The idea that a woman is obligated to stay home and care for her children, do all of the cooking and cleaning, while also looking perfect for her husband at all times, is pretty antiquated in the west. In Russia, however, "womanhood" schools are teaching these ideas to young women in 2016.
"A man should take care of his woman while a woman is supposed to accept him how he is, love, and trust her man. And be thankful to him. You need to trust your man," Alesya Terekhova told Seeker. Terekhova runs a school called Woman Inside, where she coaches young women on how to be polite and keep a tidy house. She offers beauty and styling tips, and ultimately she teaches them how to keep their husbands and relationships happy.
In Terekhova's view, Russian women need men to protect them. She believes they need a man to be their safe keeper. But according to Dr. Jennifer Utrata, associate professor at University of Puget Sound, the reality is more complicated. Utrata interviewed hundreds of Russian men and women on their family life for her book "Women Without Men: Single Mothers and Family Change in The New Russia."
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What she came to discover is that a number of marriages in Russia suffer from the effects of alcoholism. A 2014 study found that a staggering 25% of Russian men die before age 55, primarily due to alcohol, and though it doesn't mean all Russian men having a drinking problem, it was one of the main reasons for divorce.
"I think women's ideas are that men really need to be the responsible ones. Even if they're not, there's a longing for a sober, reliable breadwinner," said Utrata. "They really want men to at least be focused on bringing home that paycheck and that does go back to the Soviet period, where men weren't necessarily encouraged to be equally involved in the home front."
During the Soviet era, the government required women to work but they were still expected to care for the home as well. They essentially worked around the clock. "If you can imagine in times of shortages in the Soviet Union," Utrata explained, "Doing all your grocery shopping, where you had to really go to multiple stores to procure the goods you needed to find for your family, and taking public transportation, all on top of paid work. Women really have this double burden in a more pronounced way than I think many women experienced it in the West. Although it's certainly a phenomenon for Western women as well."
Back then, at least there were more government benefits for working mothers, like childcare and maternity leave benefits. Today, even though Russian women are not mandated to work, the benefits are different under Russian President Putin.
"Many [women] did like work and value work even if they weren't in the top positions or earning as much as men because work was respected in the Soviet Union and still is respected in a capitalist society," added Utrata. "But work does not mean equality when you don't have the other equality at home."
As there was never a grassroots movement to urge Russian men to be more involved in domestic responsibilities and childcare, modern Russian gender roles look very different than in the West.
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Throughout Utrata's research, the most common thing she heard from Russian women is how self-reliant they are. "Literally almost every woman said, 'I can rely on myself alone,'" she told Seeker.
"There's still this hope, especially among the single mothers I interviewed, that they could turn things around," explained Utrata. "They feel Russian women are strong but they can be even stronger. They can maintain a positive outlook. They might go to church and light icons. They might read self-help books. They would get support from their girlfriends and other women. There were a range of things that they're open to that would help them keep this focus on relying on themselves. I called them practical realists. They might have their ideals, but they're focused on what they are going to accomplish and relying on themselves."
Terekhova's Woman Inside ideology actually somewhat aligns with this way of thinking, in that she believes women can only depend on themselves to properly care for the home and children. However, she also cautions that if this domestic work is done properly, there simply isn't enough time to also have a career.
"I believe that a woman needs to do a woman's chores. When your husband comes home, it is important to have it all perfect. You need to be dressed beautifully. You need to cook for him and feed him. You need to take care of your children. But excuse me, when is there time to work with all of this?" she told Seeker.
While there are many people that just don't believe in feminism, there are also many that disagree with Terekhova's way of thinking as well. The feminist rock band, Pussy Riot, staged a surprise concert at a church in 2012 in which they sang about feminism. This was seen as representative of the growing frustration among many Russians over women being treated as second-class citizens.
Terekhova continues to hold strongly to her belief system, adding "It should be noted that while working and earning money, a woman loses her feminine energy and is no longer 100% desirable. This is a fact."
Terekhova is not yet married herself and is currently concentrating on running her growing business.
-- Molly Fosco