Many Russians are intolerant to any kind of diversity. A person’s behavior should fit in “age and gender appropriate” image. Let’s explore what that means and why that happens, starting with gender stereotypes.
Woman: should be young and pretty, should spend a lot of time on grooming and never leave the house without a make-up. Preferably – she should always wear feminine dresses and high heels. She should always be nice; assertiveness in women is usually viewed as aggressiveness. Best-case scenario – woman takes great care of herself and looks gorgeous, is a fantastic wife and mother by the age of 25. If she has spare time – she may work but she should not think that her career is more important than family. Family or trying to find a man to build the family should always be her priority. She should treat her man as superior, do all household chores and always be pretty for him. She should love and want kids and take full care of kids, when they arrive. Stepford wives movie – that is the ideal image. Women are not expected to know how a screwdriver works or how to change a car tire. If a woman does any of that, it is probably because she is an unlucky spinster, who could not score a man. Woman is allowed to cry and be upset about silly stuff (such as lack of new dresses).
Man: Should be a breadwinner. His role is to make money, to bring that mammoth home. He should be strong and he should know how to use a screwdriver, a drill, how to change tires and how to do any other “manly” work at home. Ideally he also has “manly hobbies”, such as carpenting, hunting or fishing or working in his garage. Typically all “manly hobbies” are done with other males and include beer drinking. How man looks does not matter at all – he is allowed to be out of shape, unshaved and with a poor haircut (“a man should be just marginally better looking than an ape” is a popular saying). He is also allowed to shower when he feels like it and using deodorant is optional. In fact – if a Russian man takes too much care of himself, it raises questions. Russian man should not be emotional, he is never allowed to cry or complain. In the same time – “he should treat women right” – open doors, help women carry heavy things etc. And, always pay for women in restaurants and elsewhere.
No, not really. I would say that being a woman in Russia is probably more difficult than being a man, but such stereotypes make life more difficult for both genders. Men are stressed out and cannot complain, which leads to drinking and early heart conditions. Women are chasing the youth and the stereotypes they should fit in.
There is no real reason for both.
70 years of Soviet Union may have had a lot of negative impact on many aspects of life. But there were also positives, such as liberating women. Women had equal rights to study and work.
Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova was a first woman in space. Women worked in all industries and many of them managed to reach to the high profile roles. My personal belief is that there is less gender discrimination at work in Russia, than in many developed countries. Still, the most typical question people ask female cosmonauts of today is “how do you take care of your hair in space?” Not – “what are the most interesting scientific experiments you have done during your space mission”.
Men had a relatively easy time in USSR. But after Perestroika a lot of them lost their jobs and could no longer provide for the family. That created a lot of stress, since a man should bring bacon home. Men did not have a support network to complain about hardships and to discuss them. Maybe that was the reason a lot of men could not adapt to the new circumstances, or maybe women in Russia are just more adaptive and strong. A lot of women started businesses in the time of Perestroika hardship, while their men spent days lying on couches, depressed. And even then, women had to take care of household chores and kids.
Now the workplace opportunities in Russia are more or less equal for men and women. A lot of people of both genders receive a good education and then use it to advance in their profession. But the old gender stereotypes are still in place. Here is the cycle.
Dating in Russia – read the article.
Before the baby is born: Pregnant woman in Russia is treated as a person with severe disabilities. She is expected to downshift all social activities. I have seen a lot of happy pregnant women at an open swimming pool in Switzerland. You would not see Russian pregnant women at a swimming pool often. Typically, pregnant women spend most of the time at home or engage in low-key activities. They are allowed though to ask husbands to go to the grocery store at night if they want pineapples or pickles or anything else. Any Russian husband will do that if his wife has cravings.
When the baby is born: Russian men very rarely go with their wives in hospital. And most of the time, it is women, who do not want to have a husband in a delivery room. Women are seriously concerned that they may not look great during the delivery of a baby and “men should not see them without make-up, since that could negatively impact their sexual life after”. So, the husband would bring wife to a hospital and then start a 2-3 day drinking with his pals. When the baby is born he is expected to visit wife in a hospital. If hospital allows visits – he might see the baby. Most hospitals though do not allow visits, so he will call her and ask her to come to the window to have a brief talk. Good husbands may “help” the mother-in-law to buy necessary things for the baby after he or she is born (most people do not buy any baby items before, since it is considered to be a bad luck). Why “help” in brackets – his involvement is considered to be help, not something that he has to do, but something he is graciously doing. Husband should meet the wife and a newborn in the hospital, when they are ready to go home.
Caring for a newborn: it depends. Sometimes both young mother and father take care of a newborn. But more often than that – it is the responsibility of mother and her mother. If a father is involved, he is “helping”. And you are “lucky to have such husband”.
Raising a child: is almost solely woman’s responsibility. Husband may “help”, but the chores are almost never split equally. “He works, she sits at home”, so he is a breadwinner and does not have to take a child for a walk on Sunday. He needs to rest after the long workweek. She basically does nothing, just “rests at home with a baby”.
Ok, but isn’t that a time, when a young mother could stop the vicious circle? And raise a child as she sees best? No, stereotypes are strong. Girls will have dolls, boys will have cars. Pink and Blue. Mother might hate that grown up men do not give place to women in public transport, but with her son – she will not teach him that. She will secure a seat for her son and will stand near him with heavy grocery bags. She will also tell her son that “he is a man, thus should never cry” and will tell her daughter that “she is a girl, so she should not be assertive”. Girls will play with dolls and will help mothers to cook; boys will play their “manly games”
You see where I am leading with that. As a result of such upbringing, the cycle continues. Girls, who are told that they should be nice and pretty and their mission in life is to find a good husband and have children may miss out on building the career. Boys, who are told they are kings of universe, may treat women as second-class citizens and expect them to be pretty rather than to be a soul mate or a partner.
The most typical are stories about blondes. Even though Russian men adore blondes – there is a stereotype that blonds are dumb. And Russian men consider normal to tell jokes about dumb blondes, who for example, cannot park a car properly. And they will do that in front of their blond spouses without any hesitation. To say more – female blondes will also often tell jokes about blondes or even say proudly: “I am such a blonde, I have no clue how to park a car”. They think that is cute, they are girls, blonde girls; they are not expected to know how to park a car or use a screwdriver. Men should do that for them.
Finally, my favorite story. I was late to an important meeting and took an “unofficial” street cab. It was an old shabby Lada car; driver most certainly did not have a shower that week and wore sport pants and sandals with socks. I was dressed in a suit and was about to make a $$$ deal. On our way, driver was constantly complaining about female drivers, who make driving in Moscow unbearable. I was sick and tired to hear that and asked if he seriously thinks that women should not drive? He said yes. And educated me on the fact that women have smaller brain than men, thus they should not be allowed to drive. He said that this fact has been scientifically proven. I have to agree with that. Women indeed have 100-150 grams less of brain than men (on average). But there is no correlation between the size of the brain and how well it works. Einstein’s brain was smaller than the average. But he certainly knew how to use it.
Of course not all Russian people fit in those stereotypes. There are men, who care for their kids and are not afraid to show the sensitive side or express their feelings. There are women, who do raise their kids differently and are not afraid to change a flat tire. And it looks like the younger generations are more free from gender stereotypes and that will make their life better in general. In the next post we will explore age stereotypes.
© 2016 Tatiana Golubeva. All rights reserved.