We say sexual harassment, they say gallantry…

We say victimizing women, they say encouraging them to procreate…

We say outrage, they say suck it…

Let’s call the whole thing…

Russian Sociology 101–Why there is no sexual harassment in Russia.

 

 I was working on a blog post about Women and Sex in the first decade of the Russian Revolution when my husband came home and told me about a recent case of sexual harassment in Russia that made western news.  

 

Published on July 30, 2008 in the UK newspaper The Telegraph, the Moscow correspondent, Adrian Bloomfield’s article can be summed up by the subtitle:

 

“A Russian advertising executive who sued her boss for sexual harassment lost her case after a judge ruled that employers were obliged to make passes at female staff to ensure the survival of the human race.”

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/2470310/Sexual-harrassment-okay-as-it-ensures-humans-breed,-Russian-judge-rules.html

 

When my husband told me, my immediate response wasn’t outrage, but rather a giggle and a roll of the eyes.  Not surprising coming from a country whose president banged his shoe on a table in an international conference.  The Russians are the best with being PC.  The role(lot) of women in Russian society is something that has deeply fascinated me and filled me with deep concern.  As I have learned more about the problems that Russian women have faced, particularly since the 1917 revolution, my worry swells to outrage.  But outrage, as anyone who has spent time in Russia can attest, is futile if you are only one person.  The lack of public voice and outrage in Russian society is not due to nonchalance or oblivion, but rather it is the fossilized form of outrage—hopelessness.  

 

After reading the Telegraph article I tried to find the same article in Russian newspapers.  I was wondering if it was as huge of a controversy in Russia.  Knowing that it wouldn’t be, I thought I would show America why such an outrageous incident is nothing special in Russia.

 

First, I had to look up the term for ‘sexual harassment’ in Russian, because it is not used often(like most words pertaining to crimes against women). Then I googled the term and eventually, on the 4th page of results found the Russian article about the above incident:

 

Россия: Сексуальные домогательства спасут человечество

 

http://www.mignews.ru/news/society/world/300708_164637_54761.html

 

The article was only three paragraphs and recounted the incident in a matter-of-fact, mocking tone.  Unlike Bloomfield’s article, no mention whatsoever was made about harassment being a problem.  

 

I remind you that this was the only article published about the incident.  So what is being said about sexual harassment by the Russians?  First of all, discourse about the serious aspects of sex(contraception, STDs, abuse, etc.) are very rare.  And while you’ll find an abundance of pornography and solicitation all over the streets in Russia, information about contraception, venereal disease, and rape is kept way, way underground.  So while you could easily find websites with pornographic stories about sex in the workplace, websites about sexual harassment as a social problem are sparse.  

 

As Russians are exposed to western civilization they begin to more openly address problems in their own culture.  That’s not to say that anything has necessarily been done to solve these problem.  But Russia is on a different timetable.  I figure the mere acknowledgement of the problem, whether it be as a foreign. laughable, or nonexistent one, is a sign that Russians are at least daring to question norms.  

As I was searching for the article, the common results I found for my search were some of the following: 

Помощь жертвам сексуального домогательства-(Help for victims of sexual harassment)

harassmentnet.ru/html/body_histori.php

 

 Ironically this site is no longer in service. Oy Russia…Giggle…

 

A huge chunk of newspaper articles and web posts write about the latest outrageous Sexual Harassment scandals from the west.  These articles portray sexual harassment as yet another oppressive and utterly laughable of American politkorektnost’ , or political correctness.  The Russians continually mock and pity Americans for all the ridiculous laws and law suits (hot coffee, defective Victoria’s Secret bras, impeachments, etc.).  

In an article in GQ magazine, an interview conducted with a Russian talk show host, portrayed the American phenomena as such:

“In the U.S. acts that might classify as harassment include: sexual abuse, unwanted invitations, suggestions of acts as ‘quid pro quo’, coercion and touching.  In addition, according to American laws employees should keep a distance of 40 cm from one another.”

