Lights. Camera. Action.
Enter myself and a girlfriend of mine.
We are going out to dinner at the gourmet restaurant in Le Bristol, one of the most exclusive historic hotels in the heart of Paris. It's Friday night and the restaurant is packed. As we walk to our table, all dressed up, trying not to stumble in our stilettos, I feel heads turning, eyes staring and mouths whispering.
We tense up, but only a little — we both have experience of going out in Moscow, which is much more of a Vanity Fair city than Paris. Besides, we know perfectly well that most of the attention is coming from the restaurant’s female contingent. The men are too busy with their fois gras, organic veal and langoustines. And as my friend and I reach the safety of our chairs, we immediately join the chorus of careless whisper, eagerly gossiping about the outfits, make up, partners and overall demeanor of the women around us.
As odd as it may sound, the main people we want to impress when we dress and make ourselves up is other women. We do this to compete with each other, but also to get our share of attention and objective (or not so objective) judgment. While males normally look at a woman as a whole, females, scientists say, are capable of noticing every single accessory another woman is wearing, including the extent to which her earrings match her nail polish and handbag. In an interview I read recently, Scarlett Johansson, a talented young actress and one of the sexiest women alive, admitted that it's the admiration of other females that really counts for her. "If I entered the room and no man noticed me, it wouldn't really matter, but if women began to stare, it would mean I've done a good job with my style," she said.
Well, if a goddess-like Scarlett Johansson cares what other women think of her when she goes out, then the rest of us girls certainly do too. There's nothing sexual about it. Or almost nothing. According to some recent studies, some women might be much more partial towards their own sex than they think. Lisa Diamond, associate professor of psychology and gender studies at the University of Utah, recently coined a term "flexisexuality," which I personally find quite timely. In her 2008 book, "Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire," she argued that many modern women, who consider themselves perfectly heterosexual, for a variety of biological, socio-cultural and psychological reasons, turn out to be much less rigid, or more flexible, in their sexuality than men.
Modern women, Diamond insists, may easily shift their sexual preferences over the course of their lifetimes, and this might include getting attached to, or even involved with, other women. The reasons include a greater social tolerance of lesbian couples (although this might not yet be the case in Russia) and the much warmer and physically more tactile nature of female bonding. Added to this is a pop-culture that curiously celebrates sexual female bonding. Take Katie Perry's hit, "I Kissed a Girl (and I Liked It)" or Madonna smooching Britney Spears onstage at the MTV Music Awards (a few Russian female celebrities have picked up the trend performing some rather steamy French kissing during award ceremonies here.) Or that same Scarlett Johansson making out with another sensual goddess, Penelope Cruz, in Woody Allen's recent film, Vicky Christina Barcelona.
Honestly, I wasn't at all surprised when I came across these findings. We might not necessarily manifest flexisexuality in our behavior, but most of us are definitely engaged in a non-stop beauty contest with each other. Women have always been curious and enjoy showing off, but today's fashion and beauty industries, the major vehicles of modern consumerism, feed our desire to compete with each other like crazy.
And there's an erotic component too. Having worked for a women's fashion magazine for almost a decade, I've come to realize that we girls are, in a way, being constantly enticed and seduced by... other girls. Gorgeous women mesmerize us from magazine covers, ads and commercials. The models' images, apart from being perfectly made up, are nearly always highly eroticized, often leaning in the direction of same-sex play.
But I believe they charm and stimulate almost as much as they make us insecure. It gets way too stressful competing with cover girls. I find this especially challenging in Russia, where women in search of their identities tend to take this competition way too seriously. Here, it seems to me that the trend isn't really leading us towards a greater acceptance either of same-sex unions or of ourselves, but rather to an even fiercer all-women contest, sometimes taking us to extremes in seeking approval and perfection. Beauty standards get too unattainable and the drive to look good becomes a religion.
And why not just enjoy ourselves? Besides, no matter how much we value impressing other women, it's the male voice saying: “You look beautiful tonight” that we cherish the most.
Women Talk: Why Moscow is unique, why Moscow is inspiring
Women Talk: Made in the USSR - the lost generation
Women Talk: Like Mother, Like Daughter
Women Talk: The Russian Women Myth
Women Talk: Women and Politics — A Trendy Mix?
Women Talk: Krasnaya Polyana - the New Russian Dream?
Women Talk: Sexual Harassment or Attention-seeking?
Women Talk: Material Girls or Why Women Shop
Women Talk: Feminism — A Swearword in Russia?
Women Talk: The Age of Distraction
Women Talk: Blood Sells Better Than Sex
Women Talk: Misanthropy as a National Sport
Women Talk: Men - single, ready and willing
Women Talk: Why he doesn't call
Women Talk: Too Much of a New Year
Women Talk: The Seduction Game
Women Talk: Should I stay or should I go?
Women Talk: The ups and downs of the singles era
Women Talk: Why are our men so socially passive?
Women Talk: A Search for a Fantasy Husband
Women Talk: The Escapist Journalism Dilemma
Women Talk: Have relationships become too easy?
Women Talk: Russian men don't exist any more
Women Talk: Confusion in Options
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.