A few words on harlotry, the marriage industrial complex and Steven Crowder

It has come to my attention recently that some guy named Steven Crowder got married – and, for some reason, used that as a chance to launch into a massive diatribe about sluts and harlots and what have you. It was picked up my Jezebel and much hilarity involving gifs ensued.

My initial reaction to Crowder’s piece is also best summed up with a gif:

(Sent to me by a friend who sends me great gifs – and lotsa random porn to freak me out while I’m working. I salute you, brother.)

Then I read this discussion of Crowder’s um, joyful missive from the Ever After – as well as checked out Crowder’s own Twitter - and it got me thinking. About Crowder, whom I still wish all of the happiness in the world (although, if you ask me, launching into a mocking tirade about other people’s sex lives is a funny way of showing that you’re in the throes of wedded bliss), but also about our culture’s extreme Marriage Mythology.

Truth is, I know a fair amount of people who have chosen to wait to have sex. And a fair amount of people who were virgins on their wedding night. It’s just Their Way and not something to comment on beyond that, for me. That’s not really the issue here.

The issue is – the Marriage Mythology requires your wedding to be The Happiest Day of Your Life™. And if you read between the lines, happiness actually signals a kind of unreality. It can’t be a regular human experience, it has to be something Beyond That.

And there is an entire industry built around this supposition. This is why otherwise normal people will suddenly break down when confronted with the fact that their wedding invitations, the ones that were supposed to be eggshell white, actually turned out to be more like cream white. 

And abstinence is, in many ways, a kind of niche industry. You have people writing books about it. Or those who, like Crowder, write columns about it. You have people teaching abstinence education and massive abstinence campaigns with passionate-sounding slogans such as True Love Waits, slogans that are used on official jewelry and apparel and what have you.

Abstinence is industrialized the way that sex is also industrialized. Both of these narratives are packaged like a De Beers commercial. And both need each other – one is irrelevant without the other.

So beating your chest and celebrating your own decision to remain “pure” until marriage while simultaneously blasting the sluts and whores who haven’t followed your shining example is actually a pretty awesome career move. It’s a bit like coming out with an in-your-face commercial that people will talk about long after the Super Bowl is over. You’re stumping – but no one will notice unless you take a major swipe at the competition.

But let’s get real here – and talk about the actual human beings involved in making such a decision.

While I totally understand that people in the wedding (and the abstinence!) industries need to eat, ya’ll, I don’t think that using a marriage ceremony as a chance to impress other people is healthy for your relationship. I like the notion of a public celebration as dedicated to commitment and love – and for certain, there are different ways to express that. Some are more expensive than others. Sometimes, the bride is extremely lucky to take advantage of a great aunt’s vintage jewelry and post-Christmas sales events (*cough*). Some people cannot imagine a wedding ceremony without the participation of big fucking elephants – and to them I say right on.

But people like Steven Crowder here go on to frame their wedding and their wedding night as one big “HAHA FUCK YOU” to the folks who taunted him about being abstinent and I… am a little disturbed by that, I guess? Imagine if I met and married a football player – and then wrote a gloating column addressed to all of the jocks who didn’t see fit to invite me to any of our high school dances. Take THAT, fellas!

Yep, it would make me seem like a totally cool and well-adjusted human being. And one who is certainly mature enough to embark on what is supposed to be a lifelong commitment.

Yep.

P.S. What’s the deal with Crowder’s weirdly competitive insistence that the people his wife and he encountered during breakfast must have had some sort of shitty wedding – and are clearly just pathetic shits in general? Like, “MWAHAHAHA, DUDE DIDN’T COME DOWN FOR BREAKFAST, BET HE WAS A DRUNKEN ASSHOLE AT HIS OWN RECEPTION.” Yeah, ’cause that’s totally what I would assume as well – as opposed to giggling inappropriately about what a great wedding night those two probably had.

Dear Scott Adams, it’s mostly FEMALE lions who hunt. And so on.

So Scott Adams, the man behind Dilbert (oh the humanity!), showed his ass again. I read about it on Feministe. I’m not going to link to his original post – because screw it.

Still, I’d like to address it. Because oddly enough, I do agree with Scott Adams on one important point – there certainly IS a crisis of masculinity going on in countries like the United States. Though I don’t believe that said crisis hinges on the whole notion of “ZOMG men are not allowed to rape! Their natural instincts are being suppressed by hairy-legged feminist-types!”

