Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen--Gender Roles in Russia

Earlier this week, the Y-chromosome contingent of my Russian class was absent, making it easier for our grammar lesson to devolve into a discussion about the men Mother Russia raises. While my teacher insisted that Russian men are “real men,” she complained that the boys from her generation are all маменькин сынок (“Mama’s boys,” if my translation skills are to be trusted). She attributed the phenomenon to perestroika—in the wake of Gorbachev’s restructuring, men succumbed to alcoholism, heart attacks, and cancer, leaving many of today’s 20-somethings fatherless. Single mothers treated their sons like demigods, coddling them into the alleged Mama’s boys they are today.  For an American who hasn’t dated a sizable cross-section of the perestroika-era population, I’m not in a position to say whether this is accurate.

What a fairly oblivious foreigner like myself has noticed, however, are the very traditional gender roles that reign in Russia today. While everyone worked more or less as equals in the Soviet era, the end of socialism triggered a return to a society of men as providers and women as homemakers. It is customary for men to pay for everything—not just for their girlfriends, but females in general—and women seem to do a lot of shopping and yoga once they’re married. Sorry, Sheryl Sandberg, you'll have to peddle your feminist propaganda elsewhere.

To further confirm my observations, a lesson on participles in my textbook included this absurd illustration:

The instructions read: "Select phrases with participles that describe the ideal husband and ideal wife."

According to this, the ideal Russian husband is a businessman who can fix things, while the non-ideal husband is a smoker and alcoholic. Fair enough, I don’t know too many ladies looking for a life partner with a substance abuse problem, and I always played the damsel in distress in college when I needed my bed lofted.  But then there are the ideal and non-ideal Russian wives, neither of whom make sense to my American brain. Is the ideal woman a genie slash chef or a lady of leisure who dreams of fur?  I think this is some cultural commentary that is going way over my head.

For better or worse, I fall into neither of these categories.  I am both an awesome cook and an aspiring fur owner, which is sure to confuse potential suitors.  Now I don’t know if I need to grow out my hair and rob a belly dancer or reinvent myself as a “Real Housewife of Moscow” if I hope to attract a Russian manchild.


  1. Please. You didn't have to play damsel in distress to get your bed lofted -- you just had to call me.

    1. Don't forget freshman and sophomore year. I had to fend for myself before you started college!