Happy International Women’s Day!
Today I had occasion to read one of the most inadvertently hilarious things about Russia in the Western media from Kathy Lally (pictured right) from the Washington Post in which she complains that Russian women get flowers, not power. Citing the opinion of one Russian woman from the “Center for Social and Political Studies of the Institute for U.S.A. and Canada”, she makes a mountain out of a molehill that in fact the vast majority of Russians themselves (women included) are simply not concerned about.
The reason is that she conflates equity feminism with gender feminism as the same thing. They are, for all intents and purposes, in the West. But they are not at all in Russia.
Equity feminism is about classical liberal concepts such as equality before the law, formal political and civil rights, getting paid the same for the same work, sovereignty over one’s own body, etc. Equity feminism is advanced in Russia. Abortion has been legal since the 1920s (with a limited interruption during the conservative Stalin years), as has been divorce – which as in Western countries typically favors women. Female labor participation is as high as in “progressive” Anglo-Saxon countries, while women’s average wages as a percentage of male wages are at exactly the same level – at 62% – as in the US, and far higher than in some European countries like Austria (see pp.46 of Global Gender Gap 2012). The percentage of female managers in Russia is higher than in the West. And the share of women in Congress, 18%, is not radically different from the share of women in the Duma, at 14%. The simple fact of the matter is that women are less interested in politics than men and this is the typical kind of figure you get when you don’t have quotas and affirmative action to tilt the natural balance. The observation that “You even find women behind the wheel, a peculiar sight a decade or so ago” is true but it is also equally banal; a decade ago there were far fewer cars in Russia period, and as happens everywhere, it is men who are first to get behind the wheel everywhere where cars are just beginning to enter mass ownership.
What Russia doesn’t have is gender feminism. In a nutshell, gender feminism seeks to masculinize women by (ironically) attacking traditional feminine virtues, while psychologically and legally emasculating men (suffice to say that in the US you have entirely mainstream commentators and professors like Hugo Schwyzer telling men to get pounded up the ass to become more “sensitive” and fight the patriarchy). Its proponents do not occupy Women’s Studies departments or write for broadsheets in Russia, to the contrary they are viewed as mentally ill. Chivalrous gestures are appreciated and expected of men, but the flip side is that the women are expected to treasure, not suppress, their femininity and nurturing instincts. As a result the Western cultural Marxists start writing about Russia as a very misogynistic country, as “a joke and embarrassment to civilization” as one of WaPo’s commentators put it.
“Here is a bitter feminist who envies us our flowers and presents which we get today, and comforts herself with the thought that she at least doesn’t have to stand by the oven. And probably doesn’t know that we have cafes and restaurants, and that men can often make themselves a wholly sumptuous dinner, and of course doesn’t even suspect that making a celebratory dinner for her family and friends might bring a women a great deal of pleasure.” No, that’s not me, it’s a translation of one of the most popular comments (by a woman) to this article at Inosmi, which translates Western writings about Russia into Russian. I assume Kathy Lally would say that she suffers from “false consciousness” foisted on her by the “Russian patriarchy”, but most Russians including women would dismiss or giggle at it as nothing more than a bitter rant. And this would enrage the Western gender feminists all the more.