Sweet Jesus, Anne Applebaum, stereotype much?
Of course there were many very famous “sultry” women in the USSR – things did not begin, and end, with Stalin and Liubov Orlova (an actress from the 1930’s). Where on earth do people get such ideas in the first place? Just because nobody was wearing Chanel does not, somehow, mean that there was no beauty, no style, no sensuality.
And no, not everyone in the USSR wore polyester. But thanks for checking with actual people who lived under the regime.
Why is it OK to assume that before the introduction of Vogue, an entire country couldn’t possibly understand what beauty and style is all about? Sure, consumer goods were practically nonexistent. Sure, looking “different” may have garnered you some unwanted attention. Yet, the Soviets had their own pop culture, they had their own sirens – whether sauntering across the theater stage or walking home from the bus stop. Because the Soviets, amazingly enough, were human beings, with or without Western influence.
While I appreciate the fact that Anne Applebaum isn’t screeching about them evil Russians and, instead, finding something she deems positive, her outlook also completely disregards the thousands of women who have been trafficked from the Soviet Union following its dissolution. Those gorgeous women she sees hanging out with the older men in the posh restaurants? I sincerely hope that 100% of them are there of their own volition, enjoying their time, having a blast.
However, as someone who has actually done research, I’m not entirely sure that my hopes correspond with reality.
I’m not against beauty culture. I do think it’s been, and continues to be, unfairly used against women – especially those who have no interest in participating. Applebaum’s piece has reminded me of the fact that beauty culture can also obscure the issues of traffickers and other exploiters.
I understand the sort of piece that Applebaum was trying to write. She was having fun. I like to have fun too – and get very irritated when pious wailing about Oppressors and Oppressed overwhelms me, because, not every single damn piece of writing has to be incredibly serious and somber and grave. If it was, we’d all shoot ourselves in the head and let the cockroaches take over.
Yet, if you’re going to rely on ridiculous generalizations, your piece is no longer fun. It’s merely tacky. And, quite possibly, damaging.
Before, it used to be “evil Russians.” Now, it’s “attractive Russians” (with an occasional smattering of “evil” – I should also note that people use the word “Russian” to refer to practically all of us who came out of the USSR, but that’s a whole other conversation).
I don’t mind the “attractive” in principle. I get equally tired of condescending Western women who roll their eyes at the poor foreign dears – wearing that make-up! Balancing on those heels! The Feminist Revolution will save you, my darlings, each and every one! Just shut up and don’t speak for yourself!
I merely want there to be a balance. Is that too much to ask for, in this day and age?
Now, if you think all of that is bad, take a look at Applebaum’s last paragraph:
So, cheer up the next time you see a Siberian blonde dominating male attention at the far end of the table: The same mechanisms that brought her to your dinner party might one day bring you the Ukrainian doctor who cures your cancer, or the Polish stockbroker who makes your fortune, too.
Why is there the distinct assumption that the blonde at the dinner party could not possibly be a doctor? Or, for that matter, a stockbroker?
There is nothing wrong with earning a living as a model, but a lot of stereotypically beautiful women also have other jobs. The former Miss Universe from Russia was a policewoman. My last Ukrainian doctor wore seamed stockings under her lab coat, carried an enormous designer bag, and could very have been “the blonde at the party.” Oh, and she was a good doctor too.
Assuming that women like that exist for the sole purpose of validating male attention is, at best, incredibly prejudiced. Under the guise of a simple compliment lies an incredibly vile sentiment: you only exist to be looked at.
You deserve it, after all, because you’re different. Foreign. Shut up and be pretty. Don’t want to shut up? Wipe that lipstick off your mouth. That’s the way we do things around here.
Here, send Applebaum an e-mail. Tell her how incredibly obtuse she’s being. I simply don’t have the strength to bother at this point.
Thank you to the wonderful writer and journalist, Veronica Khokhlova, for tipping me off.