As the biggest country on earth, Russia has countless natural treasures. But there is one that is valued more than any of the others, and I’m not talking about oil, gas, minerals or even Gold. These commodities are limited and their value fluctuates far too easily. The precious resource I am talking about is of course women.
I used to believe the myth of the Russian woman ended with the 90s mail-order bride boom, but the more I talk to foreigners in and outside Russia, the more I realize that it is in fact thriving like never before.
We, Russian women, remain a dream and a lure, an infallible investment motive for overseas entrepreneurs, an invaluable export item and a major tourist attraction. Why else would they dare to come to our cold and unpredictable lands?
"Where, where can I meet them?" a German friend of mine in his mid-30s kept probing me over dinner recently, his eyes rolling dreamily. A London-based lawyer, he went on his first visit to Moscow a few weeks ago. By "them" he meant Russian women, a curiosity he said seemed far more compelling than the Kremlin or Red Square for a first-time visitor to the Russian capital.
But this German wasn't on a simple trophy hunt, or I would have sent him straight to Night Flight, Soho Rooms or any other Moscow establishment geared towards showing Western males a good time. Disillusioned by a series of unsatisfying dates with British and German girls, my friend said he was looking for a long-term relationship. And Russia seemed to him the most promising place to look for a woman of wife-material.
"London girls only want to talk about their careers and German girls wear sneakers on a date," he complained.
I was in Paris for work last week. Excited to be visiting my favorite European city, I eagerly confessed mon amour pour Paris to a taxi driver. "Why don't you come to live here then? So many French men would love to marry femme russe!" he said matter-of-factly, before pouring out a lengthy list of complaints about
modern French women. Too independent, too unapproachable, too egotistic, too strong in a non-feminine way...
It seems that as the social (and physical) differences between the sexes gradually dissipate in most Western countries, Russia still offers a unique gender relations ambience that combines the best of two worlds: an intriguing blend of emancipation and tradition. Even if a Russian woman earns 10 times more than her boyfriend, she will never let it show. No matter where we stand on the social and financial ladder, we are set to empower men, at times perhaps tolerating too much, to ensure traditional gender roles are followed.
I'd emphasize the word "roles" here - it's a game in which our women have excelled throughout the years of Soviet and post-Soviet history. We masquerade our incredible inner strength and endurance with a soft, at times very vulnerable, facade. It's part of our feminine mystique: we play it weak knowing we are perfectly capable. We encourage men to carry our bags, bring us flowers, fix our cars and even run the country.
Add the unconscious inner drive to always try to look our best (losing our males to all those wars, repressions and alcohol have taught us to compete like animals other for the remaining guys) and it's no wonder that Western guys flock to Russia.
"French women aren't as demanding as the Russian ones, they might even volunteer to pay for themselves on a date, but you pay a higher price afterwards," says a Moscow-based French acquaintance of mine.
He said more and more French women tend to choose their careers over their partners, even after they get married.
"Russian women are genuine," he said. "Family is always a priority for you no matter what, and that's really cool."
So it's the weaker sex then that's Russia's most valued treasure, the natural resource whose value isn’t affected by economic, or any other crises. And we must cherish our femininity, not only as a means of attracting men, but also for our own pleasure. And I think the innate strength and vigor, our most deeply ingrained survival mechanisms, will always stay with us.
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.