Women Talk: Why are our men so socially passive?

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Wait, let me explain myself. Right now I am not going explore why guys might choose not to vote or take part in social protests - these things might take too much of a toll on a man in Russia.

Wait, let me explain myself. Right now I am not going explore why guys might choose not to vote or take part in social protests - these things might take too much of a toll on a man in Russia. I mean, such an easy and pleasant thing as simply showing up at balls, parties and other types of social events.

At a big charity ball which took place last Saturday at one of the top Moscow hotels and which was widely promoted among Moscow's business and finance community, one could easily spot the latest cocktail dresses and ball gown trends. The prevalence of the weaker sex at the event was quite obvious: the ratio was at least three girls to two men. Still, the function's organizers, Muskie Club Moscow (a non-profit association uniting the alumni of various international educational programs) were very much relieved - the party was happening. The guys who ended up coming there were viewed as a nice surprise and the event's great bonus. But only a day before the gender balance situation had seemed much more dramatic: out of the more than 700 people registered for the ball, at least 80% were women. "Many guys showed up at the last minute - it's most likely that the girls had succeeded in dragging men along" said Anastassiya Ekkert, Muskie Club Moscow's chair and one of the party's key organizers.

No, it's not at all yet another column on the declining quality of Russian men. On the contrary: as a person who frequents Moscow's social gatherings of sorts both for work and pleasure, I often find slightly disappointing and even a bit comic arriving to a venue and discovering a predominantly "overdressed girls only" crowd there when it is supposed to be a mixed event. I am also wondering why our men actually often need being dragged (optimistic scenario) or they don't show up at all (more realistic scenario) to the non-work-related social affairs especially when it takes putting on something more formal and complicated than jeans.

I talked about this to Alexandra Olsufieva, founder of Coolcoz, an international philanthropy fund that puts together various charity events across Europe. Alexandra, a Parisian whose father is Russian and who is fluent in Russian, French and English, has lived in Moscow for more than six years and boasts both the insider's and outsider's perspective on our culture. "From my observation, Russian men, even very educated and well-traveled ones, are generally socially shy," she said. "Many of them don't sport the social skills the women possess - perhaps they've been brought up this way." "The men in this country," she added, "like to be in control of a situation and therefore might feel awkward at semi-formal gatherings where they don't know the people there." Besides, Olsufieva elaborated, the stress levels in Russia are so high and men have to put up with so much pressure that they prefer spending their spare time in a safe, comfortable environment as opposed to going to functions where they might need to dress up and/or socialize with unfamiliar folks. "In Paris and elsewhere in Western Europe life is much easier and more stable and men have more energy for social life," she said.

I asked my good friend Konstantin Smirnov, director of a large international company's Moscow office, who's also a charming and a fairly social fellow, if this was indeed the case. He eagerly agreed. "I don't go to parties unless it's my female friends who invite me and persuade to come along. Somehow women are the moving force in our country, at least when it comes to social events," he said.

It's also the case that a ball is a still relatively novel concept in modern Russian culture and we understandably lack the motivation as well as the dress code and behavior ethics for such an event. In Europe, it's unlikely to spot a gender imbalance at the balls as the participants traditionally come there with a date. And even though it's much more challenging to work out an outfit for a woman (in addition to finding a proper dress, shoes and accessories, she needs to take care of her hair and make up), while all a man has to do is put on a nice suit (tuxedos are still extinct in Russia), some guys choose not to bother at all. "Going to something like a ball is too much of a hassle to a man who works his butt off," Smirnov observed. "The last time most of my friends have been to one was their high school graduation party. So they'd rather stay home, chill and watch TV or go to the banya with male buddies," he said.

I talked to another man who knows a lot about Moscow socializing, Alex Teplitskiy, founder of PRIVATE PARTIES RU and co-chair of social events at Harvard Club of Russia. Teplitskiy, who arranges exclusive parties and business events for the business and finance community on a bi-weekly basis, stressed it's predominantly the men who attend his events because "they pretty much know whom they are going to meet there and that's it's going to be business networking within the people of their circle. Exclusivity is very much valued in Russia," he said.

But this doesn't mean that Russian men deliberately choose to be bound to their caves forever, most social events organizers agree. The guys just need to be motivated properly, they say. And meanwhile the party people are searching for efficient man-involvement strategies; it remains our girls' job to inspire the opposite sex to socialize more.

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Russia has always been referred to as feminine and Russian women have been one of the most popular stereotypes of this nation, both positive and negative. But is this an all-male fantasy? Here is a hip, modern, professional and increasingly globalized Russian woman looking at the trends around her, both about her gender and the society at large. She talks and lets other women talk.

Svetlana Kolchik, 33, is deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She holds degrees from the Moscow State University Journalism Department and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for Argumenty i Fakty weekly in Moscow and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and contributed to RussiaProfile.org, Russian editions of Vogue, Forbes and other publications.

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