Welcome to the re-launching of Natalia’s column. It will run every other Sunday, and will now be more personal, for we have decreed that it will be so. Forever and ever – or until she gets bored with it. Amen.
An American friend of mine told me on a recent visit to Moscow that sure, I can marry a Russian man, “as long as [I] know what [I’m] doing.”
It wasn’t an ill-intentioned comment, but it threw me off-guard. I had already heard from plenty of Western expats that while Western men were entitled to date whoever they choose, Western women dating Russian men, let alone MARRYING them, “mostly isn’t done.”
“How dull,” I thought. “These people are missing out.”
The knowledge that such statements about Russian men are also freaking offensive came later. I always try to put off offense for as long as possible. After all, it doesn’t agree with me. I’m a fan of generalizations – especially darkly humorous ones. I use them all the time!
And yet, the same Westerners who would undoubtedly think it horrible to say something like, “And don’t ever marry a black dude – he’ll probably turn out to be a crack dealer,” have no problem saying what basically amounts to as the same thing when it comes to Slavic men, Russian men in particular.
Some of this stems from a familiar trope – the idea that there are these women out there who must, at all costs, be rescued by enlightened Westerners from their own husbands and boyfriends. Textbooks have been written on the subject. Anyone interested in the topic is probably better off reading one of those, as opposed to this column.
Then, there is pop culture. While the image of the Russian woman has been popularized in all sorts ways – many of them suggesting that she is an object of desire, even if it’s a dangerous desire (just look at the elaborate dance the media has done around Anna Chapman) – Russian dudes are mostly portrayed as thugs. Well, Viggo Mortensen in “Eastern Promises” was a pretty fine thug. But then again, nobody could seriously confuse Viggo for an actual Russian (could they?).
But then there is also the fact that in many ways, Russian men are simply in their element in Russia, in a way that most Western dudes aren’t. They aren’t seen as mouldable, unlike Russian women. If you wind up marrying one of them, you’re marrying more than just an individual – in the eyes of your Western friends, you’re marrying a system, an entire way of life. You might as well be chaining yourself to the Kremlin Wall.
I’m too unsettled to get married at the moment, but I also have a father. Who is half Russian and half Ukrainian. He is a big, blue-eyed man. When I’m back home, the two of us have vodka shots with lunch. We go out for shashlik together. When we’re in one of our collective mournful moods and sitting on the balcony of our apartment in Kiev, we sing a song about a black raven circling over a warrior.
I love my father. And I knew exactly “what I was getting into” when I was born to my mother and him – i.e. I am glad to have been born into this family, in this time, in this place.
When you insult Russian men, you insult my father and two grandfathers. You insult my kid brother, my cousins, my friends, the people I love. You insult who I am as well.
Cut it out, for God’s sake.