A few months ago, I read that Russian women have lost the war against sexism, and that one of the symptoms of said defeat is the dominance of the Nymph – “a professional beauty,” the ideal partner for the modern man.
The author of the essay I’m quoting is Evgenia Pischikova, a funny, clever woman. While I found her perceptions of American feminism to be somewhat idealized, and some of her statements regarding modern Russian woman downright exaggerated, I nevertheless believe in the Nymph. I’ve seen far too many beautiful women, Russian, Ukrainian, and Belorussian, affect a soulless gaze in the presence of eligible bachelors to deny the Nymph’s existence.
Yet I do not think the story of the Nymph to be simple. Neither do I think that her tale is complete without a thorough discussion of her male counterpart – the God.
Now, the modern God, for the sake of Pischikova’s analogy, is pretty much any man who is, for some reason, desirable to the Nymph, usually marked by a paternalistic (or, as some people are fond of saying, “protective” attitude). We’re accustomed to believe that the God is wealthy, or well-off, and he generally is.
Modern Gods demand sacrifices as readily as the ancient ones.
The rich among them demand that the Nymph submit herself to their will in order to partake in a materially beneficial lifestyle with fancy jewels and trips to Cyprus, at the very least. The Nymph must put up with cheating, alcoholism, beatings, or anything else that the God, in his infinite wisdom, deems necessary. Foreign husbands and boyfriends are often just as guilty of such behaviour as domestic ones.
On the surface, the relationship of the Nymph and her God appears symbiotic. After all, if two people want to establish a relationship wherein one party contributes beauty and the other party a wad of cash, who are we to say anything? The problem is, society sanctions said relationship to become abusive.
If the God doesn’t beat the Nymph, for example, that’s all fine and well. But if he does, well, we say, she “knew” what she was doing when she decided to become a Nymph and seek out a God in the first place. If the relationship goes sour, it’s the Nymph, and not the God, who must bear full responsibility.
I do believe that many Nymphs do know exactly what they are doing. But they also know that they have little alternatives.
I once spoke to a jerky, superior “intellectual” from New York who expressed bitter contempt toward women in post-Soviet countries who abandoned the ideals of the previous generations. Obviously, Mr. New York Intellectual had never lived through the very real, tactile, bitter days that come when an entire country falls apart. The ideals of the previous generations failed. Those who believed in the Bright Future mostly ended up selling their old war medals to bemused tourists, or forgetting about their PhD’s and going into business.
For many women, the post-Soviet reality is one were opportunities are scarce. Anti-discrimination laws may be on the books, but are rarely enforced, especially wherein women are concerned. Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko, much beloved by many Westerners, delivered a sexist and ridiculous speech about the “magic” of women on March 8th, International Women’s Day, this year, and only the truly committed among us called him out on it. Alla Dovlatova, a popular TV figure, recently spoke about how a woman’s best self-defense is either “a disarming smile, or a man.”
When I read that, I remembered the day that Olympian Lilia Podkopaeva, Ukraine’s pride and joy, was robbed and beaten up in in the center of Kiev. Should have the diminutive gymnast greeted her attackers with “a disarming smile”? Was she asking for it because she was not accompanied by a man? I understand Dovlatova’s position, armed defense against a group of thugs can make things much worse for a woman, but the way in which it was stated felt deceptive.
It’s my belief that Dovlatova knows full well the dangers of being female in the post-Soviet landscape, but in public, even an independently successful woman must pretend that men will protect her, that her looks will protect her, because otherwise her feminine magic will dissipate like Cinderella’s carriage at midnight.
After all, the image of the Nymph, as well as the (usually) benevolent earthbound God, was created to counter the ugly reality of the Fall of the early 1990’s. These are fantasies, and we all love them, especially when the night is dark and unpleasant.
The Nymph, however, is also a stereotype. Every single woman is a human being, no matter what we project onto her. A woman who uses her beauty to get ahead, whether by itself or in conjunction with something else, is not contemptible. And I hate it when people imply otherwise. Men use all sorts of things to get ahead: physical strength, money, looks, and we rarely judge them for doing so. We accept the fact that most men simply do what they have to do. Why not accept the same wherein women are concerned?
I am not against the phenomenon of the Nymph or the God – it has always existed, and continues to exist in some for everywhere in the world – but I am against how said phenomenon is being used to justify and normalize domestic violence and violent crime. I’m against the idea that a young woman doesn’t need a raise, because “she’ll find a rich husband anyway.” I’m against the notion that boys ought to be raised strictly as dominating parties, and that any deviation from this norm is shameful.
I furthermore believe that we have lost the battle, not the war. And that this war is not against men, and not against the “wrong” kind of women either. The war is against glacial apathy which lives in the human heart.