.

First, Ms Dent tells us how she is “constantly amazed at the beautiful and
intelligent young women who show up at functions on the arms of nice, but
quite average, middle-aged Western businessmen”. So what. Please tell us,
Ms Dent, how many of those same women seemed to be coerced into attending
– how many looked unhappy at participating in a lifestyle closed to most
of their kin? How many of them looked unhappy at wearing clothes that would
cost an ordinary Russian a year’s salary? Indeed, have you surveyed such
women to find out how many of them also work with/for their date? It is very
hard to establish exactly who is using who in such situations, and probably
the arrangement, spoken or unspoken – but always freely entered into – is
fair and acceptable to both the man and the woman.

As our Moscow friends at the eXile will surely confirm, a foreign “businessman”
looking for Russian women, has an extraordinary wealth of choices and it
isn’t necessary to limit oneself to the more complicated scenarios within
one’s office.

Secondly, Mr White tells us how – in his experience – attractive women have
a personal protection arrangement with a “roof” or krisha – polite ways of
describing the Russian “mafia”. It is quite likely that the impressive people
Mr White mixes with do indeed pay protection money. But perhaps he could
tell us how an attractive 19 yr old can manage to pay protection money to
the local mafia on her $50/month salary working at Gostiny Dvor?

Of course, the local mafioso is probably willing to accept payment “in kind”,
but – whoops – doesn’t then the solution become as bad as the problem? In
my own different experiences, average Russian people avoid all possible
involvement with the local mafias, because, as they repeatedly tell me, once
you get involved with them, they never go away. None of the ordinary Russians
I know admit to any dealings with a krisha at all – yes, the mafia does exist,
and is pervasive in society, but only at certain levels and certain situations.

Thirdly, perhaps Mr White could tell us what he thinks the help wanted
advertisements mean when they state in them that they are seeking to employ
a young attractive woman “without complexes”? Most other people understand
this phrase to be an allusion to the fact that the employer expects the woman
to sleep with him, and the phrase can be seen used in regular help wanted
ads in regular newspapers in St Petersburg.

I’m sure that the government officials that Mr White meets like to pretend
that such problems don’t exist, but he would be well advised to evaluate
his own version of reality instead of taking everything that public officials
tell him at face value.

In my own limited experience, by far the largest part of the problem of sexual
harrassment in Russia is between Russian men and the women that work for
them, not between foreign men and the women that work for them. Whether
“Euro-standard” or “US-standard”, there is no doubt that most foreign companies
have higher ethical standards than most Russian companies, and whereas –
to use Ms Dent’s turn of phrase – an average, middle-aged Russian businessman
probably can only manage to impose his charms on his employees, an average,
middle-aged Western businessmen has much wider choices. Let’s have less of
the “mea culpa” from the expats and let’s fairly call the problem what it
is – a definite problem, yes, but primarily a Russian problem, albeit with
a few foreign opportunists participating as well.

Which brings me to my last question, this one for Mr Varoli (and I also enjoy
being married to an assertive Russian woman, but I’m not sure what the relevance
of this is for him or me) – can he tell us why he chose to write about this
problem from the perspective of foreigners imposing themselves on their
employees, when, as he should know from his three years experience as a social
worker, the problem is one hundred times or more greater amongst Russians
than between foreigners and Russians?

  1. i am male 20 year old its my wish to help some disable girl how much i can even to marry her if she wants and to give her all happiness of life i dont want any thing from her i want to keep her happy as much as i can

  2. Wow,all these articles seem to be so macabre. I had thought that everything’s not that bad. I’m Russian actually. I’m only 16,though I have a lot of older friends. I think that everything depends on one’s character.

    It’s true,you must be strong to live in such an unstable country, to deal with men who are often emotionally weaker. But that doesn’t mean either lack of femininity or some kind of sexual slavery.

  3. Nice to see this whole cornucopia of thoughts on the issue, mine among them. I agree with White’s observation on the widespread disdain for anti-male Western feminist sentiments among most Russian women. But the idea that any harassed girl would or could resort to Mafiya protection is absurd. Vishnev’s ideas seem pretty retrograde.

    Very strange that Varoli focuses on Western men harassing poor Russian women, when of course that’s almost nonexistent, compared to rampant harassment by Russian bosses, but it’s something that would appeal to Americans worried that some compatriots were running amuck in greener pastures, or perhaps Russian nationalists sick of foreigners. In fact, a huge reason they loved us was that we treated them with much more respect and deference compared to Russian men.

    The thing that drives much of the frenzy among US women discussing this issue is the automatic respect and affection Russian women have for men and huge power differential between locals and foreigners. By definition in America, this is perverse and disgusting, especially when there is an age gap. It’s more politically acceptable in America for gays to have sex in a public bathroom than for there to be a 20-30 year age difference between men and women (when reversed like Moore and Kutchner, though, it is cool). Witness Leno jealously giggling “is that your daughter” to every Hollywood actor who has a young wife. We have a generational prejudice that’s positively obscene.

    Always portraying as “taking advantage of the girl”, it is almost never is (in fact this is a anti-feminist perspective)- they will stay as long as they are gleaning knowledge, affection, and perks- when bored they will leave- with the monstrous societal pressures in America, that’s often inevitable unless the couple is deeply compatible and in love. The older guy will be left bereft, but that’s understood from the beginning. Power differentials don’t mean exploitation, though modern feminists obsess over the balance of power between sexes with the intensity of cold warriors calculating nuclear throw weights. Americano males are taught that their job is to make a woman happy, no matter what it takes, but the idea that Russian girls are taught the same thing drives feminists to distraction.

    But, guess what, in most of the world, 15-25 year age differences between men and women is normal and common- older men are considered wiser, richer, more understanding, more experienced, better lovers. Even in Europe, it’s not considered anything bad. But in USA, men are dogs, and they must jump, roll over, and do flips over and over and over to impress women and capture their fleeting approval. If the women doesn’t approve, or the performance isn’t up to her standards, a good kick is in order- to the round approval of the audience- humiliation of suitors, inc. by men, is a bizarre kabuki ritual in America. Even going to Canada, I’m struck by the openness, healthiness, and lack of ritual cruelty in mating dances. It is a little strange in Russia though- seeing some cover girl going out with a manifestly ugly guy. I am middle aged, but still do cave scuba diving and mountain climbing that most 20-somethings would find inconceivable, and expect to be romancing twentyish girls.

    Because, after a decade, I’m going back, and one of the greatest pleasures will be simply to experience the feeling that every girl who isn’t hideously unappealing knows from the 7th grade that I am valuable. Because I’m not a dog, I am a man. In Russia, we codgers still have that option.