Recently, I watched part of a Russian documentary on mail order brides with my husband. He told me what the rest of it had shown. My initial reaction when he told me what he was watching was that it would be about how evil America was for exploiting these women. He said, no, actually, it was pretty even handed. Much of the exploitation came from the Russian centered companies involved in recruiting the women. Some of the matches lead to ‘happily ever after’ as well, though there were a few horror stories. Sometimes it was the gold digging woman taking advantage of a well off shy man. Mostly it was abusive men looking for a wife who would tolerate it.
Vladimir and I have witnessed both kinds of couples, though only one of them was through a matching service. One thing they all have in common is a way that Russian women seem to have been damaged by Russian culture as a whole. I think I can honestly say that I have not met one that didn’t show signs of being consistently treated as a lesser person than men. Until now, this had only been personal observation of a relatively small group of people, but interestingly I found my observation validated in this show. A female psychologist on the show explained that Russian culture had produced women that are more submissive and dependent, causing them to be desirable to a certain subset of American men who are, for obvious reasons, having a hard time finding a woman in America that will have them. She went on to say that American women were generally more independent and strong than Russian women. She skirted around the real issue:
The number of women abused in Russia is astounding and deeply disturbing.
According to Amnesty International, as of 2009 there were only 20 women’s shelters in all of Russia. “No measures under Russian law specifically addressed violence against women in the family.”
How does one heal an entire culture from this?
My husband is the son of an abusive husband, but his mom wouldn’t tolerate it. She divorced her husband despite very harsh taboos. Now, I’m not one to condone divorce, but the taboo against divorce is still so strong that many women stay with abusive men. It isn’t just the taboo, though. They feel helpless because the problem is so widespread that they expect it from every man. So why bother? You know your monster, why switch for a new one?
An interesting aspect to this is that all of this taboo against divorce, all of this acceptance of abuse occurred not under a religious construct but a decidedly anti-religious government. Church marriages were not recognized, nor was there any ceremony involved. The couples simply signed a paper, the government stamped it, and they were married. Women were equal in education and employment. This state was a secular dream.
And yet, a female PhD I know of tolerated a drunken, abusive spouse because that was the way of it.
Independence? Again, the culture is against it. A woman can actually have a harder time at the banks and other beauracracies without a husband. My mother in law recently attempted to complete a real estate transaction and found it literally impossible without a bribe so high as to make selling the place not worth it. They would not have required such a bribe from a man (Though of course a bribe certainly would have been part of it). But apart from this socially imposed block against independence, she does not feel she can do this. She called us for every little thing. My husband spent hours on the phone with her, coaching her (and remember she was in Russia and he hasn’t been there for 17 years), telling her she could do it, going over things with her, only to have her call back after her particular errand and say she’d gotten scared or forgotten something.
This woman was abused not only by her husband, but her father before her. I am amazed she did leave her husband. But I strongly feel that her action nearly 40 years ago broke the cycle, because my husband is not abusive.
American women had it better than this even in the worst of times.
How does one cure an entire culture of this kind of sickness? It certainly would take generations to heal, but I don’t even know where one could begin.