First of all, let’s get real about rape – it happens, and most of the perpetrators get away with it. Every once in a while, you’ll have a terrible story like the Duke lacrosse fake rape thing – but the majority of sexual assaults are real, and nobody presses charges afterwards. There is usually too much shock, denial, and, hey, most women are raped by guys they know. It’s hard for them to reconcile such a breach of trust with the image they have in their heads – the image of the guy as just a normal fella.

Most rapists, I believe, don’t even refer to their actions as “rape.” Some are sick individuals who get off on the violation, but the majority, I think, don’t really get the concept of consent, and have been brought up to believe that certain women and girls are “asking for it,” etc.

There are also frequent cases of men raping other men, or boys. And I’m not just talking about prison. Hardly any of that ever gets reported.

And sometimes, women will rape men too. And most of these situations revolve around someone being drugged. And how many of those do you think are ever reported?

So the way I see it, we do, in fact, allow rape. Even though, as a society, we believe that it’s wrong – we don’t exactly deal with the issue. We merely pay lip-service to it.

Now, for some reason, Scott Adams seems to believe that rape is the most natural thing in the world. Which is odd, because how exactly does one define “natural”? Even in some of the most patriarchal societies to date – rape was framed as kinda a problem, whether for property reasons (“You violated my woman! But she BELONGS to me!”) or otherwise. Even societies that think of marital rape as no big deal, for example, tend to think of it as a violation – if not one that anyone needs to worry their pretty heads over it.

Scott Adams believes that men are basically born into a world in which their “natural instincts” are framed as “shameful and criminal.” It’s not that surprising to me that an American man, even a highly successful, even famous, American man should feel this way. Actually, fame and success are sort of part of the issue here, are they not? Being famous and successful, you have farther to fall. You are way more scrutinized. And as such, you being to scrutinize yourself more. And you realize that there are gaps in your self-knowledge. And you can’t address those gaps in a meaningful manner, because you have, indeed, had your sexuality pathologized for most of your life. Just not in the way that you think.

Americans are not big on sexual honesty. We’re not encouraged to make sense of our desires. The best most people can do is learning socially acceptable catchphrases, such as “no means no” – and hardly ever address the issue of why we need such catchphrases to begin with.

Scott Adams writes:

The way society is organized at the moment, we have no choice but to blame men for bad behavior. If we allowed men to act like unrestrained horny animals, all hell would break loose.

Society is not organized this way “at the moment.” It has always had rules. Rules have shifted over time, but rules are also the general reason why the “lion and the zebra at the watering hole” is not a valid comparison to men and women and rape. Even if you cast notions of morality aside, our brains are more complex than the brains of lions and zebras. Such complexity demands order – and justification for said order. Order is a fluid concept – but it’s also what has allowed the human species to become dominant on planet Earth.

If a man is just an unrestrained horny animal – then the entirety of human history fails to make sense. Look at Einstein. He was really into ladies…

… In fact, he was a cheater, some people even claim he was a rapist – or just a creep of sorts. He was also, um, Einstein. All jokes aside, I somehow doubt that Einstein developed the theory of relativity simply as a way to avoid dealing with “natural” sexual frustration. Rather, Einstein was a complicated human being, like everyone else, and he had his sexual urges and possibly even his violent urges – and he had his urge to do complex theoretical work. He had an oulet for his ideas – he probably had way less of an outlet for his issues with women. Was his excellence in physics unnatural? Whereas his troubled personal relationships were just dandy?

“We have no choice but to blame men for bad behaviour” – oh no! So if Einstein decided he was just going to run around and hump everything in sight, and he had never become a great physicist, this would be, like, a good thing? A natural thing? I’m fairly certain that Einstein’s brain was bigger than his dick – and I’m also fairly certain that nature, the Holy Grail of guys like Scott Adams, planned it that way – but using one and not the other would be, like, OK? And in the best interests of the human race? Wow, who knew?

