Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Women's Rights In Russia

On March 8th Russia celebrates International Women's Day. Started as a political and feminist event, the holiday turned into an occasion for men to express their love and admiration to women. Flowers, chocolate, nice gifts are the usual attributes of the holiday.

Why there's so little about feminism in the holiday and in the modern Russia on the whole? Indeed, Russian women very rarely go to the streets with any gender-related manifestations. Russian women do not demand to be treated equally. I think, they just don't need to.

Starting with the great social reforms of Peter the Great back in the XVIII century, women, particularly of the high society, were normally treated with respect and never considered to be intellectually unequal. The time when Russia was reigned by tzarinas, is considered by some historians as the most successful and productive years throughout the Russian history. Since the Revolution in 1917, all Russian women got full access to education, job and political life.

To my mom, being a woman meant being a wife, a mother and a professional all in one. She worked full time all her life, and it was normal in the Soviet Union. She was so well-organized that she combined her professional life with her duty as a mother easily. Almost every Soviet woman was so. To be just a housewife would be somewhat bourgeois and amoral in the Soviet times. It was never questioned that my elder sister and I would get high-school education. We took it for granted.

When I was a child, we played in what we would like to be when grown up. What is noticeable, none of my friends planned to be a housewife. We all preferred professional carriers. Back in 1980s, we wanted to be doctors and teachers. I grew up in a society, where gender was never an obstacle.

I couldn't understand feminism as a social and political movement until the last year, when I had a shocking experience of discovering cultural differences. I was in a subway of a large North American city. While waiting for a train, I was reading social advertising in order to entertain myself. The printed advertisement said, “Being a girl means when your brother goes to school and you don't, when your brother get the best food and you eat what he's left for you...” The list of what being a girl means was quite long. I was invited to join a society for equal women rights. I have never been treated like these poor girls. I thought the approach of this kind was usual only for countries where religious fanatics are in power. Well, if feminists fight against this, I could understand them.

In terms of rights or access to social benefits, Russian women are equal to men, or even privileged. I noticed, that in the modern office life, women can get promotion easier due to their social skills. However, Russian women do not demand to be treated like men. Russian women like to be feminine. We like to attract the attention of the opposite sex, we consider to look good mandatory, we like flowers and sweets and enjoy being fragile and tender. March the 8th is the day when our men help us to feel beloved and admired. Since during the rest 364 days a year we enjoy our equality.

Photo by Kirill Kondratyev