Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Men Rule Country, But Women Rule Them

"Just my luck, to be born in Russia with brains and talent," Alexander Pushkin once complained. What would the poet have said, I wonder, if he had happened to be born a woman?

From childhood, we were instilled with the idea that men and women were equal. Boys and girls in school were treated in the same way as they were being prepared to work for the "sake of the motherland," which provided them with free education.

But the higher the career goals a young woman set for the sake of the fatherland, the more difficulties she had in real life.

Girls usually studied better than boys in school, but boys were more readily accepted into institutes and then at the workplace. An average man had a much easier time getting promoted than an exceptional woman. In general, the more prestigious or high-paying the post, the more difficult it was for a woman to attain. Indeed, women often have been in no condition even to try reaching such positions, since aside from working, they are left with all responsibility for housekeeping and raising children.

When production began to decline and unemployment set in, women, of course, were the first to be dismissed. And this remains the case today. Now job announcements do not shy away from indicating the gender of the candidate for work. For managerial positions, as a rule, men are needed. And secretaries, accountants, translators and store clerks --jobs that are often routine and require dealing directly with people -- are reserved for women.

How did this situation come about? Male selfishness? Tradition? That's part of it. But if you take a closer look, you'll begin to understand it's not all that simple.

Take an average Russian man. For women, this tormented being in most cases evokes no emotion other than pity. Recently, one of the "city fathers" of the Russian capital openly boasted that not once in his life did he ever prepare a meal for himself and that he didn't even know how to boil an egg. On the other hand, he is not picky and eats everything on the plate he is given. He failed to add that he did not know where his clean shirts and pressed suits came from, which help him to sustain his image as a leader. In fact, his wardrobe is most likely picked out by his wife.

What would he do if he suddenly became jobless? The only thing he knows how to do is manage people under him. This grown-up boy is not prepared for everyday life.

The structure of contemporary family life cannot be attributed to a Russian tradition of patriarchy. In patriarchal peasant families, each member of the family had his or her own strictly defined household duties. Only a small part of society today bears any similarity to the merchant class or nobility of the 19th century.

The ordinary post-Soviet family is rather more reminiscent of families that left the village to become urban workers or low-level officials. In other words, it is characterized by poverty. In such families, women are required to run the household and work to supplement the family income, since the men are unable to earn enough money.

Paradoxically, women have emerged from this tradition of discrimination stronger than men and have significant power over them in many ways.

Young boys too often depend excessively on women. Mothers look closely after them, just as they look after their fathers. The fathers, for their part, do little to change the situation.

Then, the kindergarten teachers are charged with raising the boys. The cultural level of such women, who earn very little money, alas, as a rule leaves something to be desired. But they have enormous power over the children.

Doctors are also usually women from whom much in life depends. In all social spheres, boys are instructed, raised and humiliated by women -- by the saleswoman, the ticket inspector at the movie theater, the children's crossing guard, the nurse in the hospital and so on. With few exceptions, these overburdened, obliging, responsible and rather unhappy women are good-hearted but do not hide their emotions and do not hesitate to exercise what limited powers they have.

Raised in such conditions since childhood, many of my male colleagues, who earn a decent living, do not hold on to the money they make. Rather, they receive a small weekly allowance from their wives which is strictly for lunch, transport and cigarettes. And they don't have any qualms about this situation. They have learned how to lie and hide any extra income with childish ingenuity.

It would be strange to think that a grown-up boy, who had become a man, would not try to get out from under the power and guardianship of women. But he is already unable to do so. He has never been taught to take care of himself either physically or psychologically. (And the savage relations in the army don't do a thing to help him in this respect.)

He then must take his revenge somewhere else -- at work. And there he gains the upper hand. But again, if you look more closely into the matter, it turns out that his victory at work looks much like a defeat.

Not having been trained to do daily routine work at home, men often cannot manage it at the office. Who can help them in such a situation? Women, of course. But to prevent the men's self-esteem from being injured, the women must be in a clearly lower position. Therefore, close to practically every director, you'll find one or more women -- either deputy directors, assistants or secretaries -- who formally answer to him, but in reality often have enormous power and handle him like a puppet.

Such a woman can plan his day, allow or forbid people to see him, influence his decisions, create an attractive image of him, feed him, go to the bank or have his car inspected for him and prepare reports and speeches to his superiors. In other words, he is often as dependent on her as he is on his wife at home. Moreover, these women often find themselves as rivals.

One can only hope for a deep change in society.

Young people have already to a large degree begun to view the rights and responsibilities of men and women in a different light. Changing the work climate would encourage more foreign companies, international foundations and social organizations to come to Russia.

But, unfortunately, the changes in attitudes among the young are for the time being only a tendency and have not reached those over 35 years old, the part of society that is most responsible for shaping the future. And this means there is a danger that everything could remain as it is -- men with complexes, women with the problems of underemployment and society with all its aggressiveness.

Tatyana Matsuk is a senior researcher at the Russian Labor Ministry's Institute for Employment Studies. She contributed this essay to The Moscow Times.