I think the real problem with guys like Scott Adams is this whole fact that most American guys are brought up with the idea that they are undesirable (in fact, Einstein may have had the same problem growing up in Munich!). Just like women, when you think about it, but this insecurity is taught in a different way. The average American guy internalizes a lot of bullshit about “alpha males”, and judges himself accordingly. The lucky few are natural-born pussy magnets, the rest have to scramble and compensate somehow – that’s the game. It’s really messed up, and I think it screws up boys big-time. These boys are not taught to value themselves – at best, they’re taught how to be cocky as a means of covering up a bunch of self-esteem issues. They’re taught that their sexuality is totally separate from the rest of their identity – like an atrophied muscle. And women, they’re taught, don’t really like them. And they should pay women back in kind – should they get steamrolled or otherwise humiliated. So hating women and desiring women physically is framed as normal.

It’s a crappy situation and it affects more people than Scott Adams could shake a “round peg” at.

Sick of this Dworkin crap

People who are fans of Andrea Dworkin’s writing insist that she was too ahead of her time for men or women to really get her. I agree in part. Dworkin was, by all evidence, a woman of superior intelligence whose work changed a lot of people’s lives – whether leading to some form of political awakening or else.

One of my own favourite quotes from Dworkin goes like this:

“My fiction is not autobiography. I am not an exhibitionist. I do not show myself. I am not asking for forgiveness. I do not want to confess.”

I don’t necessarily relate to the first part (and as a sidenote, I think the distaste Dworkin had for showing herself had a lot to do with her blanket hatred of pornography), but I’ve always found the combination of statements here to be very powerful.

What I really don’t like is when people decide to swoop down on me or friends of mine, and quote fervently quote Dworkin at us, usually with the implication that we have yet to be introduced to the body of her work.

Here’s the thing – I am familiar with her work and her ideas. Sadly, I view a lot of those ideas in particular as self-defeating and counter-productive, or else downright eerie. And I don’t mean “eerie” as in “OMIGOD, they were just too revolutionary to handle.” I mean “eerie” as in “damn creepy, like if one of my fundamentalist relatives taught a college-level course in sexual ethics and replaced ‘hell’ with ‘sex’ in her lectures.” Too many pseudo-Dworkins in my life already, most of them leading destructive lives, for me not to draw some obvious parallels.

Dworkin’s obsession with “fucking” and “women getting fucked”, for example, has a distinct Old Testament flavour to it (and tends to ignore gay men, bi men and dudes who don’t identify as either but still like to get down for some penetrative action with other dudes). Penetrative sex can come with a lot of negativity and trauma attached, but merely viewing it from that angle is pretty limiting – and this is exactly what many Dworkinites do. As Susie Bright put it in her famous obituary of Dworkin:

“I loved that she dared attack the very notion of intercourse. It was the pie aimed right in the crotch of Mr. Big Stuff. It was an impossible theory, but it wasn’t absurd. There is something about literally being fucked that colors your world, pretty or ugly, and it was about time someone said so.”

Hell yeah. It’s also an experience that men and women share, whether literally or by being able to relate to one another. With few exceptions (Thomas Beatie, anyone?), men cannot get pregnant – and pregnancy remains a life-changing and potentially life-threatening event for women. Many men, on the other hand, risk social ostracism and even violent death if it is revealed that they enjoy being penetrated. There’s lots to talk about here. It is beyond doubt that mainstream attitudes toward penetrative sexual intercourse must change across the board – but reactionary statements about the so-called horror of the practice set the whole process back.

The reason why I bring up Dworkin right now has to do with people who insist on trolling this website while utilizing – and sometimes even plain hijacking – her writing. On this site, I now outright ban people who talk to me as if I’ve never experienced violence, sexual violence in particular. I don’t owe them any explanations, nor do I have to justify myself to them. However, I do wish to address this particular instance of trolling, because it so neatly exemplifies many of the disconnecting factors within Western feminism, to me:

[Persons starts out yelling at me about "embracing the fun-fem label"]

It makes me sad, at 18 years of age and on a full financial ride to a good school (better than the male-dominated campus of Duke), that Im ahead of people like you.

So apparently this young woman will never have to deal with the hell of student debt? Well, mazel tov on that latter bit, for sure, but here’s a tip for later: lecturing someone while simultaneously waving around your privilege and/or assumed privilege? Probably not going to get them to listen. It’s a familiar standard of behaviour, though. “Listen to me, because I’m better than you.” Honey, nobody who is confident in her ideas actually acts like this.

