3 posts categorized "Russia"

09/01/2008

The power of Russian women

A quote from a comment from Steve on the post about Russian women: "... I believe that its future lays in hands of women. I have always been taken aback with the role of Russian females in their society. They have their aspirations, future vision, but men still have power and usually are in the fore. Today, but how long? I used to say females are taking Russia forward...."

I agree.  I think that women are moving Russia forward but their power is still limited to the domestic space (vs. public space). It was revealing to read the study about Russian mother and daughters: the mothers seem to pass the following message to the daughters:  "you will hold all the power at home but one thing you cannot ever do is to make your husband conscious of that...making him conscious of that will destroy the magic and he might reject you." 

I have discussed this with Greg Rowland who suggested that this might be true for every patriarchal society - they are matriarchal beneath the surface but the fact must remain unacknowledged. We have also talked about brands in this context and whether a brand could try to break the silence and acknowledge the real power of women in Russia. It might be too much to ask from a brand at this moment...

Here is a Russian woman on Youtube, filmed by her American husband. The husband claims, in the comments to the film, that he has done the video because the Russian lady is so amazing, loving and feminine, so different from the overweight, depressed and masculine American women.

And here is one cynical comment to this film on Youtube: Comment_youtube

04/01/2008

About Russia and the "Women go home" campaign

I feel as if I'm traveling back in time when I visit Russia, leaving the West with its citizens turned into consumers, its detachment,  irony and spiritual void and entering Russia, the soulful, pre-ironic land of material impoverishment.

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I have traveled to Russia repeatedly the past seven years. Most of the business that we do in Russia is with women. Russian women are responsible for the boom in FMCG there,  buying into the dreams and promises of the great Western brands.

Often the dreams that brands are made of function as compensation for the hardship that women in Russia have to endure. They bear the double burden of family and work with fatalism, not expecting much from the men who might already be gone or/and drunk or dead.

The communist "engineers of human souls" realized a few decades ago that  birth rates are falling rapidly in the Soviet Union. The communist leaders did their bit of research and concluded that it was the participation of Soviet women in the workforce that led to the "masculinization" of women and hence to falling birth rates.  The official propaganda came up with the "women go home" campaign, encouraging women to become more feminine, submissive and tender. According to some Soviet psychologists,  the masculinization of women "had caused the feminization of men, wounding the men's self esteem, causing them to become idle and demoralized." (Cited in "Femininity and Double Burden) This is a tragically wonderful example of transfer of the guilt for impotence (both literally and figuratively speaking) from men to women.

The target for the "women go home" campaign were clearly men, who felt empowered by the campaign's goal - the subordination of women. In reality, the women were very much at home already as they still are today. The universe of Russian women begins and ends at home: women define themselves through home, family and interpersonal relationships. While many men are losers and drunks and living with them is hard, life without men seem even harder. No man equals no family  and "having a family" is the ultimate goal for many Russian women. On a more practical level, it is almost impossible to survive in Russia as a single mother. Single-mother families account for most of the poor households in Russia because of: a) the low individual income of single mothers;  b) their inability to compete with men on the labor market; and, c) the insufficient amount of private and public transfers to compensate for the absence of the second income source in the family. The need - to get and keep men - has been exploited by manufacturers and brands in Russia. Here is one of the crudest example (I have showed this ad already here but it is worth seeing again).

The need to appear feminine and attractive under any circumstances have been long internalized by Russian women. "Beauty requires sacrifice" and the sacrifice is performed daily: a typical Russian women would never leave her house - even to go shopping to a corner store - without a make up. They would be horrified if they could see some of the women in London who do their make-up on the morning trains to work, totally oblivious of the other passengers, males or females. Russian women are all but oblivious to the gaze of the others. The "locus of control" is not located within the free individual but with the community outside of oneself (which implies less freedom and individualism in the Western sense but  also less loneliness and alienation).

