Ever since our newfound Russian Federation collided with the Western world some 30 years ago, the cross-cultural exchange exploded at such a crazy pace that we’re still dealing with the consequences. One of the most enduring ones is the association of Russian women with something easily available, cheap or otherwise lacking dignity.
A simple Google search reveals dozens of travel blogs dedicated to how “easy” women are in a particular country. Russia towers over all others.
Then there are the Eastern-European mail-order brides - women seeking a better life outside the former Soviet Union. Ask Google if “Russian women are easy” and it gives you countless search results.
The same thing happens when you scroll through an article on the subject: the panel on the right gives you a Google context ad in Russian: “Meet women seeking sponsorship.” The woman in the photo is immaculate – perfect makeup and hair, curvy body and a Burberry coat that’ll cost you an arm and a leg! Obviously, this could be just user-targeted content advertising triggered by my Google search. But the same doesn’t happen for other countries I’ve searched. You do not get a plethora of websites designed to market women to you!
And what about pornography? Russia is one of the most dominant forces of porn online - not from the amount of online traffic we generate, but the sheer number of performers with Soviet roots. This makes it look like they come from a place where sex is treated as something completely divorced from female dignity. (Not that there's anything wrong with porn. But society as a whole still unconsciously treats sex as indecent).
Meanwhile, the KGB’s (now FSB) use of so-called ‘honey traps’ back in the day just won’t let Hollywood rest: the Russian culture’s supposed treatment of women as sex objects on and off the job was aptly “documented” in the blockbuster movie ‘Red Sparrow’ (2018), where a Russian ballerina gets blackmailed by the KGB to sleep with targets, and in a way that turned every man in the film into a savage, barely able to contain their desire to violate an unlucky Jennifer Lawrence.
Jennifer Lawrence in 'Red Sparrow' (2018)Francis Lawrence/TSG Entertainment,2018
But these stereotypes of an undignified existence aren’t without basis.
The recent FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia made headlines, mostly for the right reasons, but there were some select specimens of the loser species who also made the news by thinking it was a funny idea to try and shame women for ‘hooking up’ with visiting football fans from other countries. In the meantime, as Anna Nemtsova puts it in the Daily Beast, there is a “sexual revolution” heating up in Russia, “leaving macho local men threatened and angry.” Nemtsova is not wrong. Life’s losers, forged by an often corrupt, sub-par economy with an added helping of ‘wholesome values’ have one trick left up their sleeve in order to feel relevant: slut-shaming and standing up for ‘traditionality’. There’s nothing like a good dose of wholesome values when you feel life is passing you by!
But what values are those exactly? Russian men are no more traditional providers than American men are traditional cowboys! And as that traditional picture of codependency crumbles under the weight of a new market-based economy, Russian women are beginning to look outward - any person would.
The process didn’t exactly start yesterday. But it makes their newfound sexual openness appear more undignified than it is in reality. And there lies the root of the issue.
Even as the former USSR opened the door to people entering and leaving, a lot of Russian men apparently still continued to think it was their natural charm that kept women by their side. When rampant economical declassing put everyone to work, gradually, women stopped relying on post-Soviet men to provide.
When a 19 year-old girl who’s never been on vacation outside Russia begins to flirt with a foreign man, she’s often stuck between a rock and a hard place: some backward Russians get vocal about her “giving it up”, while the foreigners then get to go back with stories of “scoring with a Russian chick”. The notion that Russian women will easily sleep with you takes on a life of its own.
In reality, both, the macho Russians and the visiting foreigners aren’t giving her any credit at all: the Russian machos - because she’s just a woman; and the foreigners - because she’s just a Russian, and therefore - “easy”, and looking for a way out as a citizen of economically inferior Eastern Europe - an image firmly planted in our heads through films like the aforementioned Red Sparrow.
Until Vladimir Putin came on the scene, Russia was a post-Soviet economy. The economic relations and the gender roles that went with them permeated all public and family life. Women and men in Russia are therefore still, to a large extent, part of a single social and economic whole. And not because “women aren’t independent”, but because of the binary, codependent nature of our gender relations.
