“A woman owes it to everyone to be beautiful!” “You’re not a real woman if you don’t look feminine enough!” “Some guy’s dick didn’t get hard when you walked by? Kill yourself, you ugly piece of shit.” “Too many guys’ dicks got hard when you walked by? Kill yourself, you sad whore.”
As some people get more woke/progressive every day, those who oppose them grow more vicious, angry, and reactionary. This process is particularly evident in Russia, where everyone from lawmakers to celebrities is screaming about women’s “traditional role” and how anyone who doesn’t fit this role should be run out of town.
When it comes to Russian domestic policy, Putin and his people are concerned about demographics. Some of those concerns are legitimate, others downright sinister. On a very basic, cynical level – they need women to produce cannon fodder. They’re also worried about Russia’s future territorial integrity.
What’s interesting is how this all works on the personal level. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Russia went through mind-boggling violence and deprivation in the 20th century, and hasn’t dealt with it. The trauma goes deep and is a part of daily life.
Compulsory femininity is one way in which the trauma is expressed. If you read Russian, for example, you’ll love this recent sex column at pro-Kremlin Life News, which talks about how fat people are basically not human, and how a woman’s primary duty is to be hot and ready to get fucked at any moment.
The author, a former reality show contestant, says things like, “My man is hard for me all the time, everywhere” (um, poor guy?) and “It’s better if you don’t say anything to your man – just love him and give him blowjobs” (But what if you are in the woods? And there’s a bear? Do you take the cock out of your mouth long enough to shout “Behind you!”??? So many questions). As for fat people, she won’t even consent to swim in the same pool with them – because ew, gross.
Many Russian commenters have already pointed out the painfully obvious – this celebrity is not exactly famous for her happy personal life. Her hatred of other women is the result of her issues with herself – a profound sadness dressed up as bravado, only the dress doesn’t quite fit (and will be stripped away with time).
You would think that this would be obvious: If you feel the need to shame or hurt someone, chances are, you are projecting. People who are able to connect with others in meaningful ways don’t go out of their way to humiliate others.
In light of this, the blueprint for the “traditional Russian woman” is the following: She is not supposed to be happy. Because she cannot belong to herself. She only exists when she is admired/desired by others. And she must fulfill everyone’s expectations all at once.
“The traditional Russian woman” must please everyone: Men who like big asses and tiny bubble butts. Men who like dramatic make-up and plunging necklines and men who like torn jeans and a hint of lipgloss. Men who like a woman in heels and men who think a woman in heels looks “like she’s trying too hard.” Men who like a hairless pussy and men who say, “This makes me feel like a pedophile.” Men who say that “real women have curves” and men who go wild for a “coltish-looking Lolita-type.”
This woman runs around pleasing everyone and exhausting herself. If she’s “lucky,” she will net a husband who supports her, a.k.a. a “real man.” Then she’ll still turn fifty, her “real man” will be sleeping with sex-workers and 20-year-old assistants at work – because that’s part of his masculine nature, as plenty of Russian “traditionalists” will tell you – and their mutual friends will say, “Guess she should’ve thought about it before becoming old and useless.”
This is what compulsory femininity is about in Russia – ritual humiliation, loneliness, fear, dread, and pain. It is antithetical to forming healthy bonds, a product of an atomized society where everyone is suspicious of everyone else (the legacy of denouncements and social dislocation making itself known). It turns a woman into something worse than an animal – she’s a rotting piece of meat which must be consumed before it is too late.
What’s the point of such misery? Serving the state, as a state television host helpfully explains. The state needs you to start a family. Your happiness and contentment? Sorry, no one cares about that.
In the U.S. today, we have an entire conservative movement that fetishizes Russia. White conservatives think of Russia as a country where “minorities know their place.” They also admire Russian women for being “obedient” and “family-oriented.” The high levels of aggression in Russian society, the fact that lawmakers don’t just ignore domestic violence but claim it’s part of Russian family values, and the fact that Russia is diverse and multicultural – and is furthermore a place where republics like Chechnya are fiefdoms unto themselves – are issues that these people prefer to not pay attention to.
Why does Donald Trump admire Putin so much? Because, as my friend and colleague Anna Lind-Guzik puts it:
Trump’s realism [about America’s role in the world] is grounded in his and Putin’s shared, terrifying belief that coercion gets the best results, and that rule by law is preferable to rule of law.
Trump is a proud abuser. He boasts about cheating on his wives and grabbing women “by the pussy.” He treats his beautiful older daughter and equally beautiful current wife like props. And his authoritarianism is personal abuse writ large.
In many ways, Trump’s even more ruthless than Putin, who a) comes from a modest background and therefore had to learn to work with others and b) has to contend with Russia’s more fragile position in the world. The only thing stopping Trump from inflicting total damage are our checks and balances and working institutions, but they too also depend on the good will and dedication of the people who are responsible for them.
What to do if you want to oppose this bullshit? Learn from Russians who oppose it. They offer good advice. Russian psychologist Mikhail Labkovsky, for example, is a blunt and harsh man – but he’s not afraid of pointing out that so many Russian “traditions” exist simply due to trauma. For example, the average Russian woman’s desperate quest to get married? It’s a sublimation of personal issues:
“In a healthy situation, a person doesn’t just want to get married – they dream of meeting someone, of falling in love, being next to the person they love, having kids with them… When you’re simply attracted to the idea of marriage for marriage’s sake and your goal is a ‘stylish wedding’ or a dress with a veil – you doom yourself to failure.”
We can nitpick Labkovsky all we want – “Having kids? Not everyone wants kids!” or “Why doesn’t he talk about the role of society here?” – but he’s still hit on something important. Well-adjusted people don’t do things “out of duty” or because they want to be “like everyone else.” They operate according to different criteria. And the mystique of compulsory femininity falls apart when said criteria is applied to it.
Does all of this mean we should hate femininity? Or make fun of Russian women? Hell no. I personally think that the performative aspects of femininity are there to be enjoyed – if you want to enjoy them. I also think that if you want to put Russian women (or anyone else) into a box, remember that this is what Trump loves to do.
I do think it’s important to deconstruct the myth of Russian women – and Slavic women in general – as mindlessly subservient fuck-toys who are happy and ecstatic to be that way. You can do it without resorting to sexist stereotypes and/or normalizing abuse (here’s a good primer on Melania Trump, by the aforementioned Ms. Lind-Guzik).
And if someone in your life is treating you like shit, and telling you what you should and should not do “as a woman” – just remember that the “real woman” is herself a myth. All of us are real. Our feelings are real, as are our desires.
Reclaiming yourself is hard. Belonging to yourself is harder. A woman who belongs to herself gets to own her thoughts and actions, which is a big responsibility. But at the end of the day, it feels good and right, and I wish that goodness and rightness on everyone.