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Saturday, 13 December 2008

Remember: Women are People Too!

Photo: Aleksandr Petrosyan for Russian News Week
So ends an article entitled, ‘Things Never to Say to a Woman’ written by Sofia Wagner, and published on (School of Life), an internet magazine, describing itself as a ‘forum for all unanswered questions.’ The article, which is ridiculous, almost to the point of parody (excerpts published below) reminded me of everything I find infuriating about male-female relationships in Russia.

Of course, it’s difficult to make blanket statements about this subject, as I discovered as I tried repeatedly to write an introduction to Wagner's article. Attitudes to male-female relationships differ vastly according to age, socio-cultural background, personality type, etc. and Wagner's opinion is just one example of a rather provincial attitude to men and women, which assumes that a women’s place is necessarily in the home.

From my personal experience, however, the majority of male-female relationships in Russia are highly chauvinistic. Nevertheless, they are more complex than the straightforward dominant -oppressed power relationship. Men and women are expected to play certain roles in society, and these roles seem much more fixed than their equivalents in British society. So, whilst Russian men see themselves as protectors and are assiduous in looking after women, constantly opening doors, carrying bags, and always, always picking up the bill, woman are expected to look good at all times. In conversation women will often concede an opinion to their male counterparts, and men are seen as stronger leaders and more authoritative on most issues. On the other hand, women are definitely in charge in a social sense, and tend to have total control over the domestic scene - all this alongside working in high-powered jobs (definitely room for some interesting feminist exploration here, but this article is long already!). Essentially, there seems to be a kind of co-dependence at work, running along deeply sexist lines, whereby men and women are expected to play along to “rules” governed by their gender.

As a westerner living in Russia, these rules can prove a social minefield: never try to shake hands when meeting a man, don't offer to pay for a drink and never, ever question a man's facts in a conversation.

The question of male-female relationships is a massive topic, so I’m going to try and find more articles showing the array of opinions and attitudes out there, but here’s the original article. I thought it was a spoof at first, but I think it’s for real. It’s worth a read, if only for comedy value:

What Never to Say to a Woman

“My Mother does it better”
My mum is better at cooking than you, and her salads are better; she’s better at ironing shirts, and when she irons my trousers, the pleats stay in for weeks; when she cleans the house it’s like a dream – you won’t find a spot of dust in even the darkest recess!

Sometimes the mother is substituted for a sister, an acquaintance, an ex-wife (yes, this really does happen!), a childhood sweetheart etc. But most often its “Mother does it better”, a terrible phrase, responsible for the destruction of many families.

I don’t wish to criticise mothers in any way. On the contrary, I truly believe that most mothers probably were better housewives than their son’s wives. It’s just that telling a woman this doesn’t generally lead to domestic bliss. Indeed, when confronted with such criticism the response of the average exhausted, hardworking, contemporary woman will be, ‘if you’re mother’s so great, go back to her.’

“Finally, you’ve put something nice on!”
You hear this phrase quite often. I know men who are constantly telling their wives that they don’t know how to dress. They tell all their friends that if they didn’t buy their wives clothes then they’d be too embarrassed to walk down the street with her. Obviously this kind of talk inevitably leads to divorce.

"Where's my dinner?!"
This is particularly offensive if your wive is looking after a child, doing her own work, keeping house… Men only have to worry about their own work.

A better way to deal with this would be to ask why your wife hasn't managed to cook the dinner. If the problem is that she doesn't know how to do it (and this does happen, often in young families), then its best to find a course to help her. If its just that she is twoo over loaded with jobs to do then perhaps you could help her.

"Where've you hidden my tie/cigarettes/pen/hammer/glasses etc.?"
By asking this question, a man immediately demonstrates that he does practically nothing around the house. He is at home as he would be in a hotel, with porters, maids, etc. [who do everything for him].

"What are you, a fool?"
[It's possible that] you wife really is a fool. What of it? It simply means that she has other abilities instead of intellect. In marrying a woman you give over your heart and hand, so if your wife is a fool, what does that say about you?

"You don't know how to do anything!"
Possible variations of this are 'you don't know to sew/cook/bring up a child' etc. But, dear men, remember, if a woman can't cook – and this does sometimes happen – wouldn't it be much easier just to buy her a cook book? It's much more effective than wasting your time shouting and getting upset.

"Your son is a failure!"
As if he's just her son, and has got nothing to do with you whatsoever. Its very easy to criticse a woman, but in this case the only person you should be criticising is yourself, for not paying enough attention to the upbringing of your own child.

Dear Men, please remember, women are people too!


N.W.O.O. said...

nice girl! cheers.

driftingfocus said...

There are Americans out there who need to be reminded of these too, sadly.

- Driftingfocus