You say youre pregnant with a ‘patriarchal oppressor.’ Do you know what words like that mean? Are you going to take responsibility when your son is old enough to be violent toward women? Do you know what bringng [sic] more men into the world means?

The funny thing about bringing people into this world – you don’t know how they’re going to turn out. I’m sure that Jack the Ripper’s mother had no crystal ball handy. But you do the best you can, because that’s the only way to ever get anywhere, once you’ve made the choice to have a child.

Another funny thing about bringing people into this world – you have no idea what the world has in store for them. Will they be drafted into some stupid war? Claimed by some preventable disease? You don’t know any of these things. You just swallow your fears and keep on going.

Something tells me that the cub will kick some ass in this world – and his father and I will do our best to steer him to kick the right kind of ass. What we will not do is apologize for having a boy. I will never question my future kid’s self-worth in that particular manner, and won’t let anyone question his self-worth in that manner. Navigating male privilege as a parent is one thing – debating the ethics of having boys is straight out of dear Adolf’s eugenics handbooks. And “I am not asking for forgiveness. I do not want to confess.” Shaming mothers is a popular pastime, even in feminist communities, but screw that.

I doubt you got pregnant via arrtificial insemination; therefore, you have a lot to think about with regard to sex and fucking and women getting fucked. Your life very obviously evolves around the phallus, around the man, right now, and this is exactly how men want it (why else did you get married?). Andre Dworkin was very eloquent when writing on this subject, you should read her before running your mouth on radical feminism. [A bunch of links to creepy websites were creepy people discuss other people's personal lives creepily]

Didn’t get pregnant via artificial insemination? Why, this might mean that she’s not a virgin… Anyone who’s not a virgin in the traditional sense of the world naturally dedicates her life to “the phallus.” I’m not sure what that means in practice, but it sure sounds entertaining.

See, this is kind of a twisting of Dworkin already, because while the lady did have some weird opinions, she correctly recognized that belittling and punishing women for engaging in sexual intercourse was something that people who view women as lower life-forms truly excel at. Otherwise, the most common insult used against a woman wouldn’t be… yeah, exactly.

If you think radical feminists insult you, just think about the fact that the men insult you too, only much worse.

Oh, so it’s OK for a woman to belittle another woman for engaging in sexual intercourse, because, um… No, sorry, that got old years ago.

Maybe through insult some women can be urged into a greater awakening.

Oh, I get it! So when my dad tells me he wants to lose weight and wants me to support him, I should turn around and call him a “fat fucking slob.” For his sake. I’m so glad I’ve got 18-year-old feminist scholars who recently discovered the word “phallus” to teach me the finer points of consciousness raising, political organizing, improving one’s lot, etc. I could apply my newly acquired skills anywhere, and totally win, you guys.

Beucause [sic] there is nothing worse than a woman who claims the feminism mantle but does nothing toward a real revolution.

Here’s a list of things I consider to be really revolutionary: Listening to sex-workers and former sex-workers of all stripes, working towards making the lives of sex-workers and former sex-workers safer, challenging transphobia, organizing around issues like healthcare, childcare, the rights of women serving in the armed forces, (the list goes on and it’s damn long), continuing to bust myths around sexual violence (re: the idiotic response to the assault on Lara Logan, for example), resisting attempts to police women’s appearance, helping raise a generation that will not internalize most myths on sexual violence (yeah, this is where parental responsibility would come in, I’d say), make sure said generation actually has a planet that’s not totally destroyed to live on, etc.

Let me be honest – I’m a writer and a journalist, not an activist. What Joan Didion once referred to as the “irreducible ambiguities” of fiction is the main context I operate within. Yet as a writer and journalist and person who often has a public platform, I do what I can when it comes to political issues I consider important. I want to do more, and will keep on doing more. While you’re busy discussing “the revolution” in the commenting sections of various blogs, other people are out there doing shit. Sometimes, I even get to be one of them.

It’s easy to take Dworkin’s name in vain. Or show up on other people’s blogs to dissect their personal lives, because, as Clarice Starling might say, pointing that high-powered (or not even that high-powered) perception at yourself can be frightening. But all of that is only tangential to feminism. Feminism, to me, is mostly about being practical. It’s about stuff I can do and want to do and Dworkin, God bless her, had very little insight into actual desire.