Despite that, women in Russia are less burdened by the great many cultural customs found in the Catholic and Protestant West, allowing them to be freer with their sexuality. This creates additional confusion, and may force the notion that they aren’t as protective of their bodies – and dignity – as women in the West are. I would argue that Russian women know what they want and the steps they must take. It’s all about perception. Wearing provocative lipstick in a male-dominated boardroom of a militantly feminist country will often result in the public lamenting what a woman has to go through to be heard or noticed. For better or worse, Russia does not have that problem. And that’s our main difference with the progressivist United States: we accept certain realities without giving them clever names. America, essentially, does the same thing silently, but then loudly objects to the state of affairs.
Remember the naked pictures of Hollywood celebrities leaking online about five years ago? Remember also how some of these celebrities subsequently chose to “take back control” and publish their own risqué photoshoots? Why does Jennifer Lawrence deserve to talk of control - and Russian women don’t? Before she even released the new “dignified” photoshoot, America had to first read a preparatory essay about how taking your clothes off has nothing to do with being eye candy, and everything to do with “control”. Really? Tell me in the comments how you’ve worked that out, America, after you’re done trying to hide your sexual arousal!
I believe Russian women have made no smaller strides than their Western counterparts have – but in their own ways. Not only did they learn to break free from a patriarchal system of codependence (today, we have more women in government managerial positions than the majority of Western countries), but they also managed to do it without growing armpit hair or writing militant, feminist blogs about ‘men’s compliments as a form of violence’, for example.
Remember this about Russia: sexual objectification is not necessarily a sin. “Easy” is a word you use to talk of prey, of gaining the intellectual upper hand. In a society where women are themselves becoming the predator, “easy” is in the eye of the beholder.
When a Hollywood star in a revealing dress poses next to Harvey Weinstein in full knowledge of the kind of person he is, does it make her more dignified because she then writes an essay about it five years later? Is using sexuality to further your career more dignified in the West than it is in Russia? I ask again: how exactly have you worked that out?
Russian women have learned to manipulate a male-dominated reality in interesting ways without a political framework (at least not for the last 100 years). We’ve had none of the posturing that goes with Western feminism, and ended up with a number of positive and negative developments because of it.
One obvious factor is the refusal to tie sex inextricably with dignity or self-respect: a modern and rather un-Christian development. Because why have sex at all if it means that you’re symbolically “giving something up” to the aggressor? For better or worse, a modern Russian doesn’t see sexuality as being denigrating to her image as a wholesome woman.
When the quality of men as breadwinners had failed to measure up in a new post-Soviet economy, Russian women were left sitting in bars or online, waiting for a prince. Because they’ve been taught since childhood that marriage is an actual partnership - one that guarantees that a woman doesn’t have to be a sexual predator in order to find happiness. That reality is gone now. As in the West, so it is here.
According to the mainstream Western version of female dignity, women can and should ‘seize the day’ by basically acting like a biological male. One cannot watch a Netflix or HBO show without noticing several times per episode that a female character is made to behave like a mansplaining, sex-seeking, violence-loving, problem-solving guy, solely for the purpose of flipping the script. (Meanwhile, the male backup characters are shown displaying fear, insecurity, lousy problem-solving skills, sub-par physical strength, and a constant desire to ask their better halves for advice before deciding on something).
Perhaps, showing a burping, farting woman is meant to prove that the gender pay gap was unjustified all along? I can’t tell. What I can definitely say is this: you don’t have to start wearing flannel and manspreading just to give yourself the right to have one-night stands.
I’d wager there is far more dignity in keeping to your own notion of femininity (however limited it might be) than allowing politics to either hold you back from what you seek in your personal life - or to theatrically sanction your use of your female attributes or qualities as some kind of return to power. Russian women have never felt like they lacked power over men in the first place - there’s nothing to “return” to. Calling them “easy” is culture-centric at best. And a great number of them agree with that.
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