|Me in my Rosie the Riveter Costume last Halloween|
They really don't have Women's Studies here in Russia. They also don't have a word for Women's Studies in Russian so when I told someone I studied in the Political Science and Women's Studies Departments. She thought that meant I would teach at an all girls school. I told her no I study the issues faced by women and her reaction was what issues are those? The interesting thing about that is I know all the words for women's issues like domestic violence, human trafficking, rape, and incest in Russia but I can't seem to remember simple words like strawberry! The people that I seem to have these conversations with are educated elites too such as professors at my institute and fellow students, not the average person on the street.
So not only are people unacquainted with Women's Studies as a educational discipline they also don't question standard societal norms when it comes to gender here and the word feminist is something that seems to have a negative connotation as a Western invention or the "gender equality" they saw during communism. We have been talking a lot about gender roles in my classes for some reason. We read an article about a journalist and her struggles to balance work and family life as a professional woman. She said vehemently that she was not a feminist. This article not only gave me some good vocabulary it also led to an interesting discussion with one of my professors who is the Dean of one of the faculties in our institute. She said that in the family men and women have different roles where men earn the money and women keep up the home....my hand immediately shot up and I said it doesn't have to be that way men and women can share responsibilities. She said well what will I do if my husband is cooking sit around and relax? I said it could be an equal relationship and that in my house my husband cooks and I clean. We try to split most responsibilities 50/50 and make decisions together. It was difficult to convey to her that to change societal norms we need people like feminists to challenge them. At the end of our discussion she wasn't at all swayed by our arguments so I added that even though the woman in the article does not consider herself a feminist, I do because her feelings on equality, patriarchal governments, and women's treatment as the weaker sex mirror most feminists. This fact also surprised her (and hopefully made her think)! So I guess the moral of the story is even though most people in Russia would never admit to being a feminist there at least are some people who have a feminist mindset like the woman in the article and even fewer like the women I work with who are willing to fight for the type of equality and rights in Russian society that women deserve!