Expats! In Moscow! Drinking! Banyas! Girls! And wishing daddy could see how naughty you’re being!

Disclaimer: Deirdre Clark, who uses the pen name Deirdre Dare, used to write a column for The Moscow News. MN is also the place where I work. Just putting that out there.

The best part to this piece by Anna Blundy, on the life of Western expats in Moscow, can be found in the comments.

This is what someone named “sence” wrote in:

Dear ladies,
If you managed to live in a city and a country of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chechov, Pushkin, Chajkovskij, Rackmaninov etc. etc. and all you could see was nights clubs and saunas – it is certainly not Moscow’s problem!

I may not agree with some of that spelling, but I certainly agree with the sentiment. Moscow is what you make it.

It’s easy to veer off into slut-shaming when discussing the writing and individual experience of the likes of Deirdre (whom I’ve never met, unfortunately) or Anna Blundy, or, for that matter, Western dudes and the local women who go out with them. I condemn sex-tourism because it is rife with exploitation and the violation of the basic rights of sex-workers, but when it comes to people’s dating habits, who the hell am I to judge? What irks me is not promiscuity, or drinking, or whatever – what irks me is the idea that “all of Moscow” is essentially like this.

Like Anna Blundy, I used to feel threatened by women who compete for the attention of rich foreign men. But I felt this way before I moved to Moscow, because I could afford to entertain all sorts of cliches about the place. Now that I’ve actually been here for a while, I’ve settled into a certain “scene” (or else several overlapping scenes) and am quietly going about my business, despite the occasional scandal. Or race riot (hardy har har…).

If you go by the articles, Western expats in Moscow are reminiscent of your typical class of incoming Duke freshmen. A whole lot of them were nerds back in school, and now it’s totally important! To prove! That they too can party!

Of course, in most cases, it’s always a little bit more complicated than that. But like any group, expat writers in particular will want to perpetuate a certain myth about themselves. And if they say that they lead soulless or otherwise unsatisfactory lives as part of perpetuating said myth, they’ll also be quick to point out that it’s totally not their fault to begin with. I mean, Moscow is a scary place. You have to deal with the never-ending terror of existing here somehow.

Seriously speaking, the part in Blundy’s article that left me feeling dismayed was the following:

Emma, a 28-year-old lawyer, went to Moscow on a six-month tenure, attracted, she said, by “the offer of an adventure”. She was keen to escape what she describes as “the claustrophobia” of London and the small professional world she lived in. She was not disappointed. “There was a sense that you could get away with bad behaviour in Moscow. No-one whose opinion you really cared about would ever find out,” she explains. [Emphasis mine]

Well dang, Emma, sweetheart. If you’re staying in a huge city, surrounded by all kinds of people, and there’s no one next to you whose opinion you really care about – then I almost feel as though your life in this city… kind of sucks? Forget falling in love – it looks like you’re not even making new friends. Or, you know, even going so far as giving a damn about the casual acquaintances you meet. Forget about Moscow being scary – you’re kind of scary, love.

I lived a very expat-y life in both Dubai and Amman, but at no point did I feel as though there was no one near me whose opinion I really cared about. You’ll say that living with an Arab dude was probably the reason for all that – but it wasn’t just my then-boyfriend who provided me with the emotional ballast that most human beings require. I had friends, acquaintances, colleagues; I took an interest in my neighbours, for God’s sake. I never really understood why, say, the Nigerian woman next door felt the need to beat her husband with an umbrella in the street on a number of occasions that I saw them out together – but these individuals sure as hell interested me as a couple. I was grateful for being invited to weddings and parties, because life did get lonely, and many social barriers came down after a few glasses of champagne or a few dances.

Amman was impossible for me in particular, but I’ll always remember it, and the country surrounding it, as stunningly beautiful. I’m grateful for having experienced life there – even if I couldn’t hang on to it, even though it was too hard. I have no feelings of bitterness and regret. Some of that surely has to do with luck, but some of it also has to do with the fact that I noticed Amman, and the people living in it.

