History – story of my emancipation. June 2012. Moscow
I grew up in the Soviet Union where, unlike in Europe or America, women didn’t stay at home to raise kids and take care of their husband. They had to have a full-time job, required by law. The concept of a “housewife” did not exist, women had a strong identity through their professional lives. In our country this “revolution” that set women free from these domestic demands, happened a lot earlier. The equality of sexes was initially proclaimed in USSR at the beginning of the twentieth century. Russian society was largely patriarchal, but classical “female power” was not fostered in girls. Well, not in my family nor at school or in movies were girls taught the basics of Western femininity — how to flirt, to be flexible, to make concessions, how to be a supportive, there was no image of a “Wise Woman”… Baba Yaga (a horrible fairy-tale witch) was the closest one. As far as I remember, both men and women were raised to value the historically classical “male frame of mind” — purposefulness, persistence, love for a cause and goals. Well, of course I am exaggerating, but this at least was my perception of the Soviet environment.
That is why female emancipation could not come into my life too early. I wanted to occupy the feminine role of the Woman. There is a saying in Russian culture “the man is the head, and the woman is the neck”. I wanted to become the “neck”! To explain: in English this means the one who is the neck moves the head but it doesn’t show its control. So from ages 23 to 33, I dedicated myself to this. Books about female archetypes, Jungian Seminars, marriage, high-society life… I was trying to understand and live the classical female archetypes. But I started truly feeling myself a woman when I got pregnant at the age of 32. This is when I realized, really felt it not only with my mind, but with all my being what it was to be a woman. As if my body had the ability to take me beyond social concepts. I felt so deeply in tune with the Universe.
But coming back to emancipation. With my liberal-minded friends from Europe and America, we always had hot disputes on this topic. They were filled with indignation:
— Why do I (we Russian woman) tolerate such a macho-sexist treatment from men?! Why don’t we rebel when we see magazines exploiting female appearances? Why don’t we protest against strip-tease clubs, why don’t we mind house cleaning and cooking every day? Why do we behave, dress and put on make-up… intentionally to be liked and admired, and not by personal comfort and desire?
— That’s because we (me) like such a state of affairs!!! There is a special power in it – the power of being a Russian woman. This also created a passion between sexes. Bright woman + strong somewhat rough man equals classical romantic pair! All this Western emancipation seemed to be an immediate stealing of my well-earned gender privileges and joys, erasing the acute angles that brought so much passion. And of course, this female role gave lots of material privileges. The most talented of us learned how to get everything we wanted from life, by guiding this “macho-power” wisely. Those who didn’t fight strong men, but guided them softly, in the 90’s gained money, social status and freedom to be able to travel, have expensive hobbies etc….
But time was moving on, my children growing up, and I wanted to realize my ideas and dreams in the form of a project, and open my business. The main purpose for these ideas was not to earn money but to create something beautiful in Moscow. A place where people could be themselves, feel protected, develop through psychology, art, yoga. As I was opening my Wellness center,gender difficulties arose. It turned out that, in order to create something in Moscow, you must be aggressive, growl, show teeth and “fight” quite often. During that time, only the strongest survived in Russia. When I decided to open my wellness — psychological center in Moscow in 2003, I came face to face with the fact that I had to change some of my habits that belonged to that wonderfully warm, calm role of a the “soft female” – a fairy, a woman-mother that had become so native to me. The habits, mainly the habits of making concessions, supporting others in their decisions, the habit to consider that the ‘strong’ point of view is narrow-mindedness, and a tough facial expression is not suitable for a real lady. Good manners did not work. Vulnerability and tenderness did not work. My previous powers did not help to propel my business ideas. In Russia when you get into competition, especially with men, you will feel right away the full frontal attack.
I understood that I needed to learn to protect myself and my ideas. Words of my male business partners like, “I will do everything myself, just be next to me and inspire me, be my muse” started to annoy me a great deal at that time. Sexism became outrageously noticeable. Suddenly, I saw clearly HOW exactly men play this game with us. My eyes opened.
Sweetie: “Could you make me tea, darling?”
Helpless: “Hey, I can’t type at all, could you help me?”
Macho: “I will settle everything, don’t worry darling. Everything will be just fine”
Dictator: “Look, we shall do it like that and like that…”
Sweet dictator: “You wanted me to ask your advice? Oh sorry, I thought it is obvious that it is better like THIS. I am sorry, sorry…”
I started getting annoyed … no, I got furious by these male characteristics that I used to like. Now, I wanted to decide for myself, wanted to try myself, to make mistakes and try again. Of course I understood that I didn’t get furious because of men themselves, but because of my personal inability to be firm and stand up for my ideas, fight off and say “no” firmly, my inability even to have a clear position in a dispute. As a child, I naturally exhibited qualities of firmness and decisiveness, how could I forget this when I most needed it? I realized that the habit of having received everything on a plate had worked until now. It doesn’t work when you want to have your OWN plate made. I saw how one-sided and infantile I was -the Female in me. I wasn’t a woman – wise and strong, but a woman who was spoiled and naïve.
My view of the world started changing slightly. At first I simply started noticing the signs of men trying to prove themselves, act bossy. Then I started to learn to say firmly “I am against this and this….” or “I need some time to formulate my ideas” which caused reactions from men “why did you become so rude?” Yes, I lost sexual appeal and softness during arguments. I didn’t care about these romantic dealings anymore. Then I learned to speak with men more softly about THIS: “Look, I do not like arguing with you, let us work together? You can use a softer tone with me and I will be more clear in my position from the very beginning, and less emotional.”
Then I learned to concentrate on the important matters and not to get stuck with the details. It became a lot easier in my relationships with male partners but still I had to be aggressive at times. This was not because of anger, but in order to be able to conduct conversations, and to been seen as an equal.
And NOW I am learning not to be hypnotized/driven by the gender, the social stereotypes, the education of other people or my own. To see that apart from gender roles, we all have strong and weak moments. Everyone can be flexible and firm, and everyone can lead the way in one moment and support at another. Sexual roles (except for giving birth to children) are merely century-old, long-lived habits. Strong cultural habits, that sometimes help but other times get in the way of transparent relationships, dreams. I want to be free from them as much as is possible in our civilization. I am learning it. It’s hard, but with the support of friends that think alike it becomes easier. Of course, it is very pleasant to play the man versus woman game, hard versus soft, strong versus helpless, leading versus guided. But it’s fun to try and experience the freedom of switching roles. PLAYING it easy, like children — light!!! Playing together and not being a victim of this game.
And what if I look at my weight today from the point of view of my new emancipation experience? What has changed? I close my eyes and try to feel my “inner independence”, the difference from “Patriarchy” which I wrote about earlier. It is still important for me to be slim, but this slenderness is no longer equal to the «successful woman». I feel much freer, I love living my life and this love is not solely based on my size anymore.