In Russia, feminism has always been perceived as a negative influence from Europe. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the idea of women’s rights such as equal opportunities, economic independence, participation in political life, and the elimination of domestic violence almost vanished from the political agenda.
The jungle of capitalism and the law of the strongest survive replaced the Soviet Union regime.
Cult of Gold Diggers
A cult of wealth and success by any means rapidly developed a gender identity.
For a man, success meant being rich; for a woman, being a rich man’s girlfriend or wife. Just like that, a woman became an accessory for many wealthy men. This configuration has survived all these years right to present day.
This life perception has become the life standard; books with such titles as How to Marry a Millionaire, and an undercurrent of the message, “Make your image so that a man will like it.” TV shows tell young girls how to behave and dress up for men; good universities turned into a place for finding a husband. The commercial machine started making a colossal profit on the concept that women need to buy luxury clothes, expensive accessories and makeup, to dine at restaurants, and travel to the Alps only to find a rich husband.
Even the competition among women to catch a wealthy man increased so dramatically that being mistress number one or two became a living standard.
Traditional gender roles are still so strong, that it keeps at bay the actual feminist cause and the idea of women’s independence. Efforts to address problems like the gender pay gap, domestic violence, and sexual harassment have hardly scratched the surface.
However, there is hope. In 2018, the #MeToo movement received a strong resonance when three Russian journalists accused prominent lawmaker Leonid Slutsky of sexual harassment. Some media companies called for a boycott of the Russian parliament, and the chamber’s ethics committee held a hearing.
It seemed to be an indication that Russia was ready to discuss sexual abuse and harassment issues.
Glimpse of Hope
Despite the high level of sexism, the tremendous gender pay gap (women’s average pay in Russia is equivalent to 70% compared to men’s wages), decriminalization of domestic violence, and limited women’s economic independence, there have been some positive trends.
According to Forbes Woman Russia, women in Russia own about 30% of small and medium-sized businesses; the percentage of women CEOs is 20%, which is 4.5 times above the world average, but less than in Europe (35%); 90% of social business with the state financial support is owned by women.
In 2017 the first annual educational festival on gender equality and freedom of choice—the Moscow FemFest—appeared in Russia. For the last four years, they have been building up a platform where experts, scientific and social leaders, public figures, entrepreneurs, state workers, and the general audience meet with each other in a dialogue about gender literacy in Russia.
This year’s festival featured the following subjects:
- Women’s wellbeing in times of global challenges.
- During the Covid-19 crisis, domestic violence increased by 150%.
- Women as a political force. There is a need for quotas similar to the Scandinavian model.
- Women’s bodies and their role in fashion, art, popular culture.
The second day was about diversity and inclusion, how does the system of economic inequality work in Russia and the world, and what does gender have to do with it?
The Moscow FemFest is a large step towards breaking the post-Soviet perception of women and their place in society. Gender literacy hopefully someday will take its priority in political agendas and will be introduced not only in big cities but across the entire country. •