США под понятие «харассмент» подпадают оскорбления на сексуальной почве; нежеланные приглашения; предложения к действиям, связанным с сексом, если они дополняются обещанием вознаграждения; принуждения и прикосновение. Кроме того, по американским законам сотрудник к сотруднику не имеет права подходить в офисе ближе, чем на 40 см.

http://www.gq.ru/exclusive/person/76198/

 

A lot of the results of the search were articles from business and or labor websites.  Pretty much all of them described harassment as a western phenomenon that employers and employees should be aware of.  But before giving advice about ‘what to do if your boss comes onto you’ and ‘preventive measures’ the article reiterates that Харассмент, as the Russian word itself suggests, is really just a western concept:

“But in Russia victims of sexual harassment rarely go to court: fearing that it would be futile, they would lose their job, and tarnish their reputation.  After all the blame is often shifted to the victims of these crimes.”

“А вот в России объекты сексуального внимания начальников редко подают в суд: боятся, что результатов это не даст, а работу они потеряют, да и репутацию огласка испортит. Ведь в этой ситуации, как и во многих случаях изнасилования, вину перекладывают на жертву.”

The article concludes thus, reassuring?…for some…

“Sexual harassment in Russia is practically impossible to prove… Inappropriate comments, glances, or jokes won’t even be taken into consideration. For the case to be filed their would have had to be some form of violence.”

“Сексуальные домогательства в России доказать практически невозможно… Неприличные намеки, взгляды, шутки у нас в расчет не берутся. Чтобы дело возбудили, действия должны носить насильственный характер.”

Keep in mind this is a serious article on a website whose translated domain name is work.ru.   There were fifty comments on this article, all of which are a proof that that judge’s dismissal of sexual harassment is a social norm.  

 

The very first comment goes something like this:

“This article is nonsense!  Why are we fighting windmills? Men want sex at work, at home, at school.  They’ve got to find an object of their lust somewhere. Men are more dominant, the master-servant relationship is a fact of life. Besides, women bring it on themselves…”

Another comment elaborates:

“It’s a very sensitive topic.  One sociologist said that in 80% of crimes, the victim is to blame.  Women are perpetrators too.  They use these relationships to get more money, longer breaks, and blackmail.  The women are profiting from these relationships much more than their bosses…”

“Sex at work is a good cure for a boring life…”

“A woman should assess whether her boss is the kind of guy who likes to be flirted with, or if he’s strictly business and then behave accordingly…”

http://www.rabota.ru/guide/otnoshenia/kak_osadit_seksualno_ozabochennogo_nachalnika.html#commentContainerLink

 

On websites exclusively for women, the commentary expressed a similar shoulder shrug:

 “Even if we had laws about sexual harassment in our country, no one would follow them through…”

“I’ve never seen a woman who didn’t like being checked out by her boss.  Female colleagues even compete with one another for their bosses attention…”

These are women’s comments mind you…

http://www.calenda.ru/01002.asp?num=002

 

“This advice is for western women, it has no relevance in Russia where women are not protected…this kind of open conflict with your boss could lead to losing your job and even your means of existence…”

“In Russia all we can do about this problem is empathize…”

http://www.myjane.ru/articles/text/?id=1068

 

I giggled because the judge’s response “was just so typically Russian”.  I’m not condoning it, but as you can see by the commentary from these various websites much of Russian society believes that it is a fact of life, while the other half has been reduced to believing that.  This is the predicament that Russians have found themselves in throughout history: a constant sense of helplessness or a constant self-deception of justice.  It’s much easier to lie to yourself in the name of a cause, than it is to live in constant fear and paralysis.  

I was already working on an article about the supposed ‘liberation’ of women in the Russian revolution.  The more I learn the more outraged I feel.  I feel despair not only for Russian women, but for humanity in general.  Even in American suburbia women are being subjected to such unfair expectations…If I try and express my views, I’m a feminazi.  This has been a long struggle for women, but we’re digging ourselves out of holes only to find we’ve created another.  

But outrage when silenced becomes helplessness.  A history full of helplessness leads to hopelessness.  So when the judge ruled in favor of the harasser saying that what he did was gallantry and noble propagation of the human race, I had to look on the bright side.  Hey, at least he didn’t send her to the Gulag, right?  And you know, Russia is suffering a huge population crisis right now, Russia needs to make babies somehow…When hopelessness becomes a fact of life sometimes one’s only coping mechanism is to let out a little giggle.