Canada never ceases to amaze me. The spectacular landscapes outside the bus window make my eyes tear up, the people here will stumble over their own foot and apologize for it before they let me trip, and I am convinced that Tim’s French Vanillas are drugged because I cannot get enough of them. The best part about Canada for me, however, has a cheesier ring to it – I love the opportunities here.
As a woman, I feel safe, respected, and acknowledged in any social circle I am a part of. I know that no matter what career path I end up choosing, I will have the full support of not only my friends and family, but also the country I now call my second home. Canada, and North America in general, have made immense progress granting equal rights to women and men, and the years of turmoil and suffragist aching are paying off tenfold. Women advance to managerial positions in jobs of their choice with ease. We can prioritize our career above having children, and we are not just allowed, but encouraged, to vocalize our distraught when our rights are being infringed upon.
How, then, in a society that strives to uplift and protect its women, do we find room for so much discontent? I hardly hear a positive word towards the accomplishments of feminist movements, only the occasional distasteful “77 cents to a dollar” remark, as if every milestone we have reached on the road to full equality
means nothing. We have come such a long way, and it hurts my heart to hear constant negativity coming from women about a “lack of equality” in North America, when, in reality, it could be much worse.
In some places, it is. Imagine a country that claims to be, and should be, first-world and yet treats its women as if it was an underdeveloped nation? Russia is a country full of beauty and potential, but one devastating fact that goes largely unspoken is its treatment of the female population.
Russia is a painfully patriarchal society, and although “women are guaranteed equal rights” in the Constitution of the Russian Federation, little is done to follow through with this.
Women earn only 64 percent of the money that men earn. Female representatives in the Russian government number a meager 14 percent. That female underrepresentation, as well as a disgustingly corrupt legal system, leads to devastating consequences. Over half of the female population experiences physical abuse from their husbands, and a quarter of these same married women are victims of sexual assault. Assault and abuse go massively unreported, because there is no solid legal support for women, and because of stigma issues and victim blaming.
Yes, these same issues exist in North America as well, but on an incredibly smaller scale. Freedom fro m victim shaming is one of the milestones we have achieved almost completely. Being a woman in Russia is terrifying, and in the seventeen years that I lived there, I learned plenty of rules that were meant to keep me safe. “Come home before dark, you never know where sexual predators might be hiding.” I followed, not because I was scared of rape, but because I knew that I would be blamed.
If legal issues of female inequality were the only obstacle in the way, Russians would have come together to grant the female population its equality and respect. Misogyny is a mentality there, a nationwide joke that puts women in shackles and spits in their face. Telling your female friends that their place is in the kitchen, is not even considered offensive, but a compliment that you are “wife material.” I laughed along with my friends when they threw slurs like these in my face because it seemed harmless, but every time my value was insulted or diminished, I felt less like a woman and more like a resource. Like a mannequin, designed to have people turn around and look at them, but do nothing more than just look pretty.
That’s just it.
Women are “the prettier sex” in Russia, and they bend over backwards to live up to their name; they never leave the house looking less than jaw-dropping, they wear stilettos to work. All, subconsciously, in an attempt to gain the approval of the men they walk by, because that is the ultimate goal – to be the beautiful wife of a successful man. Sure, a man will give up his seat in
the bus for a beautiful woman in heels, but that’s as far as respect goes in Russia. Next to nothing is being done to actually advocate for women’s rights as individuals, not just as future trophy wives and mothers. Women are often discouraged from learning to drive, and I was so scared of becoming yet another terrible female driver on the road that it took me almost 20 years to get behind the wheel for the first time.
Misogyny on social media is much worse. The Russian youth have no respect for women, and more than half of the memes I see on my Russian feed are about men getting pissed that their girlfriend dared to voice her opinion.
It feels like a hopeless situation, and although Russia is moving ahead in its fight for justice, advocating for gender equality is not a problem that is being addressed, but rather shoved under the rug because “not that many women are complaining.” They are scared to complain, they know they will be blamed.
I pray every day that this will change. For now, however, I choose to live in a country that values me as a human, not as a Barbie doll. Women are physically beautiful, but they are also intelligent, successful, and capable leaders. I know from experience that such an equal treatment is a blessing, and I try never to take it for granted. I urge every person to look back on how far we as Canadians have come as an accepting nation, and to pray for Russia and all of the countries that have yet to learn to treat women with the respect that they rightfully deserve.