When I read Anna Blundy’s descriptions of poor wee expats being trampled over by life in “chaotic and brutal” Moscow “that fosters a feeling of nothing to lose,” I wonder if these people and I live in the same city after all. I mean, don’t get me wrong – chaos and brutality are things I associate with Moscow as well (I spent 12 years in the good ol’ South, and my native Kiev is, to borrow the words of the playwright and screenwriter Natalia Vorozhbit, “a quiet little swamp”), but I also associate beauty with Moscow. Moscow is lying in the grass in the park until five a.m. in the summer, and snow squeaking underfoot in the winter. It’s a place where your friends are unashamed to quote poetry at the dinner table once the evening begins to wind down. It’s blizzards being suddenly overtaken by an endless blue sky and the setting sun setting ice floes on the Moskva river on fire. In Moscow, people still argue about theater like it matters. Prominent journalists write profanity-laced personal blogs. Dagestani taxi cab drivers hand you mint candy when you like down in the backseat, wailing about how pregnancy makes you car-sick.

I don’t care to classify Moscow as a “good” or “bad” place, but it certainly is a place, and I think that most people I know, expat or local, do, in fact, have a multi-dimensional view of it. I feel that the writing of Deirdre Clark, for example, is much more nuanced than people give her credit for. And it’s an honour to work with someone like Phoebe Taplin, who notices things about Moscow that many people who were born here have so far missed out on. It’s not about being June Cleaver and not going on benders (being pregnant right now, I do miss the benders), it’s about seeing beyond the benders. It’s about visiting a museum every once in a while, or, I don’t know, buying a CD off one of those street artists who’s actually pretty good. Or discovering you really do like Uzbek food.

In the immortal words of Foamy, “Live. Fucking. Life.” – Not because you’ll necessarily spend the rest of it here, but because whatever time on earth you do dedicate to Moscow will matter just as much as anything else, in the end.

Infidelity, Russian-style

Hell yeah. World Cup.

But anyway…

I read Julia Ioffe’s piece on infidelity in Russia with great interest, particular because it was for Slate’s DoubleX, and I never really know what the hell I am supposed to make of that particular outfit. A part of me despises it, a part of me is continually intrigued.

Not surprisingly, I guess, I would up having mixed feelings about Julia’s piece as well. I thought it was spot-on about the habits of married men, particularly upper-class married men – but I was disappointed that there was so little mention of women cheating. It’s true that a woman telling a potential lover “hey, I’m married” won’t stop him, and Julia was right to point that out – but once again, women were presented as passive, pursued by dudes with no morals.

This isn’t the view I have of life in Russia at all, and while the plural of anecdote is not data (neither when it comes to Julia’s piece, not when it comes to what the rest of us encounter), it seems to me that a whole lot of married Russian women cheat. Most of my mother’s middle-aged friends admit to past and/or ongoing affairs. And even when it comes to the wives of the sought-after wealthy men profiled in Julia’s piece – those wives do get bored. I don’t know a whole lot of rich Russian dudes, but all of the ones I’ve been in regular contact with have the same story to share, and it’s a variant of “we got married, and then I was away on business a lot, and suddenly, she was sleeping with someone else.”

One guy I know had to confront his wife over a pregnancy that obviously had nothing to do with him, the husband. She wound up raising the baby with someone else – a self-help guru. And that’s just how some people roll.

The main difference is – the wives of wealthy Russian men don’t tend to brag about their escapades. If you’re in it because you have a sugar-daddy, you don’t want to spoil the entire thing by blabbing about your “extracurricular activities.” The man who has the financial power, on the other hand, feels more comfortable with asserting his ability to do whatever the hell he wants, because he’s just that fly!… Or so he thinks, anyway. Also, the risk of a male spouse getting violent over revelations of cheating is greater than the other way around. And let’s face it, there’s also the fact that because we live in a patriarchy, male egos are inevitably constructed as more fragile. Women, who mostly have an inferior social status, learn to sublimate their own egos while buttering up the men’s. As one of my young married friends put it, “I don’t want him to find out that I cheat, because it will freak him out and humiliate him way more than such a scenario could possibly freak out or humiliate me.”

All of this makes female infidelity less visible, but no less real.

Meanwhile, this part of Julia’s article struck me as plain odd:

Tanya, for her part, couldn’t take the knowledge that her husband was cheating on her. She divorced him even though she is 30 and has a child, which makes a woman essentially unmarriageable in Russia.

