To Kick or to Whimper? Little Girl Knows Both

Little Vita has just had her first experience of being bullied by the big boys. It was bound to come of course, but I'd hoped it wouldn't be as young as 2 years old.

When they demand her toys, she looks faintly puzzled and hands them over. But this is the brave new world she's been born into and by the time she gets to junior school, they'll probably be demanding protection money. The way things are going, I guess she'll ask for a bodyguard rather than a Barbie doll for her 7th birthday.

But should she respond with a kick or a whimper? Do you start training a steel-jawed Western feminist from the tender age of 2, or can I keep my little Russian girl a bit longer?

The secret of Russian women's charm, men like to believe, is the Asian charm wrapped inside European looks: "Turgenev's women" or "Chekhov's women": strong, supportive, feminine, passionate. This feminine ideal has always been a highly cherished part of our culture, especially lately when it is compared favorably against what we believe are the cold, bossy, greedy, career-seeking women of the West.

In fact, the big secret is that Chekhov and Turgenev's women have never really existed -- their submissive tenderness is nothing but an invention of the chattering class of Russian male chauvinists.

Despite appearances to the contrary, Russian society is very tightly controlled by women -- and men's attitudes to them -- as numerous historical examples prove. Princess Olga in the 10th century did more to spread Christianity among the heathen than the official baptizer Prince Vladimir. The Golden Age of the Russian Empire came not under Peter the Great but during the reign of his daughter Elizabeth, followed by an even greater imperial ascendancy under Catherine the Great.

Lenin would not have got as far as he did without the fiery oratory of Alexandra Kollontai. And Stalin, a midget with an inferiority complex, purged not only the politically dissident -- imagined or otherwise -- but Nikolai Bukharin and Marshal Tukhachevsky for being more successful with women than himself.

Yeltsin, for all his hard-drinking male camaraderie, has admitted that his real "security council" is the triumvirate of women at home: his wife and two daughters, the younger of whom, Tanya, is now credited with turning her father into a winner.

Still, it's not only in Russia where the history books are written by men for men.

The point is that I shall not worry about Vita. I shall encourage her to keep the Turgenev ideal close to her heart, whilst knowing that with these Russian genes in her blood she will fight back like the best trained Western feminist.