Before you begin working your way to foreign language fluency, it helps to understand the culture behind the language you’re learning. After all, language exists to help a group of people express their ideas and beliefs. Russia is a vast country with a rich history and culture. As you begin your Russian language program, gaining a strong grasp on this history, the values, and the etiquette will help you rapidly achieve success. In particular, Russians view women in more of a traditional role that may clash with certain Western cultures.
What is your image of a Russian woman? A long-legged blonde model, a middle-aged customs officer in a khaki uniform with dyed red hair, or a downtrodden babushka selling cigarettes by the entrance to the Moscow metro?
The attitude toward women encapsulates the contradictory nature of modern Russian values.
Flirtatiousness and gallantry toward women in Russia (opening the door, helping her put on her coat, or with heavy bags) might leave even the most seasoned American female executive at a loss.
Women are referred to as the weaker sex. They are to be admired, loved and complimented.
Don’t be surprised if the women in the rush-hour metro look as if they are ready for the theater. The grayness of the Soviet era has been replaced by the open sensuality of teenage girls and the groomed perfection of businesswomen.
Yet, the model of Russian femininity is strength and independence. The Russian woman is the type who will stop a horse in its jump or run into a burning house, as it is often said in Russian “конянаскакуостановит, вгорящуюизбувойдёт.” She is a mother and the keeper of family traditions.
The working woman was praised as an equal builder of communism in Soviet times. When so many men perished in Stalin’s purges and in the war, Russian women became the backbone of society.
If a Russian woman is one of the 85 percent who cannot afford domestic help, she still has a clearly defined role at home. Help around the house by the husband is an exception rather than a rule.
“Госкомстат,” the government’s statistics agency, reported that 36 million women are currently employed and thus make up nearly half of the country’s labor force. In 1994, again according to “Госкомстат,” a shocking 48 percent of women between 30 and 49 were unemployed. The economic shocks of the Soviet Union’s collapse in the early 1990s led to many women being let go.
These women found that their experiences in running a household while working full time served them well, for they had gained such skills and attributes as multitasking, resourcefulness, budgeting, and perseverance. Many of them thus became entrepreneurs. The Federation of Russian Business Owners reported that around 40 percent of the 890,000 registered businesses belong to women, many of whom are supporting their families.
At least some women had another motive for starting their own companies: ambition. As in many other countries, women in business are often thwarted by the glass ceiling that prevents them from advancing beyond a certain point. Businesswomen have to look and act more professional than their male counterparts to earn the same respect, and their successes are often dismissed as flukes. Russian women typically earn 37 percent less than men in similar positions, and they hold less than ten percent of the senior management positions.
Women have paid another price for entering the business world. Those who outperformed men saw their marriages suffer. The divorce rate consequently shot up, and there are now over seven million divorced women in Russia.