Do I live in some parallel version of Russia? Off the top of my head, I can think of something like dozens of examples among friends, relatives and casual acquaintances that prove this statement to be an extreme exaggeration.

Most of my older friends, both male and female, are partnered up. However, the majority of them are on their second or third marriage already. Most of them also tend to have kids from previous relationships. Many felt pressured to marry young and have kids – and then realized that “oh crap, this isn’t going to work out.” It’s a common phenomenon in Russia and elsewhere.

And kids come first, too. Particularly if you’re a woman. When I went through a huge break-up last year, I once lamented to a friend about how I may never fall in love again. “But you can still have a kid,” he replied. “Kid’ll love you, and you’ll love the kid – and that’s the most important thing, no?” “But I don’t want to do it alone!” I wailed. “Well, nobody wants to do it alone, but for you it’s better to be a single parent than single and childless!” He retorted. “You’ll have plenty of love in your life, that way.”

Now that I am, indeed, pregnant, none of my Russian friends or relatives even bother to ask me if I’m getting married. To them, that’s not the important thing. Their reaction is – “Hell yes! Natalia’s finally decided to procreate! Let’s drink in her honour while she eyes our beers jealously!”

Many people don’t get married again after having kids and then getting divorced – but a lot of them also don’t want to. An older woman in particular may not necessarily want to adopt a traditionally feminine role anymore. After three kids and two divorces, my aunt is amused by the propositions her boyfriends make: “He wants me to move in with him! Is he out of his mind?!” She’s middle-aged, and not conventionally attractive, but she still gets enough play – a good example of how life extend far beyond the stereotypes of “subservient, attractive young Russian woman” and “scary, sexless Soviet baba with a mustache on her upper lip.”

For a lot of Russian men, a single woman with children signifies a kind of normalcy that, I would argue, many American men do not see. I think that for a lot of Americans, particularly those of us who hail from more conservative parts of the country, a single mom signifies that SOMETHING TERRIBLE HAS HAPPENED IN THIS WOMAN’S LIFE!!! I feel that a lot of Russians, in urban areas in particular, have a more casual approach. “Oh,” they’ll say, “Guess her previous relationship didn’t work out.”

If anything, I feel that it’s single and childless women in Russia who really get the short end of the stick. There’s not a whole lot wrong with you if your marriage didn’t work out. But you’re ZOMG A VICTIM if you don’t have kids. Or better yet, you’re ZOMG A SELFISH MONSTER. In an odd way, it’s certain Orthodox scholars who have attempted to change this attitude, some of them writing pamphlets such as “Female solitude: why does everyone treat it like it’s horrible?” Of course, in their view, a single, childless woman should be in a convent, or at least way, way devoted to religion – but their refusal to plainly demonize such women is already a step in the right direction.

I think that Julia’s observation that Russian hedonism was first preempted by Russian consumerism is a good one – but I also feel that it applies to a certain segment of the population, as opposed to Russia on the whole. Even under the Soviet regime, the Russian artistic community, for example, was fairly freewheeling when it comes to relationships (when a famous playwright died in Moscow recently, I wound up in a room full of people who were all eagerly reminiscing about his mistresses and his wife’s lovers). And for your average middle-class Russian, the ability to stock up on colourful pairs of Uggs for the winter (I have discovered, way behind everyone else, that Uggs are perfect for Russia) does not translate into applying the same mentality to lovers.

Overall, I feel that the reality of relationships in Russia is much more mundane than it is portrayed in Julia’s piece. I see a lot of truth in what she says – I mean, since coming to Russia, I myself have been the Other Woman. Twice. And it’s not as if I haven’t been cheated on as well. But I also feel that tales of Russian hedonism are so popular among Western publications precisely of how outlandish they ultimately are. I feel that there is a certain level of projection there. “Those Russians! So barbaric! And kind of badass! In a barbaric way! When they’re not cheating on their wives, they’re busy putting out horrible Belomorkanal cigarettes on tiny baby kittens!” I mean, back in the States, you see a whole lot of cheating and divorce as well – to the point that no one’s really surprised by it. Maybe the real difference is that Russian society deals with failed relationships in a more offhand way. I don’t know if this necessarily proves Julia’s point – that infidelity is accepted in Russia. I think a whole lot of people just view it as the devil they know.