Perfect beauty in Russia involves a touch of mystery and enigma. The mystery comes from inside and is connected with the notion of "inner beauty" and "soul" - which are still so important in Russia. In relation to men, it is the mystery that is supposed to constantly re-fuel and renew men's desire. There is an unconscious fear on part of some women, that if a man "sees through a woman" he loses interest in her.

Times are changing, even in Russia. Changes are happening the fastest in Moscow, while things are slow in the provinces. It is in the provinces where time seems frozen. There are typical small towns full of older ladies (most of the men are dead) walking slowly along the empty playgrounds (the birth rates continue falling in the post-communist times). There is no Ikea furniture inside of the apartments in the province (there are Ikeas in Moscow already); their chairs and tables are old, dark - and real. The sense of authenticity is strong, coming from the things that have been touched and used for years, from the books on the shelves (yes, the Russian classics) that were read, experienced and "re-lived" and from the sense of fatalistic reconciliation with life itself.   

Whatever little I have learned about her - the Russian woman - I learned by talking to them in their kitchens, snooping around their living rooms and bathrooms. I also learned a lot from the "perfect crowd" of great researchers, sociologists and other experts that I have the privilege to meet and work with in Russia.   

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Source: "Feminity and the Double Burden: Dialogues on the Socialization of Russian Daughters into Womanhood",  Natalia Roudakova and Deborah S. Ballard-Reisch

07/12/2007

The Coast of Utopia

The Coast of Utopia is Tom Stoppard’s new trilogy about 19th century Russia and its radicals: Bakunin, Belinsky, Herzen. Nina Raine has joined Stoppard for rehearsal of the trilogy in Moscow and has written an article for the Guardian. Nina Raine describes a scene that happened during the rehearsal:

Herzen, his wife Natalie and their friend George are discussing Marx:

H: But Marx is a bourgeois from the anus up.

N: Alexander! I won't have that word . . .

H: Sorry, middle class.

‘I don't understand when you're having fun and when you're being sincere,’ Stoppard interjects.

Ilya [the actor playing Herzen] is baffled: "Is it a joke?"

The Russians then explained to Stoppard that the joke doesn’t work because they until recently they didn’t use the phrase “middle class”. There are no spaces between the opulent palaces and the old, dilapidated factories on the banks of th Neva River in St. Petersburg. However, materialism is on the rise in Russia. The Russians (and the Czechs) have successfully distanced themselves from the communist propaganda in the past. They paid lip service to it only when needed: in public, at work - and then they laughed about it and its promises of happiness and future paradise, in the privacy of their homes. During communism people took refuge in jokes, alcohol and classic Russian literature.

The Russians also laughed later on when they saw, in the beginning of the 1990’, the first TV ads and the promises of happiness through shining hair, miraculous yoghurts and life-transforming fruit juices. And then they succumbed. It was stronger then them, their minds were invaded by shining hair and radiant skins. The image of artificial woman with applying anti-aging cream with an empty smile, strangled the subtle portrait of the lady with a dog. They have their Chekhovs and Tolstoys on the bookshelves but I bet that the jars with the anti-aging creams get opened hundred times more often than the books. (The bottles of vodka seem to get opened at the same rate through the centuries).   

Actor and director Sergei Kokovkin says, in the Guardian article, that something is missing in the Russian actors. “The spiritual fire has been blown out,” he says.

The spiritual fire burned through Russian literature. The literature and theatre have always been about passions and excesses – high and low, heaven and hell (sorry, middle-class).

Most of the Russian (and Eastern European) advertising has no fire or passion in it. It is boring and obvious. Unlike in the UK, there seems to be thick, dividing lines between the academic, artistic and the advertising/marketing communities in Eastern Europee. The advertising community alone is not willing or able to challenge their clients and create engaging, emotional and unique communication that would tap into the “Russian soul”.  Ads are being created mechanically, according to old formulas; divorced from the wider and deeper circle of culture (There are exceptions to this, obviously).

This is an example of a crude and obvious ad that exploits passions without creating any:

(via Russian marketing blog)