Flashback to 10 years ago. Paris Hilton is starring in porno, Britney Spears is attacking paparazzi with umbrellas and Giselle has just defiléd a Victoria’s Secret bra that costs more than most people’s homes. My friend, a New Yorker at her 21-year-old prime, slaps on an underwear set and some plastic wings and heads to Marquee for the annual Heidi Klum Halloween bash. During a smoking break, a guy in nothing more than a trench coat approaches her and asks for her number. The trench is a warning sign, but its also Halloween, so normal warning signs are out the door.
A few days later, they are sitting at Blue Ribbon Sushi, having a normal first date conversation, when he suddenly asks her:
“You’re Russian, aren’t you?”
“Sure,” she responds, surprised.
BAM. He slaps a newspaper on the table. “My uncle married a Russian once. She’s taking him for everything he’s worth.” The newspaper, on further glance, featured a story about a brutal Upper East Side divorce battle.
He continued talking as if nothing had ever happened, but the damage was done. My friend never saw him again, but was left wondering if she had been part of some twisted revenge ploy against Russian women, that he never put into fruition.
Russians have a bad rep. I’m the first one to know this, because, no matter where you go in this world, being Russian makes you the butt of every dumb joke about gold-digging and promiscuity. Hermès shop? Calling the Russian! Rich guys in the vicinity? We have a Russian on board, let her work her magic! A British guy I dated explicitly told me that the dream of every Russian woman is “A quick life upgrade, a house in South Kensington, some diamonds and a yacht.” Just the other day, an Airbnb tenant assumed me to be a “Russian fashion victim with a closetful of Louboutins” based on my name alone. The truth is, I haven’t had Louboutins – or anything else remotely extravagant – in my closet in years, one of the reasons being this exact Russian connotation.
To my shame, I am the first one to chime in on the Russian mockery party, either out of embarrassment, or in an effort to beat them to the punch. Just last week, I wrote an article about the gilded Russians of Brighton Beach. People accused me of disliking my own kind. What I dislike isn’t Russians, but the image that we have created for ourselves. What I dislike is the image that has been projected on some of the most admirable women of the world.
To understand Russian women, one must understand history. Prior to the Russian Revolution, Russia boasted and ornate and luxurious culture, liquidated with the arrival of the Bolshevik party in 1917. For the 70 years of the Communist regime, Russian women were not only isolated from the rest of their world, but also largely stripped from their femininity, depicted in Soviet paraphernalia as an army of identical, asexual industrial workers. During WWII, Russia lost many of its men, resulting in an unbalanced social structure and women competing for the last standing alcoholic. “A man who doesn’t drink and doesn’t beat you is worth gold,” was one popular saying. “If he doesn’t beat you, he doesn’t love you,” was another.
In the 90s, everything changed once again. The country, in its shambled state, was opened up to the world, bringing with it escape gateways for a better life. Russian women jumped at the chance. They took their families, they took their children, or they just took themselves and they left to start over in places that held promises of an actual future. With life in Russia still being far from ideal, they continue doing so to this day. Many of them find their opportunities as models, others find it simply as women, otherwise known as Trophy Wives. Maybe this isn’t the most honest method, but what other method do they really have, except for simple Darwinism? Survival of the fittest (and the hottest), unjust as it is, prevails.
What bothers so many people about the Russian woman is not that she is a gold-digger or a slut. What bothers them is that the Russian woman is smarter than them. That she is practical and resourceful. That she thinks with her head rather than her loins or her ego or, even, sometimes, her heart. But, the question that I ask at this moment is, who are you to judge? You, the American, who grew up being told that you can be anything you want to be? You, the European who grew up in a social structure that actually works? The bottom tiers of the Maslow hierarchy, checked off for you since you were born, are still her predominant goals. Let’s throw you into the wilderness and see how you survive.
Let me tell you something else about the Russian woman. She is not only beautiful, she is also brilliant. She is educated, she can recite Lermontov by heart, she understands physics and probably has a degree in something that you cannot comprehend. She is the best mother a child will ever know. She is loyal to the man who treats her right until the end of time, in the way Tatiana taught us to be in Eugene Onegin: “And yet, I am another’s now, and will be faithful to my vow.” She is the best thing a man can have, if he is lucky enough to get her.
I will not stand behind the gilded Russians of Brighton, they can fight their own battle. I will not stand behind the useless Chanel and the Hermes, the diamonds and the tchotchkes, the incessant layers of previously deprived luxury. But I will stand behind the Russian woman, the hero, the mother, the wife, the smartest and most functional wheel on the machine that is a family.
But don’t get her angry, or you too, will end up on the front